BAR HARBOR — The Mount Desert Island boys basketball team capped off its best regular season in program history Friday night, holding off Ellsworth 61-54 before a crowd of nearly 1,400 at Parady Gymnasium.
Coach Justin Norwood’s club finished its schedule as one of just two undefeated boys basketball teams statewide — along with Falmouth — as well as the top seed for the Eastern B tournament.
“It’s crazy,” said MDI guard Nick Shaw, one of eight seniors on the Trojans’ roster. “We’ve been building toward this for the last three years on varsity and it’s just clicked this year. We’ve got a really good group of guys.”
MDI (18-0) will play in the regional quarterfinals on Saturday, Feb. 18, at the Bangor Auditorium against the winner of Wednesday’s preliminary-round game at Rockport between eighth-seeded Camden Hills (11-7) and No. 9 Washington Academy of East Machias (11-7).
Camden Hills is the reigning state champion, as well as the three-time defending Eastern B titlist.
“We can celebrate this Saturday and Sunday,” said MDI senior forward Jayson Burke. “But then we’ve got to get our minds right for the Auditorium.”
Ellsworth (13-5) will enter postseason play as the No. 4 seed in Eastern B and will host No. 13 Hermon (7-11) in a preliminary-round contest Wednesday. Ellsworth and Hermon split two regular-season meetings.
Shaw led MDI to its second win of the winter over Ellsworth with 18 points, including a pivotal steal and layup after the Eagles had rallied to within 48-43 midway through the fourth quarter and regained possession with a chance to close to within a single possession.
But Shaw anticipated a perimeter pass between the top of the key and midcourt, stepped in front to make the interception and went in for a layup to ignite a run of six straight MDI points that gave the Trojans a 54-43 lead entering the game’s final three minutes.
“They were running a handoff, so I was just trying to cut through and snag the ball because I thought they wouldn’t be looking for it,” said Shaw. “I got lucky, I guess, and got to the ball before they did.
“It feels good to get those layups because those easy points are what helps you win games.”
Ellsworth pulled to within six points in the final half-minute of play, but Shaw hit the first of two free throws with 25.5 seconds left to make it a three-possession contest.
Junior forward Ben Walls added 12 points for MDI while Burke had eight points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Junior center Adam Gray chipped in with seven points and nine rebounds for the Trojans, who outrebounded Ellsworth 43-19.
“We knew coming in that we were bigger than they were,” said Burke. “We had to take advantage of it because they’re way better shooters, but we knew we could outdo them on the boards. We figured that’s how we were going to win.”
Senior forward Thomas Sawyer led Ellsworth with 19 points, while classmate Nick Holt added 18 points and six rebounds.
MDI’s previous best regular-season record was 15-3, a mark reached on several occasions, and the Trojans came out on Senior Night determined to remain unbeaten.
Shaw hit two 3-pointers and had 10 points overall in the first quarter as MDI built a 20-12 lead, then the Trojans used their inside strength to build the advantage to as much as 27-16 on a follow-up basket by Burke with 5:49 left in the first half.
But Ellsworth proved resilient, running off nine unanswered points to close to within 27-25 on a 3-pointer by Sawyer with 2:53 left in the period and then hanging within 32-27 at the break.
MDI rebuilt its lead to as much as nine points twice during the third quarter, the final time at 41-32 when Walls made a jumper from the key with 1:34 left in the period
Sawyer made another 3-pointer to close the gap to 41-35 entering the fourth quarter, and after MDI moved out to a 48-40 cushion on a three-point play by Burke with 5:29 to play, Ellsworth’s Josh Bean scored on a drive through the lane and made 1 of 2 from the free-throw line on the Eagles’ next possession to make it a five-point game.
Ellsworth then got the ball back, but just as the Eagles were setting up their next play, Shaw swooped in for the steal, and the momentum was back with MDI — just as it has been all season.
“They’ve just worked so hard,” said Norwood of his players. “They’ve been great teammates, they love each other and they want to do well for each other. We’ve talked all season about being an NBA player — the next best action — so our next best action now is to have a great practice on Monday.
“That’s the way we’ve approached the whole season. We didn’t set big goals going in like we want to win a state championship or go undefeated. Those are things we’ve talked about in the past. These guys just go out, have fun and play hard, but they’re never satisfied with what they’re doing and I think that really shows.”