BAR HARBOR, Maine — Rivalry games tend not to be the most artistic of high school basketball presentations, with adrenaline sometimes fueling the defense of community pride at the expense of pristine execution.
So most teams simply are content with successfully surviving such contests, as the Mount Desert Island Trojans were Saturday night after holding off Ellsworth 57-45 in a Class B boys basketball matchup at Bernard Parady Gymnasium.
“We didn’t come out as strong as we wanted to and they hung around until the end, but we got it done,” said MDI senior forward Ben Walls, who scored a game-high 16 points. “Ellsworth’s always tough against us, it’s always a big game when we play them.”
These teams entered the contest with different motivations beyond the chance to beat each other. MDI, now 9-2, is seeking to earn one of the top three spots in Eastern Maine Class B and with it a preliminary-round bye. The Trojans currently stand fifth in the rankings.
Ellsworth, now 4-8, was merely trying to advance its quest to secure one of the 13 available playoff berths in the region. The Eagles are now 17th in the division.
“Tonight we played good enough to win, I thought,” said MDI coach Justin Norwood, whose team is coming off a trip to the Eastern Maine final last February. “I think the gravity of the game got us a little bit … but (Ellsworth’s) not a four-win team. They’re much better than a four-win team.”
MDI had to overcome the 25 turnovers it committed against Ellsworth’s pressure defenses but persevered by outrebounding the Eagles 39-24, playing strong perimeter defense and making most of its free throws.
Senior center Alex Gray led the Trojans on the backboards, grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds while Walls had nine and senior forward Colin Mooers had five boards.
“Our big guys did a good job cleaning up the boards,” said Walls. “We’re a lot bigger than they are, and that helped.”
MDI’s perimeter players, including junior guards Jonathan Phelps and Abe Philbrook, helped limit Ellsworth to a 4-of-25 shooting effort from beyond the 3-point arc.
“Credit to our guards,” said Norwood. “I thought we closed out pretty well against their shooters and made some of their shots more difficult than they’re probably used to.”
And MDI made 18 of 25 free-throw tries compared to 13 of 23 for Ellsworth.
“We played hard but we made too many mistakes,” said Ellsworth coach Peter Austin. “Our shot selection was good but we just couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn. We did take a few quick shots, but MDI’s a good defensive team.
“And against a team like them, you’ve got to make your free throws and we didn’t make enough of them.”
Walls scored seven points in the first quarter as MDI jumped out to a 14-3 lead, and the Trojans were able to maintain a 23-13 halftime advantage.
Philbrook came on strong offensively for the Trojans after intermission, scoring eight of his 11 of points in the third quarter.
But a youthful Ellsworth club wouldn’t go away, drawing within 32-26 on a 3-pointer by junior guard Steven Mahon with 3:05 left in the period.
Norwood soon called timeout, and his team responded by scoring six unanswered points within a 27-second span.
Chris Kaiser made two free throws after being fouled on a drive to the basket, then back-to-back Ellsworth turnovers led to driving layups by Mooers and Walls that gave MDI a 38-26 lead.
Ellsworth countered with six straight points of its own, capped off by a Nicholas Bagley 3-pointer to draw the Eagles within 38-32 with 1:08 left in the period.
That’s as close as they got, as Walls made two free throws and Andrew Davis scored a follow-up basket to extend the MDI lead to 42-33 entering the fourth quarter and Ellsworth got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“We hit some foul shots at the end that helped us out and they missed some shots late that could have turned the game around,” said Walls.
Phelps finished with 11 points while Gray added nine for MDI.
Mahon led Ellsworth offensively with 12 points while junior forward Brandon Braley scored 10.