BANGOR — Andy Pooler knew what was coming. The Ellsworth High School girls basketball coach could tell his Eagles all about the defensive pressure it was going to see in Friday’s Class B North quarterfinal game against Waterville. Pooler could show his team tape of the Purple Panthers in action, warn his Eagles of what was coming on the Cross Insurance Center court. But until they experienced, the Eagles wouldn’t know.

Talk doesn’t trap you when you pick up your dribble. Talk doesn’t extend arms into every passing lane, and talk certainly doesn’t run like it eats a wind sprint with every meal.

After Waterville’s 65-32 win, Pooler had one radical, unfeasible idea for how he could have gotten his team ready for the fullcourt defensive onslaught it just suffered.

“Not unless you bring in UConn or something like that. It’s very hard to replicate. Maybe (practicing) on the bigger court would have helped us,” Pooler said.

Ellsworth turned the ball over 29 times. Waterville scored 25 points off those turnovers. That’s almost the 33-point margin of victory, right there.

This is what the Panthers do. They pester and force you to make a mistake. Then another, and another.

“Pushing tempo, that’s just what we’re used to,” said Waterville forward Kali Thompson, whom coach Rob Rodrigue called his best defender. “We’re in very good shape right now. We practice that every day, and it’s what we do.”

Waterville’s fullcourt pressure got to Ellsworth instantly. After Sadie Garling scored a layup off the opening tip, the Panthers forced a turnover on the inbounds pass, and Garling scored another easy layup. Fifteen seconds into the game, Waterville had a 4-0 lead.

“Not many team press us, and we don’t see much zone. They do a good job extending it out,” Pooler said. “We can’t settle in to our halfcourt sets. So we rush passes, we rush shots, and they capitalize. We turn it over, they score.”

Waterville scored nine points in the first half on possessions from turnovers. Their first 10 points of the second half came off Ellsworth turnovers, and a 14-point halftime lead was a 43-19, 24-point cushion, and the game was essentially over.

To Rodrigue, the defensive pressure is geometry. The Panthers study the angles, they learn them, then they choke them off.

“We work on it in practice. We’re picky about it. I hold them accountable for getting to those angles,” Rodrigue said. “We’re getting up and down. We’re looking to get tips on the ball.”

At this point in the season, with most of the players back from the team that made a run to the regional championship game last season, playing this frantic style is second nature to the Panthers. They don’t need an ‘ON” switch. They’re always on.

“The hardest thing is to pull them off. When we’re up by quite a bit, it’s hard to yank them away. That’s how we want them,” Rodrigue said.

Waterville’s Sadie Garling (24) battles for the ball with Ellsworth’s Sara Shea, left, in a Class B North quarterfinal game Friday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Rodrigue knows as the Panthers advance, defensive pressure will continue to be important, but Waterville can’t rely on it exclusively. It’s a weapon, not a crutch. Ellsworth was a 10 seed that advanced to the quarterfinals with an upset. Waterville’s next opponent in Presque Isle, the only opponent to beat the Panthers in the regular season.

“When you get to the tournament, you’ve got to make sure you can do some halfcourt stuff, because really good teams aren’t going to turn it over as much,” Rodrigue said.

That said, the Panthers will get out and make every opponent play the entire court. Waterville is 18-1 for a reason, Pooler said. That reason is going to make you work baseline to baseline, and earn all 94 feet in between.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 

 


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