BANGOR, Maine — The top-ranked Ellsworth Eagles had all they could handle for most of Wednesday’s Class B North semifinal against No. 4 Old Town at the Cross Insurance Center.
Every time the Eagles soared to a comfortable lead, the scrappy Coyotes from Old Town made a run of their own to keep the game within striking distance.
All that changed in the final few minutes, however, as Ellsworth (21-1 overall) established its dominance and rolled to a 55-47 victory over Old Town.
The Eagles advance to the Class B North championship, 3:45 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, at the Cross Insurance Center against No. 2 Orono (18-3 overall). The Red Riots advanced with a 56-39 victory over No. 11 John Bapst.
Ellsworth beat Old Town 71-49 in the only meeting during the regular season between the two clubs. But Wednesday night’s semifinal was a far closer contest. The Eagles led 16-8, 25-23 and 41-38 at the quarter breaks.
Chance Mericer led the Eagles with 21 points, while Hunter Curtis chipped in 16; Gage Hardy had six; Eamon MacDonald and Michael Harris, both three; and two each by Miles Palmer, Brett Bragdon and Michael Palmer.
Ellsworth has been streaky thus far in the postseason, rolling to a 79-39 victory over No. 16 Waterville in the preliminary round, but also had its hands full with a scrappy No. 8 Presque Isle squad before pulling out a 54-48 win.
That streakiness continued Wednesday evening as the Eagles quickly found themselves down 5-2 in the first few minutes of the game, and also saw a 10-point lead evaporate in the second quarter.
“We had 19 not so close games all year, and now this makes back-to-back close ones for us,” Ellsworth coach Peter Austin said. “It’s a different story when you get here. Everyone knows that.”
Austin said in the preseason, he predicted who his top teams would be and those, ironically enough, included Presque Isle, Orono and Old Town. If the Eagles are to advance to the state championship, they will have faced all three of those foes during the playoffs.
Grayson Thibeault led Old Town with 12 points, while Gabe Gifford added 11, including a pair of 3-pointers. Emmitt Bither chipped in with eight points; Brayden Brown added seven; Alex Fernandes had six; Laron Ellis, two; and Isaac Hayes, one.
Old Town has also had some tense moments in the playoffs. The Coyotes had no trouble dispatching No. 13 Washington Academy, 59-35, but needed overtime to get past No. 5 Mount View, 59-57, in the quarterfinals.
“We have had some really big comeback wins this year and these guys never give up,” Old Town coach Garrett Libby said. “Tonight, it just came down to we just couldn’t get some shots to fall at the end. They worked their butts off and that is all you can ask for as a coach.”
Old Town ends its season with a 14-7 overall record.