BAR HARBOR — A prolific offensive performance Saturday afternoon left one basketball fan in Mount Desert Island High School’s Bunny Parady Gymnasium in utter amazement.
Using speed in the transition game, pinpoint passing and red-hot shooting to make basket after basket, the Ellsworth boys’ team was an unstoppable force in its second game of Saturday’s round-robin preseason tournament in Bar Harbor. When the buzzer sounded to mark the end of the first half, the aforementioned fan looked up at the scoreboard and shook his head in disbelief.
“Sixty?” the bewildered fan asked himself rhetorically as the two teams left the court and filed into their respective locker rooms. “They scored 60 in one half? How do you even score 60 in one half?”
In reality, the Eagles had scored 59 points in the first half of Saturday’s game against Sumner. Yet the exact number was merely a matter of semantics in this contest, a game in which Ellsworth showcased its status as one of the teams to beat in this year’s Class B field.
“We just couldn’t miss,” senior Connor Crawford said. “We have a lot of shooters and experience, and when we’re hot like that sometimes, it’s a lot of fun.”
Ellsworth averaged 59.4 points per game a season ago, surpassing the 60-point mark 12 times and the 70-point mark four times. The Eagles’ best stretch of play came at the end of the year as they scored a combined 139 points in tourney wins over Winslow and Mount Desert Island to reach the regional semifinals.
This year, Ellsworth returns the vast majority of a squad that went 14-7 last season. Even without Devin Grindle and Norman Jodrey, who had strong years defensively as seniors a year ago, with the players they do return, the Eagles have the pieces to be remarkably dangerous.
“We’ve got a lot of kids back, and that’s a huge boost,” Crawford said. “We’re still trying to figure out our full rotation, but when you look around at our team, it’s hard not to be excited.”
Jackson Curtis, who averaged 18.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in the regular season last year and was an All-Big East Conference first-teamer, is back for his senior season. Curtis put his offensive arsenal on full display Saturday with a stretch of four straight 3-pointers against Sumner after coming through in the paint late to spur Ellsworth to a 43-39 win against Fryeburg Academy in the Eagles’ tournament opener.
This Eagles also return Darby Barry and Hunter Curtis, last year’s No. 2 and No. 3 scorers with 10.2 and 9.8 points per game, respectively. Barry propelled Ellsworth to the Cross Insurance Center last year with a 24-point effort in the Eagles’ preliminary round win over Winslow, and Hunter Curtis, Jackson’s younger brother, led the team in rebounds (8.1), assists (3.3) and steals (1.1) per game.
Ellsworth’s other starting spots will go to Crawford and Austin Harris, two of the Eagles’ leading bench contributors a year ago. The Eagles’ bench this year will include returning forwards Brett Bragdon and Deyan Rich as well as J’Von James, a transfer for whom head coach Peter Austin has high hopes in 2019-20.
“[J’Von] is very athletic,” Austin said. “He’s still trying to get to know my system, but eventually, I think he’ll be playing some pretty big minutes for us.”
Ellsworth’s top challengers will include defending state champion Caribou, Northern Maine runner-up Hermon and Cross Center staple MDI. This year’s Class B North field also includes Houlton, which boasts one of the state’s top guards in Keegan Gentle and is moving up a class after claiming the Class C North crown last season.
The best of that bunch could be Caribou, which ended Ellsworth’s season last year with a come-from-behind win in the regional semifinals. The Vikings bring back reigning Big East scoring leader Parker Deprey (19.4 points per game) as well as All-Big East honorable mention recipients Alex Bouchard and Isaac Marker. They will also add several players from a junior varsity team that went undefeated.
“They’re going to be really good again,” Barry said of Caribou, which beat Ellsworth twice in the regular season prior to the two teams’ meeting in the Class B North semifinals. “We know there’s a good chance that it’s going be us and them again [in the playoffs].”
This year, Ellsworth’s schedule includes its annual home-and-home series with Caribou and Presque Isle as well as home and away games against Hermon, MDI and Maine Central Institute. The 2019-20 season marks the first time in five years the Eagles will not face George Stevens Academy.
Ellsworth’s first regular season game will be at home at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11. That contest will pit the Eagles against a Washington Academy team that can be remarkably difficult to scout early in the season with its annual influx of transfers.
“WA and MCI can be tough because you never know what players they’re going to bring in,” Austin said. “We can be good, but in this league, you can beat anybody and get beat by anybody. Our kids know they’re going to have to go out and earn it.”