HERMON, Maine — The Hermon boys basketball team entered its regular-season finale against Houlton on Tuesday night riding high, armed with a six-game winning streak and a chance to move into first place in Class B North.
So after seeing some Senior Night nerves from his youthful roster — the Hawks missed eight of their first nine shots while falling behind 9-2 — coach Mark Reed called time out.
The ensuing message got through almost immediately, as Hermon soon went on a 16-2 run of its own and pulled away for a 54-37 victory.
“Coach said be patient, calm down, relax, that we’ve done this so many times,” said Hermon junior guard Keenan Marseille, whose game-high total of 15 points included a two-handed dunk early in the final period amid a 10-0 Hawks’ run that put the game away.
“The first quarter is usually not our quarter but we come back, and we’re experienced enough now that we can come back pretty quick.”
Hermon is now 16-2 and likely will be the No. 1 seed in Class B North when the final Heal points are announced this weekend.
Houlton, which was ranked 10th in the division and needed a win in order to vie for a home game in next week’s preliminary round, fell to 10-7 with one game left at Calais on Thursday night.
Hermon got a big night from its lone senior, center McKinlee Sickles. Sickles, who has seen only modest playing time on a roster that otherwise is loaded with three juniors, seven sophomores and a freshman, scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds.
His presence was most important late in the third quarter when Hermon fed him in the low post three times and he scored all three times to account for a 6-1 run that enabled the Hawks to build a 39-26 lead at the end of the period.
“He played really well tonight, I’m really happy for him,” said Reed. “He’s been a real ambassador for our team. He’s one of those kids who everybody loves and for good reason.
“He’s worked hard this year. It wasn’t an easy start, he’s got a lot of young kids around him but he’s persevered. He’s got a great attitude and really has done a nice job for us down the stretch.”
Houlton jumped out to an early lead, with senior guard Cameron Graham (team-high 11 points) scoring on a drive and feeding Nick Perfitt for a layup before Jared Fox hit a 3-pointer and a left-handed hook shot to give the Shiretowners a 9-2 lead and prompt a Hermon timeout with 2:42 left in the opening quarter.
“I thought we got some good shots early and we hadn’t played in a little while,” said Reed. “I think they were just pressing a little so we just simply said, “You’re getting good shots, just use your concentration and you’ll be fine.’”
Houlton pushed the lead to 11-2 on a runner by freshman Keegan Gentle, but Hermon crept within 11-8 by the end of the quarter and scored five straight to open the second, with a fast-break basket by freshman Isaac Varney giving the Hawks their first lead at 13-11.
A 15-foot jumper by Varney and a 3-pointer by Marseille soon stretched the Hermon lead to 23-15, though two late baskets by Houlton center Cameron Cleary pulled Houlton within 23-19 by intermission.
Coach Tim Brewer’s Shiretowners hung around early in the second half before Hermon’s defensive quickness and dominance of the rebounding against Houlton’s zone defense began to take control.
Garrett Trask (10 points) scored off a Houlton turnover and Marseille hit a baseline jumper and a follow-up shot to give Hermon a 33-23 lead, and after Graham countered with a drive to the basket, first Varney and then Cody Hawes fed Sickles for low-post baskets that pushed the Hawks to a 37-25 advantage.
After Graham made 1 of 2 from the line, Marseille fed Sickles for his third basket in less than three minutes and Hermon had a 13-point cushion entering the final period.