Ellsworth’s Sara Shea possesses the ball as Orono’s Alyssa LaBelle defends during the second half of a high school girls’ basketball game Dec. 31 at Ellsworth High School. Ellsworth is one of three local girls’ teams set to participate in the Northern Maine playoffs this week. The sixth-ranked Eagles will host No. 11 John Bapst (6-12) in the preliminary round at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow, Feb. 12, and would advance to face No. 3 Waterville (18-0) at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, with a win. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: Eagles, Trojans, Mariners make up strong local girls’ field

It’s been nearly five full years since the Mount Desert Island girls’ basketball team beat Presque Isle to claim the Eastern Maine title in Class B. Since then, no Hancock County girls’ team has won a regional title.

Although only three local girls’ teams are headed to the tournament this year, those teams will be formidable opponents for any team that hopes to bring home a Gold Ball. With the No. 1-seeded team in Class B North and an unbeaten squad in Class D, Hancock County has a shot to bring home hardware of its own.

As players take to the Cross Insurance Center floor over the next week, they’ll carry with them the pride of their communities. If the season to date is any indication, plenty of thrilling moments remain for a talented collection of local athletes.

Ellsworth (13-5, No. 6 seed in Class B North)

With each passing year, the Ellsworth girls’ team has improved little by little in the Class B North ranks. That development took the next step this season as the Eagles improved by three wins in their best regular season to date under head coach Andy Pooler.

Among Ellsworth’s 13 wins were milestone victories over Presque Isle and Mount Desert Island, teams the Eagles hadn’t beaten in more than a decade. The team clinched a playoff berth for the seventh consecutive year when it defeated John Bapst on Jan. 17 to qualify with five games remaining.

Ellsworth’s Trinity Montigny goes in for a layup as teammates Sara Shea (second from right) and Kayla Duhaime celebrate in the background during the second half of a high school girls’ basketball game against Mount Desert Island on Jan. 10 in Bar Harbor. Montigny’s basket as time expired sealed a 35-31 win for Ellsworth, which beat MDI for the first time since 2004 and handed the Trojans their first loss of the season. BARRY GUTRADT PHOTO

“I think we’re ahead of schedule,” Ellsworth head coach Andy Pooler said. “At the beginning of the year, if you’re looking at it realistically, maybe MDI and Presque Isle are ones you’re looking at winning next year, but we were able to go into those games and get big wins. We’ve had a lot of players grow up fast.”

Junior Trinity Montigny led both Ellsworth and the Big East Conference in scoring with 16.6 points per game. The Eagles also boast a strong sophomore class with Kylie Robidoux (7.3 rebounds per game) leading the way in the paint and Sierra Andrews, Samantha Carter and Sara Shea also providing valuable contributions.

Ellsworth will get a rematch against No. 11 John Bapst (6-12) in the preliminary round at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Feb. 12, at Ellsworth High School. A win over the Crusaders would send the Eagles to the Cross Insurance Center, where they would play third-ranked Waterville (18-0) at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15.

“Our goal going into the year was to get a home playoff game, and we’ve done that,” Pooler said. “Those past two years, we had to go on the road in the prelims, and that’s just hard to do. To get over that hump and make it to the Cross Center would mean a lot for this group.”

Mount Desert Island (16-2, No. 1 seed in Class B North)

A year ago, a junior-led MDI team claimed the No. 3 seed in the Class B North playoffs after a 14-4 regular season. That core of players entered the 2018-19 campaign with high expectations, and the Trojans met them through the first 18 games.

MDI’s biggest strength came in the post, where the duo of Julia Watras and Maddy Candage combined to average 24.2 points and 17.4 rebounds per game. With Hannah Chamberlain’s solid 3-point shooting and Alexis Clarito’s guard play and defense adding to the repertoire, opposing teams struggled to keep up with the Trojans’ versatility.

The team’s only losses this year came in early January against Ellsworth and Hermon, and MDI avenged both of those defeats later in the season as it finished 16-2. After winning seven games in a row to end the regular season, the Trojans will enter the tournament with as much momentum as anyone in Class B.

MDI’s Julia Watras (front) and Maddy Candage defend against Oceanside’s Molly Gould (left) and Sara Dorr during the first half of a high school girls’ basketball game Jan. 5 in Bar Harbor. The Trojans will have the No. 1 seed in the Class B North playoffs after going 16-2 in the regular season. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

“I think you want to be going into the tournament playing your best, and we’ve gone through a stretch where we’ve had to beat some good teams,” MDI head coach Brent Barker said. “With all that said, it was just last year that a 6 seed that had to go through the prelims ended up winning the entire tournament. I think the field is that deep again this year.”

MDI will open its postseason campaign at 4:35 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, when it takes on either No. 8 Oceanside (7-11) or No. 9 Maine Central Institute (9-9). The Trojans swept Oceanside in the regular season and topped MCI in a five-quarter exhibition game in the preseason.

Deer Isle-Stonington (16-0, No. 2 seed in Class D North)

How does a team improve on an unbeaten regular season? It does it again — and does it even better the second time around.

Whereas Deer Isle-Stonington had several close calls during last year’s 16-0 regular season campaign, the Mariners were barely bothered en route to accomplishing the same feat this year. The team won by double digits in all but two games, averaging an overall margin of victory of 23.2 points and winning three games by 40-plus.

Deer Isle-Stonington averaged nearly 60 points per game with senior Lily Gray running the offense from the point guard position and sophomores Rylee Eaton (15.9 points per game) and Kaylee Morey (12.0 points per game) leading the way as scorers. Those numbers were deflated by the fact that the Mariners frequently rested players after running out to insurmountable leads early in games.

Those players were also key to Deer Isle-Stonington’s defense, which gave the Mariners a foundation for their success a year ago and remained strong this season. Opposing teams had difficulty scoring on the Mariners in the paint against 5-foot-10 junior Katie Hutchinson, who ensured the team still had the size it needed to succeed despite the loss of 6-foot center Orly Vaughn from last year’s team.

“They’ve been practicing hard, and they’ve been jelling well together because this is pretty much the same team we had last year minus Orly,” head coach Randy Shepard said. “We still have kind of a young team with only two seniors, but even for the younger players, the game is really slowing down for them.”

Deer Isle-Stonington’s Kaylee Morey (left) surveys the floor as teammate Lily Gray sets a screen against Ellsworth’s Sara Shea (second from right) and Sierra Andrews during a preseason high school girls’ basketball game Dec. 3 in Ellsworth. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

Deer Isle-Stonington will face either seventh-ranked Ashland (7-11) or No. 10 Jonesport-Beals (7-10) in the Class D North quarterfinals at 11:05 a.m. next Monday, Feb. 18, at the Cross Insurance Center. The Mariners defeated Ashland 33-20 when the teams met in the quarterfinals last season and beat Jonesport-Beals by scores of 67-50 and 65-35 in the regular season this year.

“Going into the first round and winning last year [against Ashland], that gave us a lot of confidence even though we could have played better that game,” Gray said. “It’ll be fun to be back out on that floor again.”

Other teams to watch

Hermon and Old Town gave MDI and Ellsworth trouble in the regular season, and both will be Northern Maine title contenders. At 18-0, Waterville boasts two wins over defending Class B champion Winslow. Gray New-Gloucester, the No. 1 team in Class B South, has an experienced roster composed entirely of juniors and seniors.

In Class C North, Central Aroostook and Dexter claimed the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, with records of 15-3. Sixth-seeded Narraguagus has won 17 games in a row since losing its season opener against Calais, which has championship aspirations of its own at 17-1. Boothbay, which is 18-0 this year with 11 wins of 30-plus points, is the favorite in Class C South.

Southern Aroostook claimed the Gold Ball in Class D a season ago, and the Warriors will be chasing regional and state titles yet again in 2018-19 with their entire roster back from last year’s run. Woodland is 13-5, but all five losses came against Class C teams. In Class D South, 17-1 Rangeley has one of the state’s top-ranked scoring defenses at 26.4 points allowed per game.

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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