Ellsworth’s Dylan Taplin drives to the basket during the first half of a high school boys’ basketball game against Orono on Dec. 30 in Ellsworth. The Eagles won the game 66-60. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

Ellsworth boys use hot shooting to edge Orono

ELLSWORTH — Playing for the third time in four days, Saturday had the potential to be an exhausting affair for the Ellsworth boys’ basketball team. Instead of fading, the team delivered one of its best performances yet.

The Eagles were .500 after returning from their annual trip to Aroostook County, but after making 13 3-pointers in their Thursday win over Caribou, the team was feeling confident. Two days later, that hot shooting continued in a big way from the confines of home.

Ellsworth put on an impressive shooting display Saturday to beat Orono 66-60 in a game that marked a positive end to the 2017 portion of the Eagles’ schedule. The team made nine shots from beyond the arc to earn a clutch win as it enters the meat of its schedule in the coming weeks.

“We have a lot of people that can shoot and have a green light to shoot, especially from 3,” Ellsworth head coach Peter Austin said. “It’s been working for us lately, and we’re hoping it will carry over.”

Ellsworth (4-3) took the lead early behind two 3-pointers from Brad Smith and stayed ahead of Orono for most of the first half. With eight points from Jackson Curtis in the second quarter, the Eagles went into halftime with a 35-32 lead.

Orono, though, took the lead in the second half and led most of the way. The Red Riots (2-2) had a 46-43 advantage after three quarters and led by as many as six points during the second half.

Yet Ellsworth eventually took the lead in the fourth quarter and put the game away with a late surge. Clutch free-throw shooting from Harris and a breakaway steal and layup from Smith put the Eagles up 64-57 with less than a minute to go, and the Red Riots ran out of time to make a comeback.

“We made those extra passes and were able to hit the big shots we needed,” Smith said. “We were also able to force turnovers close to the end.”

Curtis scored a team-high 17 points for the Eagles, and Harris added 16. Smith and Jared Hamilton had 11 and 10, respectively, and Dylan Taplin scored six of the remaining 12 for an Ellsworth team that has now shot 54 percent from the floor over the past two games.

Unlike the first meeting between Ellsworth and Orono this season, the Red Riots went to the paint to force Ellsworth’s defenders to commit to the post in this matchup. The result was a closer game that could’ve been lost had the Eagles not shot well from the 3-point line and played efficient defense against the Red Riots’ primary offensive threats.

“We did a lot of things well, but I thought we gave up a few too many offensive boards,” Harris said. “That’s something we’re going to have to work on in practice, but if we can keep playing well offensively, that’s going to be a big help.”

Depending on the path of the snowstorm predicted to hit Hancock County next week, Ellsworth’s next game will be at home against Washington Academy (6-2) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 4, or against Hermon (5-0) at 7 p.m. next Saturday, Jan. 6. The team will then host rival Mount Desert Island (5-1) on Jan. 10.

How Ellsworth fares against those teams, each of which is ranked in Class B North’s top five at the moment, will have a major effect on where it ends up in the Heal standings as the the second half of the season unfolds.

“We just have to get a spark,” Smith said. “Once we got a spark tonight, we saw what we can do against a good team. If we fix the mistakes, we can do even better.”

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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