The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference has dominated the Eastern Maine Class B boys basketball championship hunt in recent years.
But the best of the Big East Conference is hoping to break a KVAC run of regional titles that has lasted since Hermon won the crown in 2000.
And among the best of the Big East so far this season has been Ellsworth, which was 11-2 and ranked second in Eastern B heading into its game against John Bapst at the Bangor Auditorium on Tuesday night.
“I was hoping we could get one of the top six slots and avoid a play-in game this year,” said third-year Eagles coach Peter Austin. “Going into the season I thought there were a lot of teams we could split with, so I thought 13-5 would be good for us.”
Ellsworth features a fairly veteran cast led by the Big East’s leading scorer in guard Ryan Petros, who’s averaging 20.1 points per game.
“He gets most of his shots from 15 feet,” said Austin of Petros, a lefthanded shooter. “He posts up a lot, he slashes a lot, and his shot is tough to block.”
Other key veterans are point guard Brad Folmer and forward Andrew Austin, the coach’s son.
“I’ve got three guys who have played for three years and have played a lot of minutes,” said Austin. “They’re guys who have played a lot over the years, they know me and I know them because I also had them back in junior high.”
Folmer leads the Big East in both steals (3.0 per game) and assists (4.2 per game), and also averages 12.3 points per game while shooing 76 percent from the free-throw line.
His two free throws with 4.6 seconds left enabled Ellsworth to avenge an early season loss to Washington Academy of East Machias with a 70-68 victory at Ellsworth on Jan. 5.
“He’s one of the top point guards in the league,” said coach Austin.
Andrew Austin is the third Ellsworth scorer to average in double figures with 10.6 points per game on 56 percent shooting from the field. He also leads the team with 6.8 rebounds per contest.
“Andrew’s gotten a lot stronger around the basket. He knows where his game is,” said coach Austin.
The Eagles have had to overcome their share of injuries to put themselves in position for a top finish in Eastern B.
Nick Richie began the season as the starting center, but suffered an ankle injury early in the Eagles’ 52-46 victory over Caribou on Dec. 19.
The 6-foot-6 Richie sat out a month before seeing his first action back with the team on Saturday night, when Ellsworth outlasted Hermon 55-54 in overtime.
But 6-4 senior Ross Saunders has stepped in during Richie’s absence to become a productive force in the middle for the Eagles. That’s despite his relative inexperience in the post, as Saunders played small forward during the early stages of his basketball career before moving inside just last winter.
Junior guard Jordan Carter also figured to be a starter, but he suffered a broken wrist during last fall’s soccer playoffs and then re-injured the wrist shortly after coming back to the basketball team earlier this season. “One of the big keys to our success has been our depth,” said coach Austin.
Among Ellsworth’s most satisfying wins this winter was a 69-64 victory at third-ranked Presque Isle — the Wildcats’ lone loss to date.
The Eagles’ only losses were to Washington Academy — the No. 1 seed in Eastern C — and to Hancock County rival Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor in a game they led by 18 points.
“That’s been a problem we’ve had at times, finishing off games,” said Austin.
After playing at John Bapst, Ellsworth’s remaining schedule includes games against Old Town on Thursday, George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, Bucksport and then their season-ending rematch at Mount Desert Island on Feb. 5.
Top foul shooters qualify
Eight high school basketball players from around the state will battle for the title of Maine’s top high school free-throw shooters during Maine McDonald’s Senior All-Star Weekend on Saturday, March 13.
The qualifiers, four boys and four girls, earned their berths in the state finals by winning recent regional competitions.
Winners of the northern Maine regional were Matt Till of Caribou, who made 38 of 50 attempts, and Amanda Hotham of Fairfield, who converted 45 of 50 tries.
East regional winners were Jacob Jones of Penobscot Valley of Howland (45-50) and Hannah Pray of Central of Corinth (38-50).
Representing central Maine will be Cameron Mitchell of Waterville (44-50) and Alanna Vose of Medomak Valley of Waldoboro (44-50).
The southern Maine representatives will be Kyle Randall of Cheverus of Portland, who shot a state-best 49 of 50 in the qualifier, and Kayla Burchill of Deering of Portland (46-50).
Maine McDonald’s Senior All-Star Weekend activities will kick off with the annual senior awards banquet on Friday evening, March 12, with the free-throw contest and four senior all-star games to be held the next day.
Moore a McDonald’s nominee
Hampden Academy senior Jacob Moore has been nominated for the 2010 McDonald’s All-American Basketball Team.
The 6-6 forward was one of 13 Maine high school players earning the recognition, a field that includes seven boys and six girls.
He was the only player nominated from north of Auburn.
Moore, who will continue his basketball career next winter at Division II Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., was recognized for his nomination prior to last Friday’s game between Hampden Academy and Erskine Academy of South China.
Other Maine schoolboy basketball players nominated for the honor were Dominic Borelli of Westbrook, Garrett Clemmer of Windham, Indiana Faithfull of Cheverus of Portland, James Philbrook of Edward Little of Auburn and Koang Thok of Portland.
Also nominated on the boys side was Keegan Hyland of South Portland, who has been injured and unable to play for the Red Riots yet this year.
The list of girls nominees included three players from Brunswick High School: Kayla Lucas, Hilary Champagne and Alexa Dearborn. Other nominees were Lindsay Fox of Oxford Hills of South Paris, Ariel LeDuc of Mount Ararat of Topsham and Kirsten Prue of Edward Little.