DEER ISLE — As the gymnasium at Deer Isle-Stonington High School slowly began to clear out, Orly Vaughn stared up at the scoreboard above her in awe.
No more than a half-hour earlier, Vaughn and the rest of the Deer Isle-Stonington girls’ basketball team had delivered a major win — the team’s biggest since winning the Class D state title over three decades ago, perhaps. By beating the visiting Searsport Vikings, the Mariners had completed an undefeated regular season.
Yet even after the post-game fanfare had subsided, that remarkable achievement hadn’t quite registered for Vaughn. Instead, she needed a minute to take it all in.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Vaughn said. “I don’t think any of us thought this would happen.”
Between a “16-0” sign being passed around the gym, the team’s record being shouted over the loudspeaker and fans cheering as loudly as they could, the sights and sounds at Deer Isle-Stonington High School said it all Monday evening. Much more than an average basketball game, this was a moment that won’t soon fade away south of the Eggemoggin Reach.
Deer Isle-Stonington finished the regular season with a 16-0 record Monday night with a 39-31 victory over visiting Searsport. The win put an exclamation point on a dominant two months for the Mariners, who will enter the upcoming state tournament as Class D North’s only undefeated team.
“It’s just a great accomplishment for these girls,” head coach Randy Shepard said. “They took it one game at a time and believed in each other, and it’s brought them something special.”
Early in the game, the visitors tested Deer Isle-Stonington’s mettle by jumping out to a 10-2 lead with stout defense and several breakaway layups. With one of the team’s leading scorers, Katie Hutchinson, in early foul trouble, it appeared as if the Mariners’ 16-0 dreams might not come to fruition.
Despite those early struggles, Deer Isle-Stonington responded by limiting Searsport to four points in the second quarter. With three baskets from Brienna Limeburner and a flurry of rebounds and blocks from Vaughn, the Mariners took a 15-14 lead into halftime.
The Mariners extended their advantage to eight points in the second half before Searsport (6-11) got within four, but that was as close as the Vikings would get. Kaylee Morey and Lily Gray made key free throws down the stretch to give the home team more breathing room, and the Mariners walked off the court embracing one another as they celebrated their most important victory to date.
Limeburner was the team’s top scorer with 10 points, and Hutchinson added eight. Gray and Morey scored seven apiece to add to a balanced scoring effort for the Mariners.
More than anything, though, Vaughn’s defense was the biggest factor in the win. The 6-foot senior recorded 17 rebounds and four blocks in her final home game to continue the Mariners’ streak of dominant defensive play, one that has been their opponents’ undoing all season.
“She’s our heart and soul,” Shepard said. “Even when the shots weren’t falling and we were looking rusty, we could rely on her to make the plays we needed from her at the other end.”
The Mariners’ next game will come in about two weeks’ time and will likely pit them against Ashland or Schenck in the regional quarterfinals the Cross Insurance Center. It will be the team’s fourth straight appearance in the playoffs.
Over the those first three seasons, Deer Isle-Stonington was a combined 27-27 entering tournament play. This time, an undefeated bunch will be looking to prove it belongs among Class D North’s best.
“With this group of players, we’ve all been together for a long time and have a great bond,” Vaughn said. “This year, it was like the stars aligned for us. We didn’t really think would go undefeated, but here we are.”
Shortly after the win, the school hung a banner commemorating the defeat in its main hallway. Attached to the outside of the glass, it’s the first item visible in a trophy case that includes the boys’ basketball team’s Gold Ball from 2007 and other state, regional and local honors from past seasons.
In a solid Class D field, the Mariners will have to pass even tougher tests to add more to that trophy case. Still, no matter where the Mariners go from here, the team’s place in school lore is permanent.
“We’re going to get back to work soon and try to stay fresh [for the playoffs], but this is also something we’re going to enjoy,” Vaughn said. “Seeing how excited everyone is from the team to the fans is exciting for us, and as a team, we hope we’ve made the island very proud.”