BANGOR — This time, the blowout went the other way.
Meeting for the third time this season, the Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island boys’ basketball teams took to the Cross Insurance Center floor for a playoff game that meant much more than their previous encounters back home. For the Eagles, who had lost to MDI by double digits in six consecutive matchups since the start of the 2016-17 season, defeats to the Trojans had gotten old.
“They’ve beat us a bunch of times, and we didn’t want them ending our season,” Ellsworth senior Devin Grindle said. “We knew we’d have to come in here and play close to perfect, but we knew we could do it.”
This Ellsworth performance was nothing short of perfection. Dominating from the opening tip, the Eagles earned a win they’ve been craving for three years to exorcise their demons against their biggest rivals.
Ellsworth delivered an emphatic start to tournament action at the Cross Center on Friday with a 71-48 win over the Trojans in the Class B North quarterfinals. The win marked the second of two dominant playoff performances for the Eagles following Tuesday’s preliminary victory over Winslow and gave the team its first playoff win at the Cross Center since its run to the Northern Maine title in 2016.
Ellsworth got off to a roaring start with a quick basket from Hunter Curtis and two 3-pointers from Grindle to take an 8-0 lead. Yet No. 3 MDI used a Derek Collin layup and Brett Duley 3-pointer to score the next five points before Hunter and Jackson Curtis scored the last nine of the quarter for the Eagles, who led 17-10 after the opening frame.
Although MDI fought back with a 3-pointer and off-balance bank shot from Steven Pierce to cut Ellsworth’s lead to 17-15 early in the second quarter, three Devin Grindle free throws and five points from Darby Barry gave the sixth-ranked Eagles (14-6) a double-digit lead. Following a 5-0 MDI run, Ellsworth scored seven of the half’s final 10 points to take a 32-23 lead into the locker room.
Whereas Ellsworth had the opening burst to open the first half, it was MDI (13-6) that went on a run to start the second. Eli Parady scored six points to spur a run by the Trojans before Ellsworth head coach Peter Austin called timeout to stop the bleeding.
“Our kids just needed a breather to settle down,” Austin said. “I just said to them what I’ve said all year: ‘The little things win the games.’ We just needed to get back to doing those little things.”
Following a series of exchanged baskets from both teams, Ellsworth seized the momentum and never let go. Using a 20-3 run, the Eagles blew a tight game wide open to earn their first win over the Trojans since Feb. 4, 2016.
Part of that Ellsworth run came when Jackson Curtis slipped past the MDI defense for an emphatic basket at the rim midway through the fourth quarter. Austin insisted it wasn’t a dunk, but one of his seniors begged to differ.
“It was definitely a dunk, trust me,” Grindle said. “He got the rim, and the ball went through the hoop. You’ve got to give it to him.”
With each passing possession, the roars from the Ellsworth bench players and fans grew louder and louder. Even as they celebrated, the Eagles, who lost 58-38 to the Trojans on Jan. 11 in Bar Harbor and 49-37 when the teams faced one another last Thursday at Ellsworth High School, kept the pressure on until the clock hit zeros.
“You just never know for sure, and we needed to just keep our heads in the game, even when we were up by a lot,” Hunter Curtis said. “You don’t give up until the buzzer goes off, but when the buzzer sounded, it was just the best feeling.”
Grindle led Ellsworth in scoring with 21 points, and Hunter Curtis added 18. The Eagles’ other scorers were Jackson Curtis with 13 points, Barry with 11 points and Connor Crawford, Austin Harris, Norman Jodrey and Michael Palmer with two apiece.
The win was the product of the second strong offensive performance in a row from Ellsworth, which scored 68 in its win over No. 11 Winslow three nights earlier. That scoring combined with solid defense has led to two decisive playoff wins for the Eagles.
“Our all-around game is pretty good right now,” Jackson Curtis said. “We’re moving the ball really well, finding the open man and just really working hard together as a team to find those ways to win.”
Pierce led MDI in scoring with 13 points, and Parady scored 10, all of which came in the third quarter. Collin and Duley scored nine apiece for the Trojans as Drew Shea provided seven.
Ellsworth’s next game will be against No. 2 Caribou (16-3) at 2:05 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20. Caribou defeated No. 10 Washington Academy (9-11) 73-49 later Friday evening to earn its 13th consecutive win.
That semifinal game will be a difficult matchup for Ellsworth, which lost to Caribou by scores of 70-56 and 83-51 when the teams met earlier this season. As the Eagles showed Friday, though, regular season blowouts mean very little come playoff time.
“They’re going to be a handful,” Austin said of Caribou. “We know from earlier in the year how solid they are, but at the same time, I think we’re doing those little things really well right now. We’ll be ready for anybody.”