ELLSWORTH, Maine — The George Stevens Academy boys basketball team came up short at just one venue last winter while surging to the Class C state championship — Katsiaficas Gymnasium.
The Eagles’ return trip to that venue proved just as challenging Friday evening, but coach Dwayne Carter’s club used a 20-0 run at the outset of the second quarter as the catalyst for a 74-67 victory.
“It’s early in the season, and we’re not near being there,” said Carter, whose team’s lone loss in last winter’s 21-1 finish came at Class B Ellsworth late in the regular season. “We’re making some bad decisions and mistakes we normally wouldn’t make later on, but we’re doing things a little differently so until we adjust to that we’re going to make a few mistakes.”
Junior guard Taylor Schildroth paced 3-0 George Stevens offensively with 25 points despite making just 12 of 22 free-throw attempts as well as the Eagles’ lone 3-point goal.
Junior center Max Mattson added 14 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots, senior forward Jarrod Chase had 13 points and five rebounds, and sophomore forward Percy Zentz contributed 13 points and eight rebounds.
Senior guard Bryce Harmon led 2-1 Ellsworth with a game-high 29 points — 18 in the second half to help the Eagles get as close as two points after trailing by as many as 15 in the second quarter and by 11 at intermission.
“We came out in the second half and adjusted to them a lot better,” said Harmon. “We were trying to figure out their game plan and do the exact opposite. We wanted to get them out of their element and make them do something they didn’t want to do.”
Harmon also had eight assists for coach Peter Austin’s club, while backcourt mate Zach Harris added 13 points.
Ellsworth led 19-14 at the end of the first quarter as Harmon and Harris combined for 16 points during the game’s first eight minutes.
But George Stevens dominated the opening five minutes of the second period, with Schildroth contributing a 3-point goal and a 3-point play to go with his team’s domination of the backboards.
By the time Zentz was fouled while grabbing an offensive rebound and made two free throws, George Stevens led 34-19 with 3:04 left in the half.
“We finally started to play as a team,” said Carter. “It was spread out among everyone, and we were seeing the court well, we were rotating to the right spots, and we were making the passes.”
A buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Bradley Smith pulled Ellsworth to within 39-28 at the half, and the hosts used full-court and half-court pressure to increase the game’s tempo after intermission to good advantage.
Two 3-pointers by Dylan Taplin helped Ellsworth narrow its deficit to 48-42 by the end of the third period, and while George Stevens had its difficulties at the free-throw line, another 3-pointer by teammate Troy Folmer made it a two-point game at 64-62 with 1:50 left in the game.
But Ellsworth was unable to score for the next 84 seconds, and Schildroth went 1-of-2 on each of three trips to the line while Zentz added a layup to extend the George Stevens lead to 69-62.
Harmon finally countered with a 3-pointer with 26.7 seconds left and followed with a drive six seconds later after a Stefan Simmons free throw.
But Chase hit two from the line and Schildroth stole the ball and scored as George Stevens finally put Ellsworth away.
“It’s good to be challenged,” said Carter. “Our games with Ellsworth are always big games and the crowds are always big, and like I told the kids in the locker room afterward, we’ll gain more from the struggle than if we were that good now.”