BANGOR — Missing its leading scorer, the Deer Isle-Stonington girls’ basketball team rallied together.
Undefeated Deer Isle-Stonington entered Monday’s Class D North quarterfinal game against Ashland without Rylee Eaton, who was unable to take the Cross Insurance Center floor as she recovered from abdominal surgery. Playing to keep their season alive, the Mariners sought to put forth an effort that would make their sidelined teammate proud.
“We wanted to play for Rylee,” senior Lily Gray said. “We needed to play our absolute best because we felt like we owed her that. All of us know how much she wishes she could be out on that floor with us, and we needed to make the win happen for her.”
There were big-game jitters at first, but once Deer Isle-Stonington found its rhythm, it couldn’t be stopped. Controlling the game on offense and defense, the Eaton-less Mariners looked as strong as ever in a 57-28 victory in Bangor.
After Gray’s five points paced Deer Isle-Stonington out to a 9-4 lead, Ashland went on a 6-0 run to pull ahead 10-9. A jump shot from Gray just inside the opening quarter’s final minute gave the second-ranked Mariners (17-0) the lead back momentarily, but an Ashland 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in the first quarter gave the Hornets a 13-11 lead at the end of one.
Momentum shifted quickly in the second quarter, though, as Deer Isle-Stonington scored the first nine points before Olivia Tardy scored what would be the only tally of the quarter for the No. 7 Hornets (8-12) on a layup. Following four points from sophomore Kaylee Morey, the Mariners’ took a 24-15 lead into halftime as a 3-point attempt from Gray bounced around the rim several times before ultimately falling no good.
“We didn’t play good defense in the first quarter, and that had to change,” Deer Isle-Stonington head coach Randy Shepard said. “I thought we showed much better effort on D in the second. That was a big difference.”
Ashland ended its scoring drought with a basket on the first possession of the second half, but the rest of the third quarter belonged to Deer Isle-Stonington’s Taylor Hardy. The sophomore responded with three straight field goals to put the Mariners ahead 31-17 and then added six more points later in the quarter as her team surged to a 44-24 lead entering the final eight minutes.
“I got those first couple of baskets, and it me more excited and more confident,” Hardy said. “It was all because of my teammates because they got me the ball and believed in me.”
Even as the backups began to replace the starters in the fourth quarter, the Mariners continued to dictate the game; six different players scored for Deer Isle-Stonington in the final period, and the team held Ashland to one basket and a pair of free throws to put the finishing touches on a blowout victory.
Gray led Deer Isle-Stonington with 15 points, and Hardy finished with 14. The Mariners also got nine points, six rebounds and five assists from Morey and four points and 11 rebounds from junior Katie Hutchinson.
The game marked the second year in a row Deer Isle-Stonington faced Ashland in the regional quarterfinals. Last year, the third-seeded Mariners beat the No. 6 Hornets 33-20 in a game that saw Shepard’s team make just nine baskets.
“We played a lot better today than we did in that game last year,” Shepard said. “That game was ugly. We knew we’d have to be better than that this time, and we were.”
Deer Isle-Stonington will return to the Cross Center to take on third-ranked Woodland (14-5), which beat No. 6 Katahdin (9-10) 59-33 earlier Monday morning, at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21. Just as the Mariners’ Monday morning showdown was a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal game, Thursday’s will be a rematch of last year’s semifinal showdown, which Woodland won 54-45 to advance to the Class D North championship game.
Shepard said it’s “highly doubtful” that Eaton makes her return in the semifinals, which will pit Deer Isle-Stonington against a Woodland team that has yet to lose to a Class D opponent this season. Yet if the Mariners can put forth a performance similar to Monday’s, they just might find themselves playing for the Northern Maine championship game at 9:05 a.m. Saturday, Feb 23.
“We’ll give it everything we have,” Gray said. “We don’t know if [Rylee] is going to be back with us or not, but we’ll be fighting together all the way.”