BAR HARBOR, Maine — The normally high-scoring Ellsworth boys basketball team defeated Mount Desert Island at its own game Friday night, using defense as the catalyst for a 51-44 victory over the Trojans at Parady Gymnasium.
Ellsworth limited MDI to 28 percent (14 of 50) shooting from the field while taking the lead midway through the second quarter and holding off a succession of comeback attempts.
“It was a hard-fought game,” said Ellsworth coach Peter Austin. “MDI’s a tough defensive team, and we had to play defense tonight to win.”
With the victory, Ellsworth (15-3) secured second place in the final Eastern Maine Class B standings, and will face the winner of a preliminary-round game between No. 7 Winslow and No. 10 Rockland in a regional quarterfinal at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
MDI (10-8) finished as the No. 9 seed and will visit No. 8 Caribou in a preliminary-round game on Wednesday.
Fittingly, a defensive play salted away the latest edition of the coastal rivalry for Ellsworth.
The Eagles were clinging to a 47-43 lead when senior Zach Emeigh — being used specifically in defensive situations late in the game — stole an MDI inbounds pass near midcourt and went in for a layup to give Ellsworth a six-point cushion with 35 seconds left.
“Coach said to make sure they didn’t get the ball in, and if they did to get right up on our man so they couldn’t get a good shot,” said Emeigh. “I could see the ball coming out of the corner of my eye, so I was able to push it away and then take it in for a layup.”
Senior forward Ryan Petros led the Eagles offensively with 17 points, while junior forward Andrew Austin added 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Sophomore guard Caleb MacDonald led MDI with 11 points, while freshman forward Ben Walls had nine points and eight rebounds.
“We did not shoot well,” said MDI coach Justin Norwood. “We missed a lot of shots that we normally make, and we didn’t shoot free throws well [15 of 29 overall, 4 of 13 in the first half].
“We played really hard, we played great defense to hold down a team with two scorers like they have in Petros and [Brad] Folmer, but we didn’t execute the little things.”
Ellsworth took the lead for good with 10 unanswered points midway through the second quarter. Jordan Carter hit a 3-pointer after an Austin steal, and Austin followed with a layup and a 3-pointer of his own as the Eagles took a 20-12 advantage with 2:17 left in the first half.
Petros, who struggled against the defense of MDI’s Nate Chisholm early in the contest, came out strong after intermission. The Big East Conference’s leading scorer made his team’s first three baskets of the second half to help the Eagles take a 28-17 lead with 5:54 left in the third quarter.
“I was just really frustrated in the first half,” said Petros. “I had shots down low that I knew I could make but they just weren’t falling, so I wanted to really focus on making those shots.”
MDI rallied within 32-30 with eight straight points, including a jumper by MacDonald to make it a two-point game with 3:07 left in the third quarter.
That was as close as the Trojans got, though neither team scored for nearly three minutes until Folmer converted a steal by Emeigh into a layup to give Ellsworth a 34-30 lead at the end of the period.
Ellsworth stretched its lead back to seven points midway through the fourth quarter, but MDI pulled within 44-41 on a drive by MacDonald and an inside basket by Jayson Burke.
The victory avenged a 60-57 loss to MDI at Ellsworth on Jan. 16 — a game in which the Eagles lost an 18-point lead.
“I think the rivalry played a big part tonight,” said Petros. “Everyone wanted to win, because last time they came into our place and took it from us. That was definitely something that was fueling us.”