ELLSWORTH — After a long offseason, the Ellsworth girls’ basketball team can finally revel in a new beginning.
It’s been nearly 10 months now since the Eagles saw a propitious season came to an all-too-early end at the hands of John Bapst in the Class B North preliminary round. Few teams have wanted to take the floor as badly as the Eagles, who have been desperate to redeem themselves.
“We talk a lot about what went on the last time we played here,” Ellsworth head coach Andy Pooler said. “It’s still a chip on our shoulder that still eats at us, but we’ve also been thinking, ‘Hey, let’s turn the corner and get past it.’ A fresh start is always good.”
Tuesday night proved to be a “fresh start” indeed for Ellsworth, which tipped off a new season sporting new uniforms on a newly designed gymnasium floor. The Eagles’ effort might not have erased the pain from a season ago, but it can certainly be used as a springboard for a new campaign, one in which the Eagles once again have big goals.
Ellsworth cruised to a 60-34 victory over Washington Academy in Tuesday’s season opener at Ellsworth High School. The result was the product of a well-balanced scoring effort from the Eagles, who got points from nine different players and meaningful minutes from 12 in a comfortable win.
Ellsworth (1-0) struggled early in the first quarter as Washington Academy used a 7-0 run to take a 9-5 lead over the home team. Yet the Eagles responded with a Samantha Carter layup and two 3-pointers from Trinity Montigny to pull ahead 15-9 before the visiting Raiders sank a pair of free throws for the final points of the quarter.
After Washington Academy (0-1) began the second quarter with a layup, Montigny and Jocelyn Jordan fueled a 19-1 run to give Ellsworth a 34-14 advantage. Foul trouble caught up with the Eagles toward the end of the half, though, as the Raiders used a series of free throws to score the final six points and limit the home team to a 34-20 lead heading into the break.
“We just kind of let it get away a little bit and let them get to the line,” Pooler said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on offense, and we need to hammer that point home on defense that we’ve got to rebound better and keep them away [from the free-throw line].”
With five of the first seven points to start the second half, Washington Academy looked set to cut Ellsworth’s lead down to double digits. Instead, the Eagles got a 3-pointer from Carter and a pair of baskets from Montigny before Sara Shea capped off a 9-0 run with a jump shot to put Ellsworth up 45-25 with 2 minutes, 34 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“When we see that we’re up like that, we have to finish,” Montigny said. “We don’t want teams to get back in the game on us; we want to finish and put teams away. … We were able to focus in and do that.”
The fourth quarter saw a stout defensive effort from the Eagles, whose only basket allowed came on a 3-pointer early in the period. Ellsworth allowed just a single free throw the rest of the way and finished the game on an 8-0 run with baskets from Samantha Higgins, Casey Carter, Morgan Clifford and Kayla Duhaime.
Montigny finished with a game-high 23 points for Ellsworth. The Eagles’ other scorers were Shea with 10 points, Casey Carter and Jordan with six points apiece, Samantha Carter with five, Clifford with four and Duhaime, Higgins and Autumn Paul with two each.
Pooler, Montigny and Shea all lauded the efforts of Casey Carter and Clifford, freshmen making their first varsity appearances. The two played notable stretches throughout the game, which began less than a half-hour after the duo appeared in Ellsworth’s junior varsity contest.
“I was definitely nervous coming into a team that was already put together, but I’ve had a chance to play with some of these girls and watch them for a while,” Carter said. “I got used to the game as it went along, and I was able to settle down and help my team.”
Pooler was also pleased with Jordan, whose six points were crucial to the Eagles’ offensive breakthrough in the second quarter. The sophomore has made the jump from bench player to starter this year, and her head coach believes her versatility is going to make her an essential piece for this year’s Ellsworth squad.
“[Jocelyn] is a workhorse, and she kind of fits the mold of what we do in terms of running the floor and outworking people,” Pooler said. “She’s really developed her 15-foot jump shot, which is huge for our offense. She can also play the five for us when we go small, which is what we did tonight.”
Ellsworth’s next game will be on the road against Maine Central Institute (1-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14. The Eagles will be back at home for a showdown against Orono at 7 p.m. next Tuesday, Dec. 17.
“We’ve never played [MCI] since any of us have been here, so it’s kind of going to be an unknown for us,” Montigny said. “We’re just going to go in and do what we do.”