BANGOR – The Ellsworth High School boys’ basketball team won its first regional title in 28 years on Saturday.
The second-seeded Ellsworth Eagles beat the No. 4 Orono Red Riots 52-34 in the Class B Northern Maine championship at the Cross Insurance Center.
Ellsworth will play Lake Region on Friday at 8:45 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center for its first state title in 50 years.
Senior center Bruce St. Peter led Ellsworth with 19 points, and junior guard Bryce Harmon contributed 13.
“I thought we controlled the tempo,” Ellsworth coach Peter Austin said. “We wanted to hold them to 10 points or less each quarter.”
The Eagles would achieve that in all but one period.
Ellsworth came out strong. A Harmon 3-pointer four minutes into the game gave the Eagles an early 11-2 lead. It would be the only 3-pointer scored by either team.
“Our plan going in was to not settle in the first half,” Harmon said of Ellsworth’s outside shooting. “We were trying to pound the paint and get Orono in foul trouble.”
That would work out for the Eagles in the second half. But Orono controlled the rest of the quarter from there, outscoring Ellsworth 8-2 to end the period down just 13-10.
The Red Riots opened the second quarter with six unanswered points for a 16-13 lead with six and a half minutes left.
“We looked at the scoreboard and thought, ‘No way, we can’t let this happen,’” St. Peter said. “The second quarter is when we started coming alive. We grabbed that lead and never gave it back up.”
Orono wouldn’t score again before halftime.
Meanwhile, Cooper Henderson kicked off a 15-point run for Ellsworth. Kyle Golding followed with a bucket to put the Eagles back on top 17-16. St. Peter then ensured they stayed there, scoring 10 points over the next five minutes – including a dunk – to help give the Eagles a 28-16 halftime lead.
“He can dominate a game offensively and defensively,” Austin said of St. Peter. “He charges, he blocks shots, he rebounds, and he doesn’t give up the second shots. That’s what we need from him.”
The Red Riots’ 14 points in the third quarter didn’t make up any ground, and Orono fouls allowed the Eagles to score seven of their 15 points from the free throw line.
Ellsworth then held Orono to just four points in the final period.
“At practice, we decided we were going to be a defensive team,” Austin said. “We’ve been rolling ever since.”
The pivotal moment of Ellsworth’s season came on January 16 when the Eagles lost to Old Town 64-57 and dropped to 7-4.
“It was on my birthday – that’s why I remember it so well,” Austin said. “They probably don’t want to remember the next day in practice.”
But Austin said it was the Eagles’ best practice to date.
Since then, Ellsworth has won 10 straight games, including over top Class B teams such as No. 3 Washington Academy, No. 6 Caribou and No. 5 Mount Desert Island as well as the Class C North’s top seed, George Stevens Academy.
“They step up every game and never say die,” Austin said. “It has been a wonderful ride so far.”
View more photos from the game here.
The Ellsworth boys’ basketball team gets fired up for its Class B North final on Saturday. PHOTO BY TIM SUELLENTROP