BANGOR — Answers have been relatively easy to come by for the Camden Hills boys basketball program in recent years.
So when Ellsworth chose to use a triangle-and-two defense in an effort to shut down the Windjammers’ inside game during Saturday night’s Eastern Maine Class B championship game, Keegan Pieri and Co. answered with long-distance shooting — again and again and again.
The 6-foot-6 senior forward made five of his team’s 10 first-half 3-pointers as Camden Hills built an early lead en route to a 73-55 victory over the Eagles in their battle of the unbeatens at the Bangor Auditorium.
“I probably stayed in the triangle-and-two for too long, but we can’t even make that many threes in warmups,” said Ellsworth coach Peter Austin. “We had people flying at them, but they just made shots.”
The win gave coach Jeff Hart’s club its third straight regional title, and sends the 21-0 Windjammers to Friday’s 8 p.m. state final at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland against Cape Elizabeth, a 61-47 winner over Yarmouth in the Western B final.
Ellsworth, seeking its first regional title since 1966, finishes with a 20-1 record after falling to Camden Hills for the second straight year in the EM final.
Camden Hills spotted the Eagles a 2-0 lead, then Pieri scored his team’s first 14 points, the first two after grabbing an offensive rebound and then four straight 3-pointers as Ellsworth focused its defensive attention on fellow 6-foot-6 senior Tyler McFarland.
“When they came out and played tough ‘D’ on the inside, we knew we had to be a threat from the outside so I looked to get my shot,” said Pieri, who scored 20 of his game-high 24 points in the first half. “Coach just told me to play my game and that I was going to have a good game so to just let it go. I listened to him, went out there and it just fell for me.
“Once you get going it’s hard to stop.”
Indeed, the 3-pointers never stopped for the Windjammers during the first half, as Adam Carlsen followed Pieri’s barrage with a 3-pointer of his own to give Camden Hills a 17-9 lead with 2:47 left in the opening quarter.
By the end of the period, the Windjammers had made 7 of 11 from beyond the arc. By halftime, they were 10 of 17 — threatening the Eastern B boys single-game record of 12 set by Maranacook of Readfield in 2008 — while taking a 45-32 lead into the locker room.
“I told my guys we just had to loosen up and play,” said Hart. “I really believe that nothing good happens from tentativeness and we certainly weren’t tentative tonight.”
Ellsworth scored the final five points of the first half on two Andrew Austin free throws and a 3-pointer by Thomas Sawyer to narrow what had been an 18-point deficit, but Camden Hills countered that with the first six points of the third quarter — a fast-break layup by Nathan Catell, two Pieri free throws after an offensive rebound, and a steal-and-layup by Joel Gabriele that restored the Windjammers to a 51-32 cushion.
The Eagles soon got an energy boost off the bench from junior forward Tyler Palmer, who sparked Ellsworth on a run of 11 unanswered points to narrow the gap to 58-48. Jordan Carter had two fast-break layups during the surge, while Austin added a layup and a feed to Palmer for a 15-foot jumper before Carlsen converted a late three-point play to give Camden Hills a 13-point lead at the end of the period.
Ellsworth got no closer, as Camden Hills used an 8-2 spurt that included a fast-break layup and two free throws by Gabriele to extend its lead to 71-52 with 3:20 left.
McFarland finished with 12 points and six rebounds, while Gabriele had 11 points and three steals and Carlsen had 10 points and four assists for the Windjammers, who finished 11 of 25 from beyond the arc.
Austin led Ellsworth with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Carter scored 10 points.
“They had a nice run on us and didn’t give up, so you have to give a lot of credit to Ellsworth,” said Gabriele. “They had an undefeated season up to this point so they had a good team, but I think we were just that much better tonight.”