BANGOR — After watching the Gardiner boys match their biggest lead of the game (five points) with 6 minutes, 43 seconds left in Wednesday night’s Eastern Maine Class B semifinal game, Ellsworth needed a defensive stop.
The undefeated Eagles got that, and a whole lot more at the Bangor Auditorium.
The second-seeded Eagles held Gardiner scoreless for the next five minutes and limited the No. 6 Tigers to one point the rest of the way to pull out a 43-36 victory and remain undefeated.
The Tigers dictated the game’s tempo almost from the outset and used rebounding and defense to force the Eagles into more of a halfcourt game.
The 20-0 Eagles will take on the winner of Wednesday night’s Camden Hills/Medomak Valley game in a 3 p.m. Saturday championship game.
Gardiner also did a great job holding down Cote Card, one of Ellsworth’s leading scorers.
Kaleb Smith keyed on Card and limited him to two points and two rebounds in the first half as the teams went into halftime tied at 18. They couldn’t hold down all the Eagles’ scorers, though, as Andrew Austin had 10 points to go with four rebounds in the first half.
“We knew they’d try to slow it down because most teams don’t want to run with us,” said Austin, who finished with a game-high 17 points.
Card did finish with seven points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Still, it came down to defense and foul shooting down the stretch as open looks and clear lanes to the basket were few and far between.
“We shot much better from the line than the last game,” Austin said. “We keyed on their point guard defensively. Other than that, we didn’t really do anything fancy other than play man and be aggressive.”
The simple approach paid off as the stifling man-to-man defensive pressure resulted in four Gardiner turnovers in the fourth quarter and a long scoring drought. The Tigers’ troubles were compounded by just two trips to the line and 1-for-3 foul shooting in the final quarter.
“We didn’t want them to roll up 76 points on us like they did in their last game and I think we did a great job defensively and with controlling the tempo,” said Gardiner coach Jason Cassidy. “They only scored 10 points from the field and got everything else from the foul line so that’s the one thing we didn’t do is keep them from shooting free throws.”
Meanwhile, Ellsworth hit 12 of 17 foul shots in the fourth.
Jake Palmer led the 14-6 Tigers with 12 points and five assists. Aaron Toman had nine points and 12 rebounds to pace a 33-30 rebounding edge for Gardiner.