AUGUSTA — The Hampden Academy boys basketball team is on to the Class A final.

Thanks to three key free throws by Zach McLaughlin, the No. 1 Broncos edged No. 3 Messalonskee 44-43 in the Class A North final Friday night at the Augusta Civic Center. Hampden Academy is back in the state final for the first time since 2020, when the Broncos beat York 65-56 for the Class A title.

“It feels great,” said McLaughlin, a senior guard. “I’ve dreamed of this moment since I was a kid. This is where I’ve strived to be since I was super young. But we’re not done. We’ve got one more game. We’re all thrilled, but we’re ready for the next challenge.”

McLaughlin led the Broncos with 24 points, 10  in the fourth quarter. Senior forward JJ Wolfington added 11 points and nine rebounds.

The Eagles finished 16-5. Messalonskee was led by junior forward Merrick Smith, who had 23 points and 13 rebounds. Sam Dube added six points for the Eagles.

The Broncos trailed for most of the game but outscored the Eagles by a 12-7 margin in the fourth to take the win. Down 43-41 with 17.8 seconds remaining, McLaughlin was fouled behind the 3-point arc by Messalonskee’s Parker Reynolds and awarded three free throws. McLaughlin made all three to seal the victory.


“What was going through my mind was I was making all three (shots),” McLaughlin said. “I’ve got that confidence in myself and I knew the second that I was going up (to the foul line), I pumped my fist and said, ‘I’m making all three and winning us this game.'”

McLaughlin finished 7 of 9 from the foul line; his only two misses came a minute before his trifecta in the final seconds.

“(McLaughlin) is great from the free-throw line, we had tons of confidence in him tonight,” Hampden Academy head coach Russ Bartlett said. “I was actually surprised he missed the one at the end, and I was glad he missed the second one, which actually benefitted us so that (Messalonskee) couldn’t throw (the ball) to the midcourt. He’s money from the stripe. He’s confident and he’s not afraid of the situation, which I think says a lot.”

Messalonskee led for the first three quarters of the game, though Hampden Academy kept it close throughout. Smith was a force beneath the basket throughout the game for the Eagles, scoring 10 points in the first half. Reynolds was key on the boards as well for Messalonskee, pulling down seven rebounds.

“We were fortunate to win that game,” Bartlett said. “The kids showed a lot of fight, I thought, in spite of what the score was. We kept ourselves in it and kept it within a possession or two throughout. And we made just enough plays, and when I mean just, I mean just enough plays.

“I thought coming into tonight, even though we wore the white uniforms, that we were the underdogs,” Bartlett continued. “(Messalonskee) showed (in the semifinals) that they might be a little better than we are. We showed tonight that we found a way to just make enough plays to squeak by and we’re fortunate enough to play one more (game).”


The win gives the series edge to the Broncos, who also beat the Eagles 64-54 on Jan. 5. Messalonskee picked up a 72-39 win over Hampden Academy on Feb. 1.

Messalonskee head coach Sam Smith said he was proud of his team’s performance on Friday night and throughout the season.

“It’s tough, because this is a special group of kids,” Smith said. “Not just because they can play basketball, but also who they are as people and young men off the court. I think they deserved the best and unfortunately, we came up a little short. But we can be proud of the bonds that we made and the memories that we made this year. It may take some time, but we’ll be able to look back on it and be proud of what we did.

“We’re going to use this as fuel for the guys that are coming back, and hopefully this will make us work ten times harder,” Smith continued. “Obviously, our goal is to come right back and win this game next year.”

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