The top-ranked and undefeated Ellsworth High School boys basketball team had two of their toughest tests of the season while defeating Presque Isle and Old Town to advance to Saturday’s Class B North championship game.
There were no such late-game threats in the final.
Senior forward Hunter Curtis showed why he was named Big East Conference player of the year as he flirted with a triple-double, and Ellsworth’s switching man-to-man defense shut down Orono’s two top scoring threats as the Eagles won their first regional championship since 2016 with a 62-33 victory over the Red Riots at the Cross Insurance Center.
“I think there was more pressure in the earlier games than in this game, honestly,” said Ellsworth junior guard Eamon MacDonald, who sparked Ellsworth’s defense by helping to limit standout Orono sophomore Pierce Walston to a single field goal.
“Playing in the Cross Center is so much different than playing at the different high schools. In those earlier games we were a lot more nervous, but for this game we were ready to go.”
Ellsworth (22-0) will face Yarmouth for the Class B state championship back at the Cross Insurance Center next Friday night, with game time at approximately 8:45 p.m. Yarmouth defeated Medomak Valley 47-35 on Saturday afternoon to win the Class B South title.
No. 2 Orono, which will graduate only starting center Javier Alicea-Santiago from this year’s team, ended its season at 18-4.
Curtis not only scored a game-high 18 points but grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out eight assists as coach Peter Austin’s Eagles controlled this contest from start to finish.
“He’s a great player for us. When we get him the ball the defenses collapse and it leaves all of us open, so even if he doesn’t have a shot he’s finding the open man,” MacDonald said.
The Mr. Basketball semifinalist tallied eight points on 4-of-4 shooting to go with four assists and four rebounds in the first quarter alone as Ellsworth initiated its halfcourt offense by getting the ball to him in the post, from where Curtis either sought his own mid-range offense or set up teammates even closer to the basket or on the perimeter.
“We were determined to get paint touches and yes, Hunter is our No. 1 paint-touch guy,” said Austin, who had gained his 200th career coaching victory at Ellsworth with Wednesday night’s 55-47 semifinal victory over No. 4 Old Town.
“We worked on that in practice the other day for about 45 minutes because sometimes we take quick shots. I wanted paint touches, I wanted the ball moving and I wanted everyone touching the ball because it’s hard to guard us when we’re moving the ball so quickly.”
The Eagles’ lead was 20-10 after the game’s first eight minutes and grew to 32-19 at intermission and 47-27 through three periods.
“The name of the game today was defense and moving the ball and I think we did it just about as well as we could,” Curtis said. “Everybody stepped up today. Everybody was hitting shots. Everybody was where they should have been for the most part and it was a huge team victory.”
Sophomore guard Chance Mercier added 12 points for Ellsworth and Brett Bragdon and Gage Hardy scored six points apiece for the 22-0 Eagles.
Ellis Spaulding scored 10 points and Ben Francis had nine for Orono.
MacDonald’s defensive work against Walston and Gage Hardy’s play against Francis limited the dynamic Orono duo to a combined 11 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the field. Those primary defenders were aided by their teammates as Ellsworth typically switched guarding assignments when Orono set screens to free up its primary ballhandlers.
“When I play defense my mentality is my man doesn’t score,” Curtis said. “I think that was everybody’s mentality today and it really worked out. Eamon MacDonald stepped up huge and Gage Hardy was on Ben Francis most of the day and he played a tremendous game.”