Mt. Blue’s Carter Norton (12) dribbles by Hampden defender Sawyer Worcester during a Jan. 6 boys basketball game in Farmington. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

There’s predictable, there’s unpredictable, and then there’s the 2024 Class A North boys basketball tournament.

It’s not just that there’s no clear frontrunner in this year’s field; from injuries to season-long or recent trends, there are question marks surrounding every team ahead of the opening tip at the Augusta Civic Center this weekend.

“We know anybody can beat anybody because we’ve already seen it happen this year,” said Messalonskee head coach Sam Smith. “You have a lot of unknowns, but I think you still have eight great teams. I think it’s going to be unbelievable.”

Indeed, the high-level players set to descend on Augusta and the quality and parity of the eight remaining teams have laid the foundation for an enticing tournament. Whichever team provides the best answers to the questions surrounding that remain should be the one celebrating next weekend.

After being in close second behind Mt. Blue for much of the season, Hampden Academy (16-2) overtook the Cougars in the final week to clinch the No. 1 seed. Led by one of the state’s top players in Zach McLaughlin (23.2 points per game), the Broncos have been a force in their return to Class A.

It remains to be seen, though, when (if it all) McLaughlin will be available for the Broncos. Hampden, which faces eighth-ranked Skowhegan (5-13) at 9 p.m. Saturday, has been without the Mr. Maine Basketball finalist its past four games following a heel injury he suffered in late January.


“If Zach’s able to go, we’ll be able to play a certain way, but if not, we’ll have to play a little differently,” said Hampden head coach Russ Bartlett. “We’ve had to play much slower the last two weeks of the season, and we’ve been able to do that, but at the same point, when he’s in the lineup, we can play a higher-possession game with a margin of error that’s better.”

One of the Broncos’ two losses this season came against Skowhegan. The River Hawks, Bartlett noted, match up well against Hampden with 6-foot-7 forward Ryan Donoghue, who went for 24 points in Skowhegan’s 67-55 victory over the Broncos on Dec. 12.

Two of the other top-half teams will be looking to recapture the momentum they had earlier in the season. Second-ranked Mt. Blue (15-3) started the season 13-0 before dropping three of five to close out the regular season; No. 4 Nokomis (11-7) started 6-2 before going .500 the rest of the way.

Nokomis will also have a tough task on its hands against No. 5 Camden Hills (10-8) at 7:30 Saturday. Led by senior guard Will Duke (20.4 points per game), the Windjammers beat the Warriors 60-44 just two weeks ago, and just two days later, they went to Farmington and topped Mt. Blue 68-64.

“I think Will Duke is one of the best players in our league,” said Mt. Blue head coach Troy Norton. “They’ve got two really good players in him and (sophomore guard Nolan) Ames. They’re dangerous, and if you’re looking for a team that could maybe make some noise, they’re up there.”

As for Norton’s own team, the question is whether or not Mt. Blue can revert to the form that put it atop Class A North for most of the 2023-24 season. To do so, the Cougars will look to one of the state’s best players, 6-3 guard Evans Sterling (25.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game).


Mt. Blue’s quarterfinal opponent? No. 7 Lawrence (8-10), which will face the Bulldogs at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The Bulldogs have possibly the region’s best pure shooter in Dane Zawistowski (18.9 points per game), though they’ll need to shore up a defense that’s given up 70.3 points per game over the past three games.

Messalonskee’s Merrick Smith (11) looks to make a move while Mt. Blue’s Charles Stevens defends during a Jan. 23 boys basketball game in Oakland. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

“They’re a tough team to defend,” Lawrence head coach Jason Pellerin said of Mt. Blue. “Just because they miss doesn’t mean they’re done because they really crash the boards. They’re bigger than they look; a lot of their guys are listed as 6-1, but if you look at they’re length and wingspan, they’re really like 6-3.”

No team finished the regular season with more unknowns than No. 6 Cony (7-11). The Rams were without head coach Isaiah Brathwaite the second half of the regular season due to medical leave, and forward Parker Morin was injured in the team’s regular season finale against Gardiner.

Although Morin’s status for the weekend is still up in the air, Brathwaite is expected to be back on the sidelines for the Rams this weekend. Cony is set to face third-ranked Messalonskee (14-4) Saturday at 4. The Eagles defeated the Rams 75-47 and 75-51 in the regular season.

“We might have beaten them in the regular season, but that’s in the past now,” said Messalonskee junior forward Merrick Smith. “The hardest thing to do in sports is beat a team three times. … I like the matchup, but we can’t get complacent because we know they’re going to give us our best game.”

Messalonskee, which is riding a seven-game winning streak, enters the tournament as Class A North’s hottest team. In addition to the 24-point victory over Cony in the regular season finale, the Eagles also boast a 65-47 win over Mt. Blue and a 72-39 victory over Hampden during that stretch.

Few players in the state can match up with Smith, Messalonskee’s 6-foot-9 big man. The junior leads Class A North in points (25.6), rebounds (14.4) and blocks (3.8) per game. The Eagles will also welcome back a dynamic point guard in Drake Brunelle after an injury, though it’s uncertain as to whether he’ll be ready for full action just yet.

“I do feel like we’re playing pretty good basketball right now, but with that being said, I still don’t feel like we’ve played our best game,” Sam Smith said. “To me, we haven’t put it all together yet, so I keep preaching to these guys to keep getting better every game and to prepare like hell.”

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