Ellsworth’s Austin Harris drives on Mount Desert Island’s Nate Philbrook during the first half of a high school boys’ basketball game Jan. 21 at Ellsworth High School. The Eagles and Trojans are both among the teams competing in this year’s tournament. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

TOURNEY 2020: Local boys’ teams hoping to make noise in Bangor

A year after making themselves known on the Cross Insurance Center floor, boys’ basketball teams from across Hancock County are back for more.

At least three local teams will be heading to Bangor for this year’s playoffs. With two of those teams seeded very highly, Hancock County stands a strong chance to be playing well into the month.

The action begins Friday evening with Ellsworth heading to the Class B North quarterfinals to close out the opening day of action. Before you make your annual pilgrimage north, familiarize yourself with the teams set to put it all on the line in this year’s tournament.

Ellsworth (15-3, No. 2 seed in Class B North)

The Ellsworth boys had high expectations entering the season, and the Eagles didn’t disappoint as they won 11 of their last 12 to finish the regular season. Ellsworth finished second only to defending state champion Caribou in the Class B North standings.

Although 20-and-10 machine Jackson Curtis is the stat-sheet stuffer for Ellsworth, the Eagles are loaded all throughout their senior class. Head coach Peter Austin’s team has a trio of dynamic 3-point shooters in Darby Barry (8.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game), Austin Harris (7.6 points per game and 45.5 percent shooting from 3-point range) and Connor Crawford as well as a reliable bench player in J’Von James.

Between Jackson Curtis, Barry, Harris, Crawford and sophomore Hunter Curtis, all of whom were key players a year ago, Ellsworth returns to the Cross Center with a unit that knows what tourney success looks like. The Eagles posted blowout wins over Winslow and Mount Desert Island in last year’s prelims and quarterfinals, respectively, before taking Caribou to the wire in the semifinals.

“We’re a pretty experienced team with a lot of seniors now, and they know what to do what with the ball when they have to,” Austin said. “They’ve learned a lot from last year and years past, and they have all of that under their belt.”

Ellsworth will face either No. 7 Winslow or No. 10 Orono in the Class B North quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14. With a win, the Eagles would advance to face No. 3 Washington Academy, No. 6 Maine Central Institute or No. 11 Foxcroft in the semifinals at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, Feb. 19.

Mount Desert Island (8-10, No. 8 seed in Class B North)

It’s rare to see MDI head to the tournament with a losing record, but the Trojans still have an excellent chance to return to the Cross Center after playing one of the conference’s toughest schedules in 2019-20. The Trojans lost seven of their 10 games by single digits amidst a slate that included home-and-homes with Ellsworth, Caribou, Hermon and Maine Central Institute and a road contest in Houlton.

From senior sharpshooter Jack DaCorte (10.2 points per game) to a strong junior class led by Porter Isaacs and Brady Renault, MDI has shown promise up and down the lineup. The Trojans showed as much late in the season with lopsided wins over Orono and Hermon, efforts the likes of which Justin Norwood’s team must replicate if it wants to make another February run.

“I think we’re on the cusp of doing something really good, but we have to find that consistency,” Norwood said. “We have stretches where it’s like, ‘Whoa, we can really play,’ but then we have stretches where you say, ‘Man, what are we doing?’”

MDI will host ninth-ranked Mount View (9-9) in the Class B North preliminary round at 6 p.m. tomorrow, Feb. 12. If the Trojans can find that consistency and topple the visiting Mustangs, they will face No. 1 Caribou (17-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15.

“I’d like to think we can get past that and find a way to put four quarters together,” Norwood said. “If we can do that, I don’t think anyone wants to play us.”

Bucksport (5-13, No. 13 seed in Class C North)

Although Bucksport lost six of seven to end the regular season, the Golden Bucks are back in the playoffs for the ninth consecutive year after a mid-January win at Central gave them team enough Heal points to earn the second-to-last Class C North playoff berth.

Bucksport is led by Ty Giberson and Cam Soper, both of whom have scored in double figures regularly throughout the season. Christian Chase-Hurd and Logan Stanley have also made notable contributions for the Golden Bucks.

Bucksport will compete in a prelim game tomorrow as it takes on George Stevens Academy at 6 p.m. in Blue Hill. With a win, the Golden Bucks would advance to face No. 5 Fort Fairfield or No. 12 Penobscot Valley at 2 p.m. next Tuesday, Feb. 18.

George Stevens Academy (16-2, No. 4 seed in Class C North)

George Stevens Academy made it all the way to the Northern Maine championship game a year ago after transitioning from a star-powered team to a more balanced unit, and the Eagles took the same approach this year to set themselves up for a potential Gold Ball run once again.

Caden Mattson (14.6 points per game) and transfer Milos Sujica (12.7 points per game) are GSA’s top scorers, but the Eagles have other options at their disposal in David Gadsby (12.0 per game), Michael Moon (9.7 per game), Austin Snow (6.9) and Teague Smallidge (5.4). The Eagles averaged 42.3 rebounds per game as a team and also got strong guard play from Mattson and Gadsby, who combined for 7.8 assists per game.

GSA won its first 14 games of the season before falling to a triple-overtime road defeat Jan. 28 at Central and a Senior Night loss Feb. 4 against Mattanawcook Academy. The Eagles are seeking their fifth straight Northern Maine championship game appearance and fourth state title in five years.

Deer Isle-Stonington (12-6, No. 7 seed in Class D North)

Returning all but one player from last year’s roster, Deer Isle-Stonington was widely expected to make a big jump in 2019-20. The Mariners did exactly that as they improved from a 5-11 record in the regular season last season to a 12-6 showing this year.

In cousins Myles Brown and Coleman Brown, Deer Isle-Stonington has one of Class D’s most prolific two-headed monsters on the offensive end. Myles Brown excelled everywhere on the floor with 22.6 points, more than five rebounds and assists per game and 43 3-pointers on the season, and Coleman dominated the paint as he shot 57 percent on the year and averaged 16.7 points and 8.1 rebounds.

“They complement each other very well,” Deer Isle-Stonington head coach Don Allen said. “With Myles’ shooting and Coleman using his presence inside to do damage there, it’s hard for other teams to take both of them away.”

Deer Isle-Stonington is scheduled to face No. 2 Schenck (15-3) at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 17. The winner will take on No. 3 Van Buren or No. 6 Easton in the Class D North semifinals at 7 p.m. next Thursday, Feb. 20.

Other teams to watch

Caribou, which has the vast majority of last year’s Gold Ball-winning roster back, is the favorite to win another state title in Class B after going 17-1 in the regular season and clinching the No. 1 seed. The Vikings will lead a Northern Maine field that also includes Washington Academy, Hermon and Houlton, the latter of which boasts one of the state’s top scorers, Keegan Gentle.

Whichever team emerges from the Class B North field will face the winner of a Class B South bracket that includes Maranacook and Spruce Mountain. Maranacook, which claimed the top seed with a record of 16-2, averaged 75.1 points per game in the regular season and scored 80 or more eight times.

In Class C North, Central Aroostook is back as the top seed a year after its upset loss against Sumner in the regional quarterfinals. Dexter will have the No. 2 seed after an undefeated regular season, and Fort Kent, a high-scoring unit led in part by MDI transfer Steven Pierce, will be seeded third.

Winthrop, last year’s state champion, will be looking to repeat this season after beating out Waynflete for the top seed in Class C South. Boothbay and North Yarmouth, both of which are returning significant tournament experience from a year ago, will be among the teams hoping to challenge the Ramblers and Flyers for the regional title.

Traditional Downeast basketball power Jonesport-Beals, which went 16-0 in the regular season with all wins coming by double digits, will face challenges from Schenck and Van Buren in Class D North. In Class D South, defending state champion Forest Hills has stretched the state’s longest winning streak to 40 games with 17 of its 18 regular season victories came by 25 points or more.

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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