DEER ISLE — The late 2010s have been a golden age of sorts for the Deer Isle-Stonington girls’ basketball team. As a new decade looms, the Mariners don’t look like a team that’s going to be backing down anytime soon.
Since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Deer Isle-Stonington has been one of the most consistent teams in a region that’s seen plenty of different programs rise to the top. The Mariners have not lost a regular season game in more than 1,000 days, a span during which they’ve frequently gone unchallenged for long stretches.
On Saturday, though, Deer Isle-Stonington had its hands full in its first major test of the season. Facing the latest in a long line of competitive Shead teams, the Mariners overcame early-game sluggishness with a second-half burst that saw them display their credentials as Class D North contenders.
Deer Isle-Stonington broke open a tight game with a dominant second half Saturday to earn a 60-42 victory over visiting Shead. The win continued the Mariners’ red-hot start to the season and gave Randy Shepard’s team a signature win as it looks to navigate a challenging schedule in the coming weeks.
“We had to earn it,” said Shepard, whose Mariners have outscored opponents by a combined 137 points over their first four games. “They’re a very good team over there, and they didn’t just let us have it.”
The first half was a tight affair between the two teams with Deer Isle-Stonington (4-0) holding a one-possession lead throughout the first quarter. The Mariners stretched the lead to five points in the second, but two late baskets from the visiting Tigers left the home team clinging to a 25-24 advantage at the break.
The Mariners were kept on their heels to begin the second half as Shead (3-1) followed a layup from Deer Isle-Stonington’s Kaylee Morey with a basket of its own. Yet the Mariners responded with a 10-0 run to stretch the lead to 37-26 before ultimately taking a 43-30 lead into the final period.
“In the first half, we played their game, and we knew we couldn’t do that again,” Deer Isle-Stonington junior Rylee Eaton said. “We switched [the momentum] by coming out and playing our game.”
The Mariners continued to surge in the fourth quarter, during which they led Shead by as many as 24 points. The Tigers cut the deficit down to 14 points in the final minutes of the game, but the result was never in doubt as Deer Isle-Stonington notched another lopsided victory.
The win was a product of a balanced scoring effort from the Mariners, whose eight scorers included Morey (13 points), Eaton (11 points), Taylor Hardy and Brienna Limeburner (nine apiece) and Katie Hutchinson (eight). Deer Isle-Stonington also got six assists and four steals from Morey, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals from Eaton and seven rebounds from Hardy.
Although Deer Isle-Stonington has posted undefeated regular seasons each of the past two years, doing so this year could be much more difficult; with a road game against Shead later this month and home and away games against both Schenck and reigning Class D South champion Greenville ahead of them, the Mariners have a schedule Shepard thinks is the team’s toughest in years.
“We have 18 [games on the schedule this year] instead of 16, and there a lot of tough ones in there,” Shepard said. “It ain’t going to be easy.”
Fortunately for Deer Isle-Stonington, the bulk of last year’s Class D North runner-up squad has returned; the Mariners have retained last year’s leading scorer, rebounder and distributor in Eaton, Hutchinson and Morey, respectively, as well as Hardy and Limeburner, who have proved to be reliable starters thus far.
As juniors and seniors who have contributed since their freshman seasons, those players give Deer Isle-Stonington an experience level few of their counterparts can match. Yet the Mariners’ strong chemistry on and off the court, Eaton said, began to take shape years before the current players reached the high school level.
“A lot of us girls have played on a travel team together ever since we were in fourth grade, and I think that’s a big piece of where we are today,” Eaton said. “We’ve played together for a long time, and that travel team is really what brought us together.”
Deer Isle-Stonington’s next game will be on the road against Jonesport-Beals (0-3) at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18. The Mariners will host Schenck at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, before taking on Bucksport at 1 p.m. Dec. 23 at Bucksport High School.
The Mariners will then close out 2019 with a challenging slate that includes a home game against Greenville at 8 p.m. Dec. 28 and a rematch against Shead at 1 p.m. Dec. 30 in Eastport. Yet even if that stretch gives this Deer Isle-Stonington unit all it can handle, Shepard thinks his team will be all the better for it inthe long run.
“You want those tough games,” Shepard said it. “They get you ready for what’s next.”