BANGOR, Maine — After achieving all there is to accomplish in sports a season ago by winning a gold ball, the Southern Aroostook girls basketball team had high expectations and a lot of pressure on them this season.
Thus far, the Warriors have handled that pressure and then some as the team once again finds itself heading to a state championship.
No. 1 Southern Aroostook (19-2) beat a determined No. 2 Deer Isle-Stonington (18-1) 62-49 Saturday morning for the Class D North championship. The Warriors advance to the Class D state championship on Saturday, March 2, at the Cross Insurance Center.
Game time will be approximately 1:30 p.m., but has not been determined officially because the University of Maine men’s team plays an 11 a.m. game on the same date.
The victory did not come easily, however, as the Mariners battled back from a 39-24 halftime deficit to cut the SA lead to just nine points (56-47) with 3:29 to play.
“We knew that coming into this game, Deer Isle was not going to make things easy and would never give up,” Southern Aroostook coach Cliff Urquhart said. “They kept chipping away, making big baskets and getting stops.”
Sydney Brewer and Makaelyn Porter both netted 17 points to lead Southern Aroostook. Brewer, a 5-foot, 9-inch junior, is now just one-point away from cracking the 1,000-point scoring plateau. Brewer said if and when she gets her thousandth point doesn’t matter.
“I was kind of nervous about it at the beginning of the game, but now it is just like, whatever, it will happen,” she said.
Back In 2016, the Warriors featured what was believed to be the youngest squad in the history of the regional tournament with four freshmen and four eighth-graders. Today, those athletes are mostly juniors and seniors and have been part of a Warrior dynasty at Dyer Brook. The team has not lost to a Class D opponent since the 2015-16 season.
The Warriors found themselves in a bit of unfamiliar territory late in Saturday’s contest as the team tried to chew some clock with 2:28 to play, while nursing a 58-47 lead.
“We haven’t been in that situation for a few years,” Urquhart said. “Back when these juniors and seniors were in eighth- and ninth-grade, there were a lot of games like that. Our experience definitely paid off.”
With a roster full of upperclassmen, it was an eighth-grader who played a significant role in Saturday’s championship contest. Madison Russell, a 5-foot, 6-inch guard, only scored three points, but was a defensive stalwart as she was often tasked with facing off against the Mariners top scoring threat, Taylor Hardy, who finished with 14 points.
“She is teflon,” Urquhart said. “Games like this do not phase her one bit. She’s only played in three playoff games, and I know it’s cliche, but she has ice in her veins.”
“Coach likes to put me out at the top [of the key] for defense because I am fresh legs,” Russell said. “I look up to a lot of the seniors. They have helped me a ton. I was nervous my first game, but not today.”
The Deer Isle-Stonington girls were appearing in only the program’s second regional final. The Mariners advanced to the championship game without leading scorer Rylee Eaton. The sophomore recently underwent an abdominal surgery that has kept her out of action during the tournament.