Basketball teams brace for season’s toughest stretch

BAR HARBOR — The Mount Desert Island High School boys’ and girls’ basketball teams have been among the best in Class B North all season long. Now comes the hard part.

After playing many of their early games this season at home, both MDI teams will be on the road for five of their last games. Those games will pit the Trojans against state championships contenders as well as foes itching to earn signature wins and improve their postseason chances.

“This is crunch time now,” boys’ head coach Justin Norwood said. “We’re playing some of the teams at the top of the standings, and we’re playing some others that are taking aim at us because they know beating us could put them in the playoffs.”

Entering Wednesday, MDI was third on the boys’ side and fourth on the girls’ side in the Class B North standings. Although both the boys’ and girls’ teams have mathematically clinched playoff spots, the Trojans still want to attain high seeds and ensure they enter February’s state tournament playing at their best.

That will require MDI to be ready for high-caliber opponents come tournament time, and the Trojans’ current stretch is putting both squads in good positions to do so. That began for the Trojans with losses against Hermon, whose boys’ and girls’ teams were both undefeated and in first place as of Tuesday.

“They’re a team that’s very, very athletic, and they have post players and guards who can beat you in a lot of ways offensively,” MDI girls’ head coach Brent Barker said of the Hermon girls, who beat the Trojans 47-33 last Thursday. “Every team knows they’ll have to be prepared for them if they want to compete for a state championship.”

Following MDI’s games against Old Town, which were moved from Monday to Wednesday after the latest snowstorm, the Trojans are set to head to Aroostook County for games against Caribou and Presque Isle. That will be a particularly tough matchup for the MDI boys, who survived close affairs against their County counterparts last month in Bar Harbor.

In fact, the Caribou boys have won seven games in a row since losing 67-65 to MDI on Drew Shea’s buzzer-beater Dec. 27. Winning against Presque Isle, the only team aside from eventual state champion Hermon to beat the Trojans last season, won’t be a much easier task.

“They’re tough teams to beat up there,” Norwood said. “We know how close they were to beating us when they came down here, and now they’re the ones who get to play at home.”

MDI will face Presque Isle Jan. 25, with the girls’ game beginning at 6 p.m. and the boys’ game following at 7:30. The following day will send the Trojans 15 miles north, where they will take on the Caribou girls at 1 p.m. and the boys at 2:30.

Next week, the Trojans will be back in Bar Harbor for a rematch with Hermon. The MDI girls will battle the Hawks at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, and the boys will attempt to avenge Friday’s loss the following day.

That won’t be the end of the challenges for MDI, though, as the Trojans still have tough road games against Orono and Ellsworth ahead of them in the coming weeks. Although both MDI teams are placing an added emphasis on the old “one game at a time” mantra as they battle their challenging schedules, wins in those games will be just as important when the time comes.

“I think we’re excited for this opportunity because we get to see what we’re made of,” Barker said. “We’ll have some big bonding opportunities coming up with these road trips, and we’re ready to go out and continue to get better every day.”

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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