BAR HARBOR — The Mount Desert Island girls’ basketball team hasn’t had to play from behind much over the course of the past two weeks. When the Trojans were put in that position Thursday, their relentless defense took control.
Whether it was trapping, blocking shots or applying relentless pressure, MDI’s defense found itself in the right places at the right times against a gritty Ellsworth team in the regular season finale. With another rivalry win under their belt, the Trojans now head to the state tournament with high expectations.
MDI combined a 15-0 run at the end of the first half with a defensive masterclass Thursday to surge to a 41-28 Senior Night win over visiting Ellsworth. The win gave the Trojans five straight victories and marked the end of the regular season for the two playoff-bound teams.
“It’s no secret that we try to get it going on defense and then try to turn our defense into offense,” MDI head coach Brent Barker said. “Even when we got behind early, we kept emphasizing that, and that allowed us to get back in it and make a run of our own.”
Over the first 10 minutes, Ellsworth appeared to have cracked a defensive code few teams in Maine have done against MDI this season. Despite the Trojans’ pressure in the paint and tight closeouts against Ellsworth’s jump shooters, the Eagles jumped out to a 15-9 lead with the help of sophomore Trinity Montigny and senior Hannah Sargent.
MDI, though, was quick to recover. Six different players scored in the second quarter for the Trojans, who held Ellsworth without a point over the final six minutes of the half to take a 24-15 lead into the locker room.
“The girls finally settled in, and that made a big difference,” Barker said. “I think there were some nerves with this being Senior Night and this being a rivalry game, but once we got past that and settled in at the defensive end, we were able to make some shots and get back in the game.”
Yet Ellsworth wasn’t about to let MDI run away with the rivalry win. Led by 3-pointers from Montigny and freshman Sara Shea, the Eagles cut the Trojans’ lead to 24-23 with 5 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter before MDI responded with a 6-0 run to push the lead to seven.
After a pair of Montigny free throws, Hannah Chamberlain hit a long 3-pointer for MDI for the final points of the third quarter. The home team then held Ellsworth to three points in the fourth quarter to end its regular season with a win.
Chamberlain led MDI with 10 points, and junior Maddy Candage provided nine. Emily Banks scored seven in her final home game for the Trojans, Maddy Good, Lindsey McEachern and Julia Watras scored four apiece and Alexis Clarito provided three.
Barker’s two seniors, Banks and Alahna Mild, both earned starts for the Trojans. Although this year’s MDI team is primarily a junior-laden squad, Barker said the Trojans won’t forget the impact its graduating members had this season.
“Our two seniors are two of the most loyal, hardworking athletes you’ll find anywhere,” Barker said. “They’re team-first players who have been very important to us this season.”
Montigny led all scorers with 12 points for Ellsworth, and Shea scored eight. The Eagles’ other scorers were Sargent with four and Kayla Duhaime and Sierra Andrews with two apiece.
Although Ellsworth wasn’t able to hold onto its early lead, the Eagles still earned a spot in the Class B North preliminary round. The team finished the regular season with a 10-8 record, a one-win improvement from last year.
“With this group, I’m really proud of what they’ve done,” Ellsworth head coach Andy Pooler said. “We have a lot of young players — a lot of freshmen — and to get 10 wins and have a winning record is definitely a great accomplishment considering what was stacked up against us.”
Ellsworth’s prelim matchup will be on the road against No. 7 Waterville (13-5) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13. That game will mark the third time in four years the Eagles have faced a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference opponent in the playoffs.
“Those [KVAC] teams are tough, and it’s not easy to go there on the road,” Pooler said. “Whether it’s Waterville, Winslow or anyone else, it’s kind of a pick-your-poison type of deal. We’re going to have to be at our best to win, but our girls are ready for the challenge.”
MDI finished third in Class B North with a 14-4 record. The Trojans will face the winner of Tuesday’s prelim game between No. 6 Winslow (13-5) and No. 11 Orono (5-13) in the regional quarterfinals at 5 p.m. next Friday, Feb. 16, at the Cross Insurance Center.
In a field that’s stronger than ever, deep tournament runs won’t be easy for Ellsworth, MDI or anyone else. With seven of the 11 Class B North playoff teams having 13 or more wins, the team that cuts down the nets as this year’s regional champion won’t be able to do so without going through a gauntlet in the process.
“When it’s tournament time, you play who you play and have to come out on fire,” Barker said. “Teams everywhere have been building toward this and waiting for this all year long, and it’s always fun to watch everybody take it up a notch.”