ELLSWORTH, Maine — The extra energy generated from rivalry games in any sport can be a great equalizer no matter what the statistics might otherwise suggest on a given evening.
Perhaps that makes unbeaten Mount Desert Island’s 55-53 survival of Ellsworth in a Class B boys basketball matchup at Katsiaficas Gymnasium on Saturday night even more satisfying for the Trojans, as it took more than their sheer dominance of the inside play to survive a determined opponent that had two chances to tie or take the lead in the game’s final 15 seconds.
“They’re a great 3-point shooting team and they always know how to get back in a game,” said MDI junior forward Ben Walls. They never go away.
“But we know that we can come out and win in the end.”
Walls scored 23 points and front-court mate Jayson Burke had 16 points and 10 rebounds as MDI improved its record to 10-0 while remaining atop the Eastern Maine Class B heal point ratings and sending 8-3 Ellsworth — which began the night ranked second in the division — to the third loss in its last four games.
MDI outrebounded Ellsworth 33-12, with Walls adding seven rebounds and junior center Adam Gray contributing 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“We got killed all night on offensive rebounds,” said Ellsworth coach Peter Austin, “We were also 12-for-22 shooting foul shots, and in a close game rebounding and foul shots are big and that’s why they beat us.”
The Trojans had their way near the rim against a smaller Ellsworth team that was without its tallest player, 6-foot-3 senior Kyle Haslam, sidelined by injury. MDI scored eight baskets directly after grabbing offensive rebounds, and 23 of their 24 field goals overall came from the lane.
“Our guys do a great job of recognizing the best matchup for us,” said MDI coach Justin Norwood. “They call it on the fly, I don’t have anything to do with it. We work on it in practice, but otherwise the kids call it. I’ve really got three coaches on the floor with Nick (Shaw) and Caleb (MacDonald) and Ben, and that makes life easier.”
MDI took the lead for good when Burke drove to the basket after making a steal to give the Trojans a 10-9 edge with 2:11 left in the first quarter.
That margin was 28-20 at halftime and grew to as much as 38-27 on back-to-back baskets by Gray midway through the third quarter.
But Ellsworth outscored MDI 11-4 to close out the period, with senior forward Thomas Sawyer making a 3-pointer and 2-of-3 from the line after being fouled during another 3-point try to pull the Eagles within 42-38 entering the fourth quarter.
MDI scored its first four baskets of the final period on offensive rebounds — two by Walls and one each by Burke and Gray — to maintain a four-point lead before Steven Mahon’s 3-pointer pulled Ellsworth within 52-51 with 1:45 left.
Walls then fed Gray for a layup to give MDI a three-point lead, but Ellsworth’s Nick Holt answered with a drive of his own to pull the Eagles within 54-53 with 50 seconds left.
MDI went 1-for-3 from the line on its next two possessions — the second and third chances coming when Burke rebounded a missed free throw by MacDonald — to extend its lead to 55-53.
Ellsworth had two late chances, a 3-pointer from the left corner by Sawyer that bounced off the rim with 15 seconds left, and a runner from along the right sideline by Mahon that missed as time expired.
“I just wanted a shot at the end,” said Austin. “It wasn’t a great shot but it was a decent shot and it rolled off the rim, so I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Sawyer led Ellsworth with 19 points while Holt scored 10, six in the final period.