Hampden guard Zach McLaughlin (right) fights for the ball during the game against Brewer High School on Jan. 22. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

A different season finds the Brewer and Hampden Academy basketball programs in different places than they were when they last squared off at the Augusta Civic Center 11 months ago.

On that night Hampden escaped with a 54-52 victory in the Class A North semifinals en route to the 2020 state title — with that step along their gold-ball trail achieved only after what would have been a go-ahead 3-pointer by the Witches with 2.8 seconds left negated by a timeout called just a nanosecond earlier.

While Hampden has only one starter back from last year’s team this winter, Brewer graduated just one senior and the returning veterans used that lingering frustration to fuel a convincing 90-44 road victory Friday night’s rematch.

Coach Ben Goodwin’s Witches made their first nine field-goal attempts — including three 3-pointers — and scored the game’s first 17 points while cruising to their second victory in as many games during this COVID-19 shortened regular season.

“The game felt personal,” Brewer junior guard Colby Smith said. “Obviously they’ve been the more dominant team the past couple years and we came into this game with a chip on our shoulders. We wanted to come out and make a message and show them that there’s a new team in town and we’re here to stay.”

When Brewer finally cooled off a bit, the Witches turned up their man-to-man half-court defense and forced 18 first-half turnovers en route to a 54-17 intermission lead.

“Defense leads to offense,” Smith said. “When we’re getting stops and we’re fired up, we’re going to hit our shots.”

Sophomore forward Brady Saunders scored 14 of his game-high 20 points during Brewer’s 28-point second quarter, often by anticipating turnovers and racing to fill the lane on the ensuing fast breaks.

“I’ve been playing with these guys my whole life so I just know when they get the ball. They’re always looking for me because I’m always breaking out,” said Saunders, who made all six of his first-half field-goal tries.

Sophomore Brock Flagg came off the Brewer bench to add 13 points, while Smith scored 12 points and dished out 10 assists and senior guard Dylan Huff also finished with 12 points.

Eleven different Witches scored in the contest, eight with at least five points.

“Probably the last game they played against us was a great motivator for them to start the game tonight,” Hampden coach Russ Bartlett said. “Not that we had a lot of guys who played in that game who played tonight, but obviously they did and they remembered it and played like a real mature, seasoned team.”

Aidan Kristal paced Hampden with 12 points while Landon Gabric scored 11. T.J. Henaghan, the Broncos’ 6-foot-8 junior forward, finished with seven points.

“In the situation we’re in we’re preparing a little bit for next season,” Bartlett said, “and that’s not writing off the seniors’ season at all because we need them to provide leadership and they know what to do and what’s expected of them in our program.

We’re just trying to get better every day.”

Brewer, meanwhile, left the Augusta Civic Center after last February’s semifinal loss determined to contend for a state championship in 2021 only to be frustrated again, this time by the cancellation of this year’s tournament due to coronavirus concerns.

Bartlett believes the Witches would have been one of the top contenders.

“I feel for the Brewer kids because obviously they’d be in the situation where they’d have a legit opportunity to try to win a gold ball this year,” he said.

Instead, the Witches must be content with trying to make the most of the opportunities that do remain during a winter when playing basketball at all is by no means a continuing certainty.

“We never forgot that moment, and this year is like a revenge season,” Saunders said. “Although we’re not playing for a state championship, we’re just trying to do the best we can and go as far as we can.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...