BANGOR, Maine — A Jan. 17 loss at home to Old Town marked the low point of the season for members of the Ellsworth boys basketball team.

That it came on their leader’s birthday made matters even worse.

“That’s why I remember it so well, because it was on my birthday,” said ninth-year Eagles head coach Peter Austin of the loss, which dropped his team’s record to 7-4. “They probably don’t want to remember the next day in practice but it was a good practice and it’s been rolling ever since.”

Rolling is an understatement, to be sure, particularly after second-ranked Ellsworth defeated No. 4 Orono 52-34 on Saturday to win its first Class B regional championship in 28 years before a throng of 4,340 paid spectators — the largest crowd yet to witness a high school game at the Cross Insurance Center.

“Ever since then we just started stepping up in practice,” said Ellsworth junior guard Bryce Harmon. “Everyone’s been challenging each other, pushing each other, and we’ve gone from there.”

Ellsworth (17-4) will bring a 10-game winning streak back to the same site Friday night to face Lake Region of Naples in search of its first state crown since 1966. Top-ranked Lake Region (19-2) won the Class B South title Saturday with a 53-43 win over No. 3 Yarmouth.

“Obviously there’s work to be done,” said Ellsworth senior center Bruce St. Peter, who led the Eagles with 19 points and seven rebounds in the B North final. “We’re just going to try to pull through it and get another win on Friday.”

The second meeting of the winter between Ellsworth and Orono — the Eagles won the first game 40-38 on a buzzer-beater by St. Peter — was a throwback contest in that the teams took just 10 3-point shots, with a first-quarter try by Harmon the only successful attempt from beyond the arc.

“We were concentrating on paint touches all the time,” said Austin.

Harmon’s lone 3-pointer of his 13-point performance gave the Eagles an early 11-2 lead, but Orono responded to grab a 14-13 edge on a thunderous slam dunk by Imao Woldring that prompted an Ellsworth timeout with 6:54 left in the first half.

“I told them to get back to where we started,” said Austin. “It was all individual stuff and we had to get back to playing as a team offensively and defensively also because we were giving up too many hoops.”

Jackson Coutts scored on a one-on-one move to give Orono a 16-13 edge with 6:25 left in the second quarter, but Ellsworth ran off the final 15 points of the half to build a 28-16 lead.

Cooper Henderson started the decisive surge with a jumper from the key and Kyle Golding scored on a drive before St. Peter took over, first with a steal and length-of-the-court drive past the 6-foot-7 Woldring, then a follow-up of his own miss and a baseline jumper.

After Golding made 1 of 2 from the free-throw line, St. Peter drove the baseline for a dunk of his own and scored again from the low post to cap off his 14-point, six-rebound first half.

“We just got a couple steals and a couple of baskets and momentum started to shift,” said St. Peter. “We knew we didn’t want to lose this game and we were able to turn it around there and had fun from then on.”

Orono, which reached the Class C regional final a year ago before moving up to Class B as part of the statewide expansion from four to five classes, never got within single digits after the break.

“They outplayed us,” said Orono coach Jason Coleman. “They’re the hottest team right now and they have a good chance to win it all next week. They’re all seniors so this is their time. We’re all juniors.”

Avatar photo

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...