ELLSWORTH — In a season where basketball opportunities have been scarce as a result of matters off the court, Andy Pooler’s team now finds its hands full on it.
Returning the majority of a roster that earned a spot on the Cross Insurance Center floor last year, Pooler’s Ellsworth girls’ basketball team has plenty of experience and leadership this winter. Yet with the move to the regionalized competition uprooting the team’s traditional schedule, the Eagles are up against a slate of opponents far more daunting than anything they’ve faced in recent years.
“We’ve joked a bit that, in the year that’s been the toughest for all of us, we’re getting our toughest schedule,” Pooler said. “If you look at who we play this year, I really think that’s the case.”
Such was evident Monday night as the Ellsworth girls’ team fell 45-23 in its season opener against reigning Class A North champion Hampden Academy at Ellsworth High School. The game was first of three this season against opponents from higher classifications for the Eagles, who are also set to face some of their toughest Penobscot Valley Conference rivals.
After Hampden scored 11 of the game’s first 13 points to take an early lead, Ellsworth closed the gap to five points as 3-pointers from Morgan Clifford and Jocelyn Jordan bookended a layup from the Broncos’ Megan Deans. Hampden, though, would hold Ellsworth (0-1) to a pair of Clifford free throws over the last five minutes of the first half to take a 19-10 lead into the break.
Early in the third quarter, Hampden went on an 8-1 run to stretch its lead all the way to 16 points. Yet Ellsworth responded with a 10-0 burst as 3-pointers from Clifford and Casey Carter and layups from Sierra Andrews and Autumn Paul cut the deficit to 27-21 late in the third quarter.
“Something we’re trying to work on to get the kinks out a little bit is to use our inside-out game a little better,” Pooler said. “With us hitting those 3-pointers, it opened things up for offense for a little bit. We were able to free up some open shooters.”
Hampden, though, would not allow another Ellsworth field goal the rest of the way. After scoring the final basket of the third quarter, the Broncos turned turnovers on defense into points on offense to open up a large lead and seal a road win.
Clifford had a team-high 10 points for Ellsworth, which also got three apiece from Jordan, Carter and Kylie Robidoux and two each from Andrews and Paul. Deans finished with a game-high 12 points for Hampden.
A stout defensive effort was not unexpected of Hampden, which held opponents below the 30-point mark five times a season ago. The difference in intensity between the Class A Broncos and the Eagles’ typical Class B opponents, Pooler said, was noticeable.
“That different level, from B to A, you see that physicality come out a little bit,” Pooler said. “They’re disciplined and well-coached, and you saw it in their pressing and their executing. They run their stuff really well, and they were able to turn us over a bit and then go on a run to put it away.”
Although Ellsworth won’t see Hampden again, the Eagles still have to face Class A Brewer and Class AA Bangor in February. Pooler’s team is also scheduled to play three games against perennial regional title contender Mount Desert Island as well as a road contest against a Hermon outfit that won the Class B North title last season.
Ellsworth will play the first of those contests when it returns to action to host MDI at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26. That matchup will pit the Eagles against a team that returns virtually its entire roster and will be hungry for revenge after a season-ending defeat against Ellsworth in last year’s Northern Maine prelims.
“It’s tough to start out against a team like Hampden, but they’re a great program, and MDI is obviously a team that fits that mold as well,” Pooler said. “With things the way they are, those are the types of teams we’re going to be playing all year, and we need to be prepared for that.”
Ellsworth boys lose at Hampden; Brown nears 1K mark
Tuesday’s other basketball action saw the Ellsworth boys’ team fall just short in its own matchup against Hampden Academy and a Deer Isle-Stonington senior close in on the 1,000-point mark.
In Hampden, the Ellsworth boys took a 28-14 lead into halftime against the defending state champion Broncos. Although the Eagles (0-1) maintained their 14-point edge entering the fourth quarter, Hampden outscored the visitors 20-5 in the final frame to earn a 51-50 win.
Locally, the Deer Isle-Stonington boys’ team claimed a 58-50 win over Bucksport (0-1) at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. Myles Brown scored 28 points for the Mariners (1-0) to move within eight points of 1,000 for his high school career.
Brown will look to score his 1,000th career point when Deer Isle-Stonington hosts Shead at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23. The Mariners will then host Searsport at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, Jan. 27.
The Ellsworth boys’ team will be on the road against Bucksport at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22. The Eagles will play another road game next Wednesday as they take on local rival Mount Desert Island at 7 p.m.