BANGOR — The Deer Isle-Stonington girls basketball team was sailing through choppy waters at times Thursday, turning the ball over 23 times.
But the sixth-ranked Mariners were able to navigate through those rough seas with an aggressive defense of their own and dominance on the backboards, as coach Darren Eaton’s club upended No. 2 Central Aroostook of Mars Hill 42-36 at the Bangor Auditorium.
The Mariners (18-2) advanced to their first Eastern Maine final since 1987 and will play the Washburn Beavers Saturday at 9:05 a.m. Central Aroostook finished 15-5.
The Mariners entered this game with nothing to lose and certainly played like it, using patience on the offensive end to pick apart the Panthers’ 2-3 zone.
“We knew we were going to have to spread the floor,” said Eaton.
Neither team led by more than three points in a back-and-forth first half that ended with DI-S on top 19-17 and with two Panther starters on the bench with three fouls.
“We knew if we could get the (Kristen) Long girl, (Vicki) McIntyre girl or the (Rachel) Grew girl in foul trouble we’d be in good shape,” said DI-S senior point guard Abby Grindle, who led the Mariners’ balanced offense with 10 points.
The Mariners held a slim lead throughout the third quarter before CA’s Grew nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing to beat the buzzer and send the teams into the final period tied at 27.
But DI-S’s defense held the Panthers to two field goals in the fourth, and Britnie Jones’ offensive putback with 2:38 left gave the Mariners their biggest lead at 38-30.
The Mariners did a solid job containing Central Aroostook’s fast break and were in solid shape to do so.
“We’ve had three practices where we can work on just conditioning and other stuff so we’ve been running quite a bit,” Grindle said.
Janelle Ciomei and Jones contributed nine points apiece for the Mariners, while Chelsea Brown and Jones each gathered 10 rebounds.
Before this winter, the Mariners hadn’t won a tournament game in more than two decades.
“It feels great, it was something we really wanted to do,” said Cimoei. “We wanted to come in and win the (quarterfinal) game, we won the game, and we just continued on.”
Now the Mariners are sailing on to their first regional final since standout Sharon Seibert donned the blue and white in the mid-1980’s.
“I was very proud of my girls,” Grindle said. “We’ve worked really hard to get here, we’ve worked as a team and I think it’s paid off.”
The Mariners also defended the interior well, forcing the bigger Panthers to shoot from the outside, and coach Rodney Codrey’s club was just 12-for-57 from the floor. Grew led the Panthers with 13 points and McIntyre added 10.