BANGOR — Things came easy for the Ellsworth boys’ basketball team for 19 games. The situation at the Cross Insurance Center has been different.
Ellsworth, in search of its first Gold Ball in 56 years, barely came close to losing in an undefeated regular season. In Bangor, though, there have been moments in which the Eagles have entered the late stages of games with at least a shadow of a doubt over the outcome.
“These have been some closer games for us, which is exciting for the fans but not so much for me,” joked Ellsworth head coach Peter Austin. “I’ve felt my blood pressure up a little bit.”
Opposing teams stepping their games up in late February is to be expected — and even if the tighter contests are less comfortable for the Ellsworth faithful, the Eagles showed again Wednesday that they know how to come through in these tighter situations.
Ellsworth earned a 55-47 win over Old Town in Wednesday’s Class B North semifinal showdown in Bangor. The Eagles, who were four days removed from a six-point quarterfinal win over Presque Isle, withstood multiple runs from the Coyotes to win another relatively tight contest and clinch a regional final berth for the second straight tournament.
“We knew these games here were going to be a step up, 100 percent,” said Ellsworth’s Hunter Curtis. “When you get to this floor, you know every game is going to be super tough, but we’re super tough, and we’ve been able to do what it takes to get these wins.”
Old Town took an early lead on top-ranked Ellsworth (21-0) as it scored the game’s first five points. Yet Chance Mercier, just as he did against Presque Isle, fueled an Ellsworth run as he scored 10 points over the final four minutes of the first quarter to give the Eagles a 16-8 lead entering the second.
After Ellsworth went up double digits to start the second quarter on a floater from Brett Bragdon, fourth-ranked Old Town (14-7) found an offensive rhythm. The Coyotes went on a 14-4 run to tie the game before Michael Harris scored the Eagles’ last three points of the half to put Ellsworth up 25-23 at the break.
Ellsworth looked set to go on runs at two separate points in the third quarter, but Old Town responded on both occasions. After falling behind 32-27, the Coyotes scored five quick points to tie it again. Then, with the Eagles leading 41-34, Old Town scored six straight to make it a one-point game.
“It was just like the Presque Isle game where they’d hit a few big shots whenever we thought we were going to blow it open,” Curtis said. “Coach slowed us down and called a couple of big timeouts to make sure we under control, and we came back firing.”
After the last of those timeouts, with Ellsworth leading 46-43 in the fourth quarter, Curtis put the Eagles up multiple scores for good as he converted an and-one. He then scored on the next possession to put Ellsworth up eight, and the Eagles rode out the remaining two minutes as Old Town would make just one more basket.
Mercier led Ellsworth in scoring with 21 points, and Curtis added 16 points (14 in the second half) and 15 rebounds. The Eagles also got six points from Gage Hardy, three points each from Harris and Eamon MacDonald and two each from Bragdon, Michael Palmer and Miles Palmer.
Ellsworth, which scored 60 points or more in all but two games entering the tournament, has failed to do so in either of its contests in Bangor. Yet with consistent defensive efforts in both of those games, the Eagles have reached another Class B North final.
“To only give up 47 points in the Cross Center, that’s a good defensive feat for us,” Miles Palmer said. “We had a few situations where we were a bit too anxious on the steals and gave up two points, but sometimes, you’ve just got to go for it and play like that.”
After the game, Austin was congratulated by fans for his 200th career victory. With both the Class B North championship game coming up and a potential state final to follow, though, the Eagles’ head coach of 15 years wants to wait until 202 to celebrate.
Ellsworth can give Austin No. 201 with a win over No. 2 Orono (18-3) in the regional title game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26. The Red Riots, who beat No. 11 John Bapst (10-11) 56-39 in Wednesday’s other B North semifinal game, have won 13 of their past 14 and boast one of the Big East’s best players in Pierce Walston.
“Walston is a great player, and we have to limit his touches and keep him from going for 20 against us,” Austin said. “They have five or six good players just like we do. It’s going to be another tough matchup for us.”
GSA boys top PVHS; MDI girls fall to Hermon
The George Sevens Academy boys’ team advanced to the Class C North semifinals with a 44-18 victory Wednesday against Penobscot Valley.
Patrick Dagan scored a game-high 20 points for No. 2 GSA (16-2), which also got eight points and seven rebounds from Azaiah Nanson. The Eagles led just 18-15 at halftime but outscored No. 10 Penobscot Valley (9-9) 26-3 in the second half to turn a tight game into a rout.
On the girls’ side, No. 3 Mount Desert Island (16-5) fell to a 42-32 defeat Wednesday against second-ranked Hermon (17-2) in the Class B North semifinals. That result brought the Hancock County girls’ basketball season to an end.
The GSA boys will take on 11th-ranked Central (12-8) in the Northern Maine semifinals at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25. With a win, the Eagles would advance to play in the regional final at 8:45 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26.