ELLSWORTH — As he knelt along the baseline inside a roaring Katsiaficas Gymnasium last Wednesday, Justin Norwood couldn’t have asked for the fourth quarter to come at a better time.
Moments earlier, the coach had watched what seemed to be a commanding 17-point lead for his Mount Desert Island High School varsity boys’ basketball team wilt away. A barrage of 3-pointers and transition baskets had brought the host Ellsworth Eagles to two possessions and left the visiting Trojans needing to regroup.
Rather than giving a fiery speech, Norwood gave his team a chance to breathe after the final seconds ticked off the clock to end the third quarter. Although the game was suddenly much tighter than it had been, MDI’s head coach of 11 years was confident his team could turn the game back around on its own.
“It was just a matter of us calming down,” Norwood said. “Momentum is a funny thing in basketball because you never know when it’s going to take hold, and we knew we could get it right back if we got back to our game and settled.”
Although the home team made it hard on them, the Trojans did exactly as their head coach knew they could. With quality shooting and stifling defense, MDI climbed back on top for a 70-55 win. The win gave the Trojans a victorious start to a stretch that will include four straight road games and marked their third straight win in the rivalry.
MDI raced out to a 5-0 lead to start the game, but Ellsworth closed the gap right away with a pair of 3-pointers from Dylan Taplin to pull within a point at the 1:13 mark. A Colby Lee 3-pointer gave the Trojans an edge on the next possession, and the Trojans ended the quarter leading 16-8 following a pair of free throws and a layup as time expired.
The Trojans continued their offensive onslaught in the second quarter despite early foul trouble for two of their top scorers, Andrew Phelps and Derek Collin. The Eagles kept MDI from pulling away much further with seven points from Zach Harris, but the visitors still took a 31-21 lead into halftime.
After MDI scored on the opening possession of the second half, Ellsworth used a Harris 3-pointer and Jackson Curtis layup to pull within seven points. Yet the Trojans responded with a 10-0 run capped off by back-to-back baskets and a free throw from Colby Lee to take a 43-26 lead with 5:03 remaining in the third quarter.
Ellsworth, though, was far from finished. The Eagles used a 3-point barrage to fight back and pulled to within 10 points with 1:38 left in the third before narrowing the gap to 49-44 entering the final quarter.
“They broke our press a few times and were able to score because of that,” Norwood said. “We’re not used to giving up layups on our press, and when Ellsworth was able to do that, it got to us a little bit.”
With both fan bases on their feet, Ellsworth cut the deficit to 49-46 before an Owen Mild three-point play gave the Trojans some breathing room. From there, a clutch 3-pointer and midrange jump shot from James McConomy gave MDI the momentum they needed to close out the Eagles.
“I don’t think he ever believes he’s going to miss,” Norwood said. “They say great shooters always think the next shot is going in, and James definitely fits that mold.”
Phelps and Lee tied for a team-high 14 points for MDI, and Collin and McConomy added 12 each. Drew Shea scored nine for the Trojans, and Mild, Eli Parady, Steven Pierce and Brett Duley combined for the remaining nine. Pierce’s two points were his first at the varsity level.
MDI (8-1), which won its third game in a row by beating Orono 60-37 on Monday, was scheduled to play John Bapst on the road Wednesday. The Trojans return to action on Saturday, Jan. 20, at 7 p.m. when they travel to face a 10-0 Hermon team Norwood called Class B North’s best entering the season.
“They’re experienced, and they can beat you in multiple ways,” Norwood said. “It’s going to be a big test of how far we’ve come and where we need to improve as we get closer to the playoffs.”