Eastern Class A Boys’ Championship: Cougars hope third time is charm

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AUGUSTA — If you weigh the law of averages over the law of Heal Points, you should like Mt. Blue’s chances against Hampden in tonight’s Eastern Class A boys’ championship.

No. 1 Hampden and No. 3 Mt. Blue played twice during the grinding, tightly packed KVAC regular season.

The Broncos won 66-57 on their home court in December. Six weeks later in Farmington, the Cougars gave away a lead late in regulation thanks largely to a technical foul, then lost 65-63 on sophomore Zach Gilpin’s buzzer-beater in overtime.

“We were fortunate to beat them twice,” Hampden coach Russ Bartlett said. “They’re big, they’re quick, they’re athletic and they get back defensively. We will have to play very well.”

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Tip-off is scheduled for approximately 8:45 p.m., following the Eastern Class A girls’ championship between Edward Little at Augusta Civic Center.

KVAC champion Hampden (19-1) and Mt. Blue (16-4) were the consensus co-favorites in the preseason coaches’ poll.

With the exception of Mt. Blue’s 52-49 thriller against Edward Little in Wednesday’s semifinal, what was expected to be topsy-turvy tourney has been a breeze. Hampden handled both Erskine and Bangor by double digits. Mt. Blue ripped Brunswick by 25 in the quarterfinals.

Hampden has won 12 straight games. Mt. Blue is 11-1 in its last dozen, the only loss coming to Hampden.

“I think we’re peaking,” Mt. Blue coach Jim Bessey said.

Mt. Blue starts five seniors, and four of them — Cam Sennick, Blake Hart, Steven Yardley and Eric Berry — scored in double digits against EL.

Sennick and Nick Hilton were almost unstoppable on the block in the opening round, combining for 49 points.

“We can play a lot of different ways,” Bessey said. “We’re athletic, and with Cam Sennick inside, it has nothing to do with coaching. It sure is nice having him there. I suppose I can say, ‘Throw the ball to him.’”

Berry’s minutes and mobility were limited much of the season due to an ankle injury. His arrival at full strength coincided with the Cougars’ late-season run.

Hampden’s stout center, Fred Knight, allows the Broncos to match the Cougars’ physical presence in the paint.

Point guard play will be a major factor in the game. Christian McCue is Berry’s counterpart for Hampden. Each will look to dictate his team’s desired pace.

“We want to turn it into a half court game,” Bartlett said. “They want to get out and run.”

EL was more successful than Brunswick at challenging Mt. Blue’s big men and keeping the Cougars’ running game in check.

“Generally speaking you play in the tournament you’re going to struggle one game, play poorly one game, which we did,” Bessey said. “I’ll admit we played badly, but if you struggle and win it’s a good sign.”

For the first time since 2007, a school other than Bangor or EL will represent Eastern Maine in the state game.

Hampden won back-to-back regional titles in 2005-06. Mt. Blue is making its first appearance in the EM game since 1997, when it beat Bangor in overtime.

koakes@sunjournal.com

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