Cony’s Dom Napolitiano goes up for two through Freeport defenders during a boys basketball game Wednesday at the Capital City Hoop Classic at the Augusta Civic Center. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — There’s a different type of feel to the Capital City Hoop Classic this year.

After not being played last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two-day tournament returned to the Augusta Civic Center on Tuesday and Wednesday. Now in its 26th season, the tournament provided valuable playing time — in countable and non-countable games alike — for teams like Cony, Winthrop, Hall-Dale, Gardiner, Carrabec, Boothbay, Messalonskee, Mt. Blue, Rangeley, Freeport and Forest Hills, just to name a few.

“We didn’t get to have one last year, so for us, it’s great to get back into this building,” Cony boys basketball coach T.J. Maines said. “(Last year) we had no Hoop Classic, we had no tournament. It’s really good for the kids… Just to be back in here is a lot of fun. We had people coming in who weren’t fans of any of the teams, but just wanted to see live hoops without having to be on a list. So that was a positive.”

Cony’s Dom Napolitiano, right, and Parker Sergent defend Freeport’s Keegan Shea during a boys basketball game Wednesday at the Capital City Hoop Classic at the Augusta Civic Center. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The Cony boys managed to get two games in at the Hoop Classic, a 77-52 regular-season victory in a Class A North matchup against Messalonskee on Tuesday night, followed by a 66-49 win in a scrimmage over Freeport, a Class A South team, Wednesday afternoon.

For the Rams (5-1), the tournament keeps the rhythm of the season going. Tuesday night’s victory over the Eagles got Cony back on the winning track after dropping a 90-60 loss to Brewer on Dec. 23.

“It’s definitely a different atmosphere than being in a home gym,” said Cony junior Kam Douin. “It’s almost like you’re in the (state tournament), it’s almost like a ramp-up to the end of the season.”

For Freeport (1-2), playing against Cony provided a valuable competitive opportunity, albeit in a scrimmage setting. The Falcons haven’t played a game since Dec. 17, a 49-41 win at home against Fryeburg Academy.

Both teams managed to unload their benches during the scrimmage. Cony had 10 of its 13 players score a basket, led by Douin, who had 13 points. Freeport had eight its 13 players score, led by Keigan Shea, who had 11 points, followed by JT Pound, who had 10.

Cony’s Ashton Dennett goes up for two around Freeport’s Brady Grojan during a boys basketball game Wednesday at the Capital City Hoop Classic at the Augusta Civic Center. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

For younger players, the tournament allows an opportunity to get acclimated to playing in one of the major arenas of the high school basketball tournament.

“There’s a bunch of guys who have not played here,” Maines said. “We only have four of our 14 who have ever played a game in here. It’s the reason we want to be here, it’s the reason why Mt. Blue is willing to give up a home game last night, or Hall-Dale and Winthrop, Dirigo, Boothbay, all these teams. You’re willing to give up that home game to have the opportunity to play here, so that when you are playing here in February, it’s not all new to them.”

Playing at the Augusta Civic Center also gives area teams the added carrot of where they can be more than a month from now.

“It’s definitely a great opportunity,” Douin said. “You want to play as many games (in the Augusta Civic Center) as you can before your career is over. Hopefully, a lot of them are in the playoffs. But if not, it’s still a great opportunity.”

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