BAR HARBOR — Just when it appeared another regional quarterfinal dream might slip away in inexplicable fashion, Ellsworth’s tried-and-true talisman took control.
With just 10.7 seconds remaining in Tuesday’s Northern Maine prelim game against Mount Desert Island, the Ellsworth girls’ basketball team had seen a 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate. MDI, which had possession with the game tied at 33, had a chance to take the last shot and overcome a superb second-half effort from the Eagles’ Trinity Montigny for an improbable victory.
Inbounding the ball beneath the opposing basket, MDI’s Emily Carter found teammate Elena Alderman with space on the wing. As the Trojans’ sophomore point guard took two steps to the left and dribbled, Montigny saw just enough room to poke the ball free with her right hand.
Both players lunged at the ball, but Montigny’s positioning allowed her to corral it and head the other way. Unimpeded as she sprinted toward, there was no stopping Ellsworth’s senior captain from an open layup, a tear-jerking celebration and a win for which the Eagles have been yearning for four years.
Montigny’s steal and layup in the dying seconds Tuesday gave Ellsworth a 35-33 win over MDI in the Class B North preliminary round. The basket with 1.2 seconds left ended a streak of three straight prelim defeats for Ellsworth, whose captain is now headed to the quarterfinals for the first time in her career.
“It’s a better feeling than anything in the world,” said Montigny, the Big East Conference’s leading scorer and just one of two members of Ellsworth’s 1,000-point club. “I know I’ve had some milestones this year, but this feels better than anything I’ve ever done.”
Although Ellsworth opened the scoring on a Sierra Andrews 3-pointer less than two minutes into the first quarter, Olivia Gray responded with a pair of triples of her own to power seventh-ranked MDI (11-8) to a 9-0 run. Yet the Eagles finished the opening quarter on a 3 from Casey Carter before layups from Montigny and Autumn Paul tied the game at 10 early in the second.
With both offenses sputtering late in the first half, the two teams headed to the locker room with the score knotted at 14. Yet with Montigny, who had scored just two points in the first half, scoring seven in the third quarter, the 10th-ranked Eagles (11-8) finished the period on an 11-0 run to take a 25-17 lead.
MDI, though, would find its rhythm in the fourth. After Ellsworth went up 10 points with six minutes to play, the Trojans got a 3-pointer from Leah Carroll and a pair of clutch layups from Rachelle Swanson to cut the deficit to 33-28. Then, with the Eagles leading 33-30 with just over a minute to play, Emily Carter hit a 3-pointer to tie the game.
“We knew that they were going to start hitting some shots at some point,” Ellsworth head coach Andy Pooler said. “Carroll, [Gray] and Carter come out and start hitting those shots. We just had to keep grinding.”
For Ellsworth, that grind came as MDI sought the go-ahead basket in the final minute. It began courtesy of Andrews and Kylie Robidoux, who combined for a block on Elizabeth Jones with 52 seconds to play. Andrews then made another clutch defensive play after MDI got the ball back with 18.9 seconds left as she stuck up her arms in the low post to knock a pass headed for a wide-open Jones out of bounds.
That play by Andrews set up MDI’s final offensive possession. Although Montigny had too much ground to cover to stop Alderman from catching the inbound pass, her maneuver struck the perfect balance of avoiding contact and ensuring her the best position to win the race to the loose ball.
“I didn’t know that I could steal, but I knew a steal would win, so I was just going for it,” Montigny said. “I didn’t want it to be a foul, so it had to be a clean steal.”
Cutting right to give herself the proper angle, Montigny laid the ball off the glass and into the basket and immediately started sprinting toward the Ellsworth bench in celebration. No, the game wasn’t technically over, but with MDI having no timeouts and lacking enough time to attempt a proper shot, it might as well have been.
“As soon as that ball went through the hoop, I knew it was game over,” Montigny said. “They weren’t going to get a shot off in a second.”
Montigny had a game-high 18 points for Ellsworth, which also got six from Sierra Andrews, four from Jocelyn Jordan, three from Carter and two apiece from Paul and Robidoux. Gray had 13 points to lead MDI.
The win came six days after Ellsworth concluded its regular season with a 42-35 loss to MDI on the same Bunny Parady Gymnasium floor. That loss was a bitter pill to swallow for the Eagles at the time, but winning this rematch at the horn on Montigny’s career-defining play — and earning a trip to Bangor in the process — was the ultimate panacea.
“It’s poetic,” Pooler said. “It’s been three years we’ve been knocked out in the [prelims], and she deserves to go the Cross Center.”
In less than 72 hours, Montigny and the Eagles will do so against No. 2 Waterville (17-1), one of Class B’s most complete teams. The Eagles’ quarterfinal matchup with the Panthers is scheduled to tip off at 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14.
“We’re going to go in as the underdog, but that’s what we did today, and we pulled it out,” Montigny said. “I can’t wait.”