BANGOR, Maine — When two rivals meet, seedings are irrelevant, especially in a pressure-packed tournament situation.
In spite of its No. 7 ranking in Class C North, the Hodgdon boys basketball team entered postseason play confident, owning two narrow wins over second-ranked Fort Fairfield in the regular season.
The third matchup proved to be just as tight as the previous two, with similar results.
Coach Robert Smith’s Hawks used clutch foul-shooting, stingy interior defense and rebounding to stifle the Tigers and earn a 45-38 quarterfinal victory on Wednesday at the Cross Insurance Center.
Smith, whose Hawks improve to 12-8 and will face third-ranked Bucksport in Friday’s semifinals, was not surprised at how tight the contest was.
“We beat them by three at their place, and we beat them by two at our place,” said Smith. “Having played them two times, we knew we could drive.”
Fort Fairfield finishes 14-5. Both clubs are in their first season in the Class C ranks under the state’s new five-class format.
Neither team asserted itself early as the game was tied 9-9 after the first quarter, but Hodgdon senior Jimmy Buzzell started to assert himself as the game’s biggest offensive threat early in the second quarter.
“We knew we could beat them because we had two times this year,” said Buzzell, who led all scorers with 23 points. “We knew if we rebounded the basketball and broke their press and just settled down on the fast break, we’d be fine.”
Buzzell scored eight of his points in the second quarter to help the Hawks forge a five-point lead at the break, and he added seven more in the third, with most of his points coming from aggressive attacks in the paint.
Hodgdon led by as many as nine in the third, but the Tigers clawed back within three by the end of the period and went ahead 35-34 with just under three minutes to go on Landen Kinney’s short jumper.
Yet again, Hodgdon would respond, with consecutive driving layups by Daden Palmer and Blake Woods giving the Hawks the lead for good.
Fort Fairfield was held to just one field goal after Kinney’s bucket, and the Hawks salted the game away at the free-throw line.
Hodgdon’s interior defense did a solid job of forcing the Tigers into hurried perimeter shots, and the bigger Hawks were the aggressors on the backboards.
“The first half, we didn’t rebound well,” said Smith. “We talked about it even more that we’ve got to win on the boards. In the second half, we tightened up.”
Palmer was Hodgdon’s other double-figures scorer with 11 points.
Chris Giberson’s 13 points paced the Tigers.