BANGOR — Entering last week, neither of the Ellsworth boys’ basketball team’s playoff opponents had challenged the Eagles on either end of the court. In the regional semifinals, they finally met their match
Ellsworth’s season came to an end Wednesday with a 65-58 loss to Caribou in the Class B North semifinals at the Cross Insurance Center. The Eagles led for almost the entire first half but couldn’t hold off a lopsided third quarter and well-rounded offensive performance overall from the Vikings.
“We got beat by a good team today,” Ellsworth head coach Peter Austin said. “Caribou has some real playmakers, and it just didn’t happen for us. Credit to our kids, though, because they fought really hard.”
Ellsworth got off to a hot start for the second straight contest at the Cross Center with Jackson Curtis scoring the game’s first seven points. Caribou responded with a 7-0 run of its own, after which the two teams began to exchange baskets with seemingly every possession before the Eagles emerged with a 21-17 lead through eight minutes of play.
The second quarter was much of the same as No. 6 Ellsworth (14-7) maintained its lead but failed to pull away from Caribou. Still, the Eagles took a 35-29 lead into the break after scoring seven of the final 10 points to end the half.
Caribou, though, was quick to turn the momentum in its favor in the second half. Holding Ellsworth to a single basket over the first several minutes of the third quarter, the second-ranked Vikings (17-3) took their first lead of the game when they pulled ahead 39-38.
Ellsworth got the lead back with a Norman Jodrey basket on the ensuing possession, but Caribou answered by demonstrating the offensive prowess that made it the top-scoring team in the Big East this season. The Vikings also continued to frustrate the Eagles on the other end with its transition from a man-to-man defense to a zone defense.
“We didn’t respond well to that,” Austin said. “They went to their full-court press to try us into some turnovers, and it worked for them three straight times. Every time we’d turn the ball over, they’d go right down the court and score.”
Scoring spells from Jackson and Hunter Curtis and a 3-pointer from Devin Grindle did bring Ellsworth back within two late in the fourth quarter, but Caribou never gave up the lead as it used clutch foul shooting and avoided turnovers to win its 14th game in a row.
“They made almost every foul shot,” Austin said of the Vikings, who sank 15 of their 18 free-throw attempts. “That was probably the difference in the game.”
Jackson Curtis led Ellsworth with 24 points, and Darby Barry and Hunter Curtis joined him in double figures with 12 and 10, respectively. Jodrey (six points) and Grindle and Connor Crawford (three points apiece) also scored for the Eagles.
For Caribou, junior Alex Bouchard scored a team-high 22 points, 11 of which came in the Vikings’ breakthrough third quarter. Parker Deprey (18 points), Isaac Marker (14 points) and Austin Findlen (10) also reached double figures for Caribou, and Sawyer Deprey added the lone remaining point for the Vikings on a free throw.
“Ellsworth has a lot of guys who can hurt you, and we saw that in that the first half and when they fought back in the fourth quarter,” Caribou head coach Kyle Corrigan said. “They gave us a tough game, and I’m glad our team was able to respond like we did.”
The win was Caribou’s third over Ellsworth in as many games this season. The Vikings will take on top-ranked Hermon (20-0) in the regional championship game Saturday, Feb. 23. That game will start 15 minutes following the awards ceremony for the Class B North girls’ title game, which is scheduled to begin at 2:05 p.m.
As for Ellsworth, the Eagles have the tools to be back on the big stage again next year with the Curtis brothers, Barry, Crawford, Austin Harris and three other players returning. After making its return to the Cross Center floor this year, the Eagles will be primed to make another run come 2019-20.
“This is a very dedicated group I have,” Austin said. “Our seniors were great leaders for us, and our underclassmen going to be motivated to get back in the gym after this and keep getting better. I’m proud of all of them.”