DEER ISLE — Despite a spring filled with bridge repairs and tourist arrivals, the biggest story along the Deer Isle stretch of Route 15 over the past six weeks has been the Deer Isle-Stonington softball team’s bats.
Few teams, if any, in the state of Maine have averaged more runs per game this year than Deer Isle-Stonington’s 15.9. The Mariners have surpassed the 20-run mark six times this season to emerge as a breakthrough team in the Class D North playoff picture.
“One thing we wanted to do coming into the year was to get better at hitting,” said Hollan Oliver, Deer Isle-Stonington’s first-year head coach. “I had one coach who told me we were one of the best-hitting teams he’s seen this year of all the Class B schools, Class C schools and Class D schools they’ve played.”
Fans lined the southbound side of the highway Tuesday to see Deer Isle-Stonington put on one of its many hitting clinics in the team’s Northern Maine prelim game against Jonesport-Beals. The result, a 16-3 victory via the mercy rule, gave the Mariners their first playoff win since 2014.
Sixth-ranked Deer Isle-Stonington (13-4) got off to a 2-0 start after senior Lily Gray tripled in the game’s first run and scored herself on a fielder’s choice moments later. The Mariners then took advantage of two Jonesport-Beals errors to stretch the lead to 5-0.
After Deer Isle-Stonington responded to a Jonesport-Beals run with six of their own over the next two innings, the No. 11 Royals (3-12) scored twice in the top of the fourth to cut the home team’s lead to 11-3. Yet the Mariners added five runs in the bottom of the inning, and pitcher Taylor Hardy struck out the side in the fifth to secure the team’s fifth straight win.
Gray, Makayla Lebel, Kaylee Morey and Abby Stinson had two hits apiece for Deer Isle-Stonington, which totaled 13 in just four innings at the plate. Hardy finished with seven strikeouts in the circle.
Although Deer Isle-Stonington has been a strong offensive team in past years with averages of 9.9 runs per game two years ago and 12.2 last season, the 2019 squad has been more consistent in all facets of the game. As a result, the Mariners have made a significant leap from seven- and eight-win seasons in 2017 and 2018, respectively, to 13 wins this year.
“That first practice of the season, we talked about our goals, and they said, ‘Hey, we want to go better than 8-8 [in the regular season] and get past the prelim game,’” Oliver said. “Now, here we are, and we need new goals.”
Oliver, a 2003 Deer Isle-Stonington graduate and former Division I softball player at the University of Vermont, has been a big reason for the team’s big step forward. Oliver returned to the Deer Isle area in 2017 after spending several years working in rehabilitation and sports medicine in Rhode Island, and when the head coaching position opened this year, it was, in her mind, “a no-brainer.”
“There’s such an opportunity here to be involved with the school and the community,” Oliver said. “The girls we have are winners, and they’ve worked really hard. This season has been a lot of fun.”
Sumner softball, Bucksport baseball teams advance
Deer Isle-Stonington wasn’t the only local softball team to earn its first playoff win since 2014 Tuesday as Sumner advanced to the Class C North quarterfinals with a mercy-rule win in Sullivan. The seventh-ranked Tigers (7-10) dominated both offensively and defensively to defeat No. 10 Houlton (3-12) 13-1.
Senior Lauren Hanna led the way for Sumner in the circle with 10 strikeouts and just two hits allowed. The Tigers totaled 12 hits at the plate with three from freshman Rachel Colby and two apiece from Hanna from sophomore Riley Flubacher.
Both Deer Isle-Stonington and Sumner are in action again Thursday, June 6. The Mariners will take on third-ranked Southern Aroostook (12-2) on the road at 1 p.m., and Sumner will battle No. 2 Narraguagus (15-1) at 3:30 in Harrington.
Also playing in Thursday’s regional quarterfinals is No. 1 Bucksport (13-3), which faces No. 9 Orono (8-9) in Class C North play at 3 p.m. Bucksport head coach Mike Carrier was announced Tuesday as Penobscot Valley Conference Coach of the Year, and senior Mikayla Tripp was named PVC Player of the Year.
In baseball, No. 7 Bucksport (8-9) beat 10th-ranked Dexter (6-11) 8-2 to clinch a regional quarterfinals berth for the eighth straight season since dropping from Class B to Class C. The Golden Bucks will play on the road at 2:30 p.m. Thursday against No. 2 Fort Kent (15-1).
Elsewhere in the Class C North baseball field, No. 1 George Stevens Academy (15-1) will host No. 8 Lee Academy (7-10) at 3 p.m. Thursday. The Eagles are in search of their first state title since 2004.