Mount Desert Island’s Elena Alderman controls the ball as Ellsworth’s Abby Radel defends during the second half of a girls’ basketball tournament game Feb. 18 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. MDI’s defense shut down Ellsworth as the Trojans notched a 46-28 victory in the first tournament game at the Cross Center in nearly two years. ISLANDER PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

MDI girls shut down Ellsworth in tourney’s return to Cross Center

BANGOR — For the second straight matchup, Brent Barker’s team shut down anything its biggest rival’s offense could throw at it.

Ten days ago, Barker laid out how he wanted the Mount Desert Island girls’ basketball team to beat the Ellsworth Eagles in its regular season finale: Blanket the person with the ball. The plan worked to perfection as MDI grinded out a 43-30 victory over an Ellsworth team that, though talented, lacked the experience of his squad.

“That’s been our game plan,” said Barker, MDI’s head coach. “We want to know where their shooters are and make sure we contest those shots, and when they have the ball down low, we have some  girls with size and experience that can handle them.”

The two teams met again Friday evening, this time in the return of tournament basketball to the Cross Insurance Center after the cancellation of last year’s event. In a game that was quite similar to the last, MDI once again used suffocating defense to get the best of its Hancock County counterpart. 

MDI claimed a 46-28 victory over Ellsworth’s in Friday’s Class B North quarterfinal battle at the Cross Center. The Trojans held the Eagles to four points in the first quarter, five in the third and three in the fifth to go 3-0 in the rivalry this season and book a place in next week’s regional semis.

Third-ranked MDI (16-4) got off to a hot start to the game as it scored the first eight points before Abby Radel put Ellsworth on the board to stop the bleeding. The Trojans then took a 12-4 lead into the second quarter before Ellsworth got a 3-pointer from Addison Atherton and a layup from Grace Jaffray to cut the deficit to three.

MDI tried to pull away again late in the second quarter, but sixth-ranked Ellsworth (12-8) stayed in the game as a pair of Morgan Clifford 3-pointers limited the Trojans to a 24-18 advantage at halftime. Yet MDI held the Eagles to five points in the third quarter to take a 32-23 lead into the final period.

“Our girls just did a great job of establishing that zone and knowing where their players were and getting after them,” Barker said. “We did a little bit of the [3-2 zone] early, but we went back to our 2-3 late. We just really wanted to make sure we contested their shooters.”

That zone switch allowed MDI to take full control in the fourth quarter. After Atherton scored the frame’s opening bucket, the Trojans got four straight points from Mollie Gray to go up double digits for the first time. Although Ellsworth would respond with a 3-pointer from Radel, the Eagles wouldn’t score again as MDI finished the game on an 8-0 run.

Mollie Gray led all scorers with 19 for MDI, which also got seven points from Olivia Gray, six points from Elena Alderman, four from Grace Witham, three each from Sophia Brophy and Emily Carter and two each from Leah Carroll and Elizabeth Jones. Clifford had nine points to lead Ellsworth.

For MDI, the game was the first tournament contest at the Cross Insurance Center since winning the Northern Maine title game in the building three years ago. Mollie Gray said the Trojans emphasized conditioning in the buildup to the game to prepare for the arena’s bigger floor, and that game fitness combined with the team’s proven defensive game plan made a notable difference.

“We’ve stuck to our game plan, but we’ve also been able to make adjustments against Ellsworth because we know they have a lot of outside shooters,” Gray said. “Offensively, we used the in-and-out game to our advantage. I was feeling my shot today, so I decided to shoot a lot.”

For Ellsworth, another defeat in the rivalry showdown marked a tough end to the season. Yet the Eagles, head coach Andy Pooler noted, will take plenty of pride in what they were able to accomplish this season once the initial bitterness of the loss fades.

“If we were having this conversation four months ago, and you said we were going to win 12 games and get the 6 seed with maybe the youngest roster in the state, we probably would’ve laughed at each other,” Pooler said. “We settled down a little bit in the second quarter, and even though we didn’t win today, we got some valuable experience. I’m proud of them.”

MDI will return to Bangor to take on No. 2 Hermon (17-2) at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 23. The Trojans and Hawks split the regular season series with Hermon winning 43-26 on Dec. 30 at Hermon High School and MDI winning 44-35 Jan. 25 in Bar Harbor.

The Trojans are sure to have their hands full with Hermon, which defeated 10th-ranked Maine Central Institute 58-30 in Friday’s other B North girls’ quarterfinal game. Although the Hawks will be able to match MDI’s size down low, Barker’s team has the experience and momentum to continue its run into the regional final.

“Our seniors made it their goal to get here to the Cross Insurance Center, and now, they can say they’ve won a tournament game here,” Barker said. “There were some nerves tonight, but they’re a veteran group, and now that they’ve gotten this far, they’ll be ready to come back out here Wednesday.”

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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