Orono and Ellsworth battled down to the wire on Thursday night in a game of two 5-0 teams in Class B North.
It was a rematch of the 2022 B North regional final, in which Ellsworth bested Orono 62-33. Ellsworth emerged the victor again on Thursday, defeating Orono 60-49 on its home court.
With back-to-back Ellsworth wins, Orono coach Ed Kohtala jokingly said that the Red Riots need to “win to make the game a rivalry,” but the two teams are quickly starting a pretty heated rivalry in one of the state’s toughest regions. The game gave fans a preview of what to expect in this year’s high school basketball tournament.
After a big first quarter by Ellsworth, Orono bounced back and slowly chipped away at the Eagles’ lead, culminating in a high-intensity fourth quarter that saw a technical foul by Orono’s Will Francis on Ellsworth’s Chance Mercier and dueling big shots that had both sides of the crowd erupting.
Mercier finished with 25 points and scored clutch buckets at the end of the game to secure the win.
“It’s a great rivalry,” Mercier said after the game. “At the end of the day it’s all love. They love me, I love them, and we have respect for each other. We’re going to get into it but at the end of the day we’re going to shake hands, hug and call it all good.”
Mercier went head-to-head with Orono’s Pierce Walston, who scored 20 points. The two often defended each other throughout the game, both making shots in big moments.
“I want to be a dog on defense,” Mercier added. “If you’re coming at me, I’m coming at you. Pierce, hell of a player. When I am guarding him I don’t want him to be shooting the three but he also has a really nice [hesitation] move, so he’s tough to guard.”
Ellsworth’s team looks a little different this season with the departure of Hunter Curtis and other seniors lost to graduation. Mercier has more of a free reign on offense for Ellsworth this season, which sits at the top of B North at 6-0.
“Every team is different. Mercier, although he had a huge impact last year, has a different impact with this team,” Kohtala said. “Our guys know their guys, they play against each other in different leagues and there was a lot of mutual respect. It was a really good high school basketball game.”
On Dec. 27, Ellsworth edged out a two-point victory over Old Town (3-1) two days before beating Orono (5-1). On Friday, the top-ranked Eagles in the Heal Point standings faced off against Caribou (3-2) who entered the game in third place in the standings.
In second place in the B North Heal Points is Winslow (4-1). Winslow is led by Jason Reynolds who has point totals of 36, 38 and 39 this season.
Orono is fourth in Heal Point rankings, followed by Old Town in fifth.
Mt. View (4-1), sixth in the rankings, returns a lot of players from last season including Wyatt Everson. Foxcroft Academy (3-2), follows in seventh.