AUGUSTA — South Portland came so tantalizingly close Saturday night to bringing home the school’s first Class A boys’ basketball state championship since 1992.
That’s why the loss hurt the Red Riots so much.
Hampden Academy, led by Zach Gilpin’s 23 points, held off South Portland in the final minutes to win the state championship with a 45-41 victory before a packed house at the Augusta Civic Center.
South Portland fell behind 10-2 trailed the entire game, but trimmed its deficit to one point three times in the second half. The go-ahead basket never came, however, and the Red Riots’ dream of a Gold Ball fell short.
The crowd, a sea of purple on the Hampden side and red on the other, was treated to heart-pumping action, especially as the Broncos’ poise held firm down the stretch.
A year ago, Hampden Academy (22-0) felt the sting of defeat, losing to Deering in the state final.
This time, the Broncos fulfilled the season’s quest.
“Last year, we came up short,” said Gilpin. “I’m glad we didn’t come out on the short end this year. My teammates put me in spots to score. South Portland made a run. Tanner Hyland was great.”
Each team’s standout — Gilpin for Hampden and Hyland for South Portland — was the star of a half.
Gilpin, a 6-foot-5 junior, scored 16 points in the first half, and Hyland had 15 of his team-high 17 in the second.
In the end, Hampden made a difference with its ability to run off time and secure a big rebound after a missed free throw. A baseline layup by an unsung hero, Brian Fickett, with 41 seconds remaining made it 44-41.
Hampden Coach Russ Bartlett started Fickett, the sixth man all season, because of South Portland’s height. The 6-5 Fickett made the move pay off with 10 points.
Gilpin scored eight of his team’s first 10 points. The Riots’ lone basket early was by Jack Tolan.
Trailing 10-2, South Portland (18-4) got back-to-back baskets from Calvin Carr and Tolan again. South Portland weathered the Broncos’ start and trailed 27-17 at halftime, helped by Conner MacVane’s five points.
Hyland started to find the range in the third quarter, igniting a 10-4 spurt.
South Portland cut it to 31-30 after a Tolan basket late in the third quarter, then to 33-32 moments later on two foul shots by Jaren Muller. The Red Riots trailed 36-34 after three quarters.
The last one-point deficit was 42-41 after a long 3-pointer by Hyland with 2:42 remaining.
South Portland didn’t score again.
Three things hurt the Riots at the end:
• The Broncos were able to keep possession as the Riots, with fouls to give, used them.
• Fickett’s cluch basket.
• Tyler Norris chasing down a missed Matt Palmer foul shot with 17 seconds left.
“When South Portland cut it to one, we weren’t necessarily looking to stall. We wanted to take some time and get a good shot,” said Bartlett.
“Tyler Norris made a great pass to (Fickett) for the basket, and then we got a stop at the other end.
“We came out focused and wanted to get it going. In our (previous) game, we never got it going.”
The Broncos defeated Lawrence 40-39 for the Eastern Maine title on a last-second 30-foot shot by Nick Gilpin.
“Hyland is a very good player. I think Cam Scott got tired covering him so we switched Matt Palmer on him, who has more length,” said Bartlett.
Hyland said he forced shots in the first half but got the ball in better positions in the second.
“Cam Scott knows me pretty well. I had to change things up in the second half and I started to finish,” said Hyland.
“I thought we played our hearts out. We came four points short of a state title. We weren’t picked to be here when the season began. We proved everyone wrong. It’s been a fun run.”
Tolan, the 6-7 senior center, finished with 10 points for South Portland.
Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: