ELLSWORTH — Friday night’s renewal of the Hancock County boys basketball rivalry between Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island was so heated that condensation issues on the court caused by the jam-packed Katsiaficas Gymnasium crowd of 950 resulted in several stoppages of play during the second half.
But that was about the only thing that slowed the host Eagles after the first quarter, as coach Peter Austin’s club rallied from an early 12-point deficit for a 62-45 victory to cap off an undefeated regular season.
“It’s awesome. I don’t know what to say about it, but I’m pretty sure it’s the first time in Ellsworth history that we’ve gone undefeated in soccer and basketball,” said Ellsworth senior forward Andrew Austin, who also led the Eagles to an Eastern Maine championship in soccer last fall. “It’s a pretty good feeling.”
Ellsworth (18-0) will enter postseason play as the No. 2 seed in Eastern Maine Class B and could face MDI again in the regional quarterfinals on Feb. 19 — the seventh-ranked Trojans (14-4) will host No. 10 Nokomis of Newport (11-7) in a preliminary-round contest next week for the right to play the Eagles.
Andrew Austin finished with 18 points, five rebounds, three blocks and three steals, while Jordan Carter rebounded from an injured ankle suffered early in the game to contribute 11 points and six rebounds. Cote Card contributed nine points, while Nick Richie had eight points on 4 of 5 shooting from the field.Ben Walls led MDI with 11 points, while Caleb MacDonald scored nine points and Jayson Burke had eight points and 10 rebounds.
Ellsworth’s first undefeated regular season in recent memory was in jeopardy early in the contest, as MDI worked the ball inside to center Sam Joy and attacked the basket after beating the Eagles’ fullcourt pressure to take a 19-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“A lot of it was nerves, the heat and it being the seniors’ last night here,” said coach Austin, Andrew’s father. “We were giving up way too many easy hoops in the first quarter, and the two timeouts I called were just to settle us down, because we were playing in front of a thousand people and it must have been 80 degrees in here, and that’s tough.”
Gradually the Eagles gained control, using a 9-0 run midway through the second quarter to pull within 21-18 on two Nick Holt free throws with 3:38 left before halftime.
MDI was able to maintain a 28-24 lead at the break, but even Trojans’ coach Justin Norwood knew the game was slipping away from his team.
“Tonight the second period killed us,” he said. “Instead of extending it to a 20-point lead, we gave it back and were only up four. Honest to God, I have no idea what was going on.”
Ellsworth then scored the first seven points of the third quarter to take a 31-28 lead. Richie, saddled with foul trouble during the first half, scored on a short jumper, and Card scored after an MDI turnover to forge the game’s first tie since 4-4.
Austin followed with a 3-pointer to give Ellsworth the lead for good with 6:35 left in the third period.
“Our third quarter’s been our best quarter all year,” said Andrew Austin. “I don’t know what it is, but something about it makes us come back every time.”
The Eagles took a 41-35 lead into the final period, and broke the game open with a 10-2 run that featured six more points by Austin to take a 53-39 lead with 2:34 remaining.
“All year long we’ve been saying in the locker room before every game that we’re 0-0,” said coach Austin. “All that matters is what we have to do for that game, and that’s what we’ve done all year. We don’t look back, we just look forward.
“Now we’re 0-0 again, and going to the tournament.”