Mount Desert Island’s Emily Carter passes as Ellsworth’s Casey Carter defends during the first half of a high school girls’ basketball game Jan. 26 at Ellsworth High School. ISLANDER PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

Late free throw gives MDI girls win over Ellsworth

BAR HARBOR— The Mount Desert Island girls’ basketball team’s new season began as the last one ended — only this time, the roles were reversed. 

Last February, MDI’s season came to an end at the hands of the rival Ellsworth Eagles in the Northern Maine preliminary round. In that contest, the Trojans, who trailed by 10 early in the fourth quarter, fought all the way back to tie the game just to see the visiting Eagles win it on a layup at the wire. 

One year later, MDI found itself as the team in need of a score to stave off overtime against an Ellsworth squad that had just fought back to erase a 10-point deficit. It didn’t come via a basket, but just as their rivals did a year ago, the Trojans made the play they needed to secure a win in the dying seconds. 

MDI began its 2021 season with a 40-39 triumph in Tuesday’s road contest at Ellsworth High School. Leah Carroll sank the winning free throw for the Trojans with 3.8 seconds after springing open on an in-bound play and drawing a foul beneath the basket. 

“I’m really proud of the way these kids came out here and battled,” MDI head coach Brent Barker said. “That play kind of saved us there, but that was what we wanted, and we were able to get it.” 

The game got off to a slow start as MDI (1-0) went without a point until the final minute of the first quarter. Yet with a stout effort on the defensive end, the Trojans closed out the opening frame trailing just 4-2 against an Ellsworth team that struggled to find an offensive breakthrough of its own.

After Ellsworth’s Samantha Higgins stretched the home team’s lead to five points on a 3-pointer with just over six minutes left in the first half, Carroll took control. The junior forward drained back-to-back 3 pointers to give MDI (1-0) a one-point lead before capping off an 11-0 run with an and-one and two free throws. 

“We can get really flustered sometimes when it’s a close game, especially when it’s with Ellsworth, but we knew we needed to pick up our heads, keep helping each other out on defense and pass more,” Carroll said. “We were rushing our shots, but we slowed down, and I was able to make a few big ones, I guess.” 

Ellsworth (0-2) trailed just 16-15 entering the locker room after a 6-0 run to end the first half, and the Eagles then tied the game at 18 early in the second on a 3-pointer from Autumn Paul. Yet Carroll stepped up once again for MDI as she scored the next seven points to give the road team a bit of breathing room midway through the third quarter. 

Although MDI stretched its lead to 39-29 with four minutes remaining, Ellsworth fought all the way back to tie the game with two baskets from Paul, two free throws from Sierra Andrews and back-to-back scores from Jocelyn Jordan. Then, with MDI inbounding the ball with 4.9 seconds remaining, the Eagles were forced to foul Carroll after a set of screens freed up the junior in the paint. 

As any young athlete would be in the situation, Carroll was plenty nervous as she stepped up to the free-throw line with the game hanging in the balance. Her successful attempt on the first shot, though, was enough to seal the win for the Trojans as a desperation heave from Andrews could only graze the edge of the backboard. 

“It’s hard when that happens because it’s a lot of pressure,” Carroll said. “I’m happy I was able to make one. I wish I had made both, but that one was what we needed.” 

Carroll finished with a game-high 21 points for MDI. The Trojans also got six points each from Mollie Gray and Olivia Gray, four from Elena Alderman and three from Grace Witham. Paul finished with 11 points to lead Ellsworth. 

For MDI, the game came just eight days after the team held its first day of tryouts. The Trojans were off for two weeks in early January as the school moved to remote learning following the holiday season,  

“We’re really not where we should be conditioning-wise, but we came in with a mentality of being ready to play,” Barker said. “We were real tight, but it’s our first game, and we’ve only been back into it since a week ago Monday. Once we got going a little bit, I thought we were able to settle in.” 

MDI was scheduled to face Brewer on the road Wednesday evening. The Trojans, who had Friday’s road game against Bangor postponed, will hold their first home game of the season when they host Hampden Academy at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2.

“As you’re seeing already, you don’t really know what the schedule is going to look like,” Barker said. “If we get all 12 games in, we get all 12 games in; if we only get five or six in, we only get five or six in. Whatever it is, it’s a chance to build experience, and that’s what this season is going to be about.” 

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]