BAR HARBOR — Winning came easy for the Mount Desert Island girls’ basketball team in December. The first game of January required the Trojans to dig as deeply as they could.
Coming off a 31-point win in its previous game eight days earlier, MDI had plenty of momentum on its side as it took the court to battle an Oceanside team it had defeated by 20 points last month in Rockland. This time, though, a resilient Mariners squad made the Trojans fight for every shot, rebound and loose ball that came their way.
“This felt the most like a tournament game that we’ve had so far,” said MDI senior Hannah Chamberlain. “All the way through, it was really intense. You didn’t know who was going to win until the very end.”
Indeed, with the visitors leading the game much of the way, MDI’s unbeaten start to the season appeared to be in doubt. Instead, the Trojans delivered when it mattered most to earn an important Big East Conference win.
MDI improved to 8-0 on the season with a 44-38 win over Oceanside on Saturday in Bar Harbor. The win kept the Trojans near the top of a loaded Class B North field as the team nears the midpoint of its 2018-19 campaign.
“You can’t teach experience, and one thing that happens when you’re as experienced as we are this year is that you know what it takes in those tough situations,” MDI head coach Brent Barker said. “Those things we weren’t doing in the first half — missing some open shots, missing free throws — we did them when it really came down to it in those last few minutes.”
After Chamberlain hit a 3-pointer to give MDI a 3-2 lead on its opening possession, Oceanside went on a 9-0 run that kept the Trojans scoreless for nearly six minutes before Maddy Candage converted a layup to cut the home team’s deficit to 11-5. Olivia Gray then scored the first four points of the second to put MDI within one possession with seven minutes to play in the opening half.
Chamberlain added a pair of 3-pointers later in the second quarter, but Oceanside (3-5) answered both times to stay two possessions ahead of the Trojans. MDI, though, trailed by just one at halftime after a teardrop from Candage and 3-pointer from Alexis Clarito cut the visitors’ lead to 21-20.
MDI (8-0) then took the lead for the first time since its opening possession on a Candage 3-pointer, and the Trojans quickly built on their newfound advantage to go ahead 35-27 late in the third quarter. Yet Oceanside recovered again, coming up with eight straight points to tie the game at 35 entering the final frame.
Whereas MDI had struggled at the free-throw line and near the rim early in the game, the home team found its rhythm in those areas in the final quarter. After the two teams exchanged baskets to start the fourth, Candage bookended two Julia Watras free throws with close-range jumpers to establish a six-point lead over the Mariners, who fell victim to the Trojans’ aggressive defense and couldn’t recover.
“That really helped us,” Chamberlain said of MDI’s defense, which allowed three points in the fourth quarter. “When we were down, we would pick up the energy by running a press and putting pressure on them. It was important for us to be able to do that.”
Chamberlain led MDI with 17 points, 15 of which came on 3-point field goals. It was the third straight game the senior, who is now shooting 42.5 percent from beyond the arc this season, had led the Trojans in scoring.
“Her shooting capability makes defenses spread out a little bit, which is a good thing for our offense,” Barker said. “We had that stretch there where Maddy and Julia weren’t scoring as much, and Hannah came up with those big 3s that helped us big time.”
The game was the first of three straight at home for MDI, which is second to Waterville in the Class B North standings. The Trojans, who were scheduled to face Ellsworth (7-2) — weather permitting — on Wednesday, will take on Orono at 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14, before a showdown with Hermon, a fellow 8-0 team, later in the week.
“We definitely have some tough games coming up, and we’ve got to continue to work and keep getting better,” Barker said. “We want to be playing our best basketball in the middle of February, and we’re getting closer to that every day.”