ELLSWORTH, Maine — All the intangibles were clicking for the Maranacook boys basketball team Wednesday night.
The Black Bears from Readfield were balanced offensively — four players scored in double figures — played solid pressure defense and turned turnovers and defensive rebounds into fast-break points.
Those factors led to the defending Class B state champions earning a return trip to the Bangor Auditorium, as ninth-ranked Maranacook earned a 76-59 preliminary-round victory over No. 8 Ellsworth at Katsiaficas Gymnasium.
Coach Rob Schmidt’s club improves to 13-6 and earns a date with top-ranked and undefeated Camden Hills of Rockport at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in a rematch of last year’s regional final.
Camden Hills beat the Black Bears 68-40 in their lone meeting this winter.
Ellsworth finishes up 12-7.
The Black Bears came out of the gates hard, scoring the contest’s first 13 points, with Pat Norwood scoring six over that span, as furious Maranacook ball pressure forced several Eagle mistakes, leading to fast-breaks.
“We were talking really well and rotating really well to get turnovers and easy baskets,” said senior forward Devin Gerrity, who helped spark Maranacook’s balanced offensive output.
Sophomore forward Ben Johnson led the way with 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots while Norwood had 16 points and five steals. Sam Poulin added 12 points and nine assists and Gerrity had 12 points.
Mike Allen contributed eight points and Mike LaChance seven.
“When we play our best we’re balanced offensively. Usually Ben is our leading scorer, some days he has 20-plus but when he [scores] in the high teens and the rest of the guys are looking at double figures we’re a better team,” explained Schmidt.
Maranacook coasted to an 11-point lead after the first quarter, but Ryan Petros scored 12 of his game-high 24 points in the second quarter to bring Ellsworth to within seven at halftime.
“We stopped pressuring the ball in the second quarter,” said Schmidt. “[Petros is] a nice player, he’s got a great shot, I thought he hit some shots when we were right in his face.”
After halftime, the Bears went back to their pressure defense, and they broke out on a similar run, scoring the first 10 points of the third quarter while outscoring the Eagles 27-11 to take a 21-point lead into the fourth.
Johnson scored eight of his points in the third.
“We didn’t handle the pressure … Maranacook’s tough, they play in that tough KVAC,” Ellsworth coach Peter Austin said.
The Bears’ offense clicked well as Maranacook shot an accurate 54 percent (29-for-53) from the field.
Knowing upsets are possible, Maranacook is unfazed by a dynamite Camden Hills team.
“The thing is we’ve been in that position before and we know how it feels,” said Gerrity, recalling the 2007 tournament when the top-seeded Black Bears fell to eighth seed Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield.
Brad Folmer contributed 16 points and Pat Kelley eight for the Eagles.