DEER ISLE, Maine — Deer Isle-Stonington’s 58-49 boys basketball victory over Bangor Christian on Monday night was notable for at least two reasons.
The pointworthy victory moved the Mariners up to third place in the Eastern Maine Class D standings, and it also marked the return to action of star guard Sam Grindle, albeit in limited minutes.
Grindle, a 5-foot-11 senior who surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this winter, had missed his team’s previous three games because of a slightly torn ankle tendon suffered when he landed on another player’s foot late during Deer Isle-Stonington’s 67-51 victory over Searsport on Jan. 23.
Grindle’s absence altered the Mariners’ look significantly, as senior Connor Morey stepped in to handle the point-guard duties while classmate Nathan Davis picked up much of the scoring slack for Grindle, who is averaging 17 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals per contest this season.
“It really changed how we played,” said ninth-year Deer Isle-Stonington head coach Glenn Billings, “not only because of Sam’s scoring but because he also sets up the other players and he’s our best on-the-ball defender.”
The Mariners went 2-1 while Grindle was sidelined, defeating Shead of Eastport and Bucksport while falling to George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill.
“We weathered the storm except for the George Stevens game,” said Billings. “We played hard against them, but they played an excellent game.”
Grindle suited up for the GSA contest but determined after going through some pregame warmups that his injured ankle wasn’t ready for game action.
He similarly tested his ankle during warmups Monday night before coming off the Mariners’ bench against Bangor Christian to help his team improve its record to 13-4 with only a highly anticipated home game Thursday against undefeated and top-ranked Jonesport-Beals remaining in its regular season.
“Sam played a little bit [Monday] night,” said Billings. “We’re being cautious with him, but I was encouraged by what I saw. The swelling is down and the color has come back, and he showed pretty good mobility so hopefully by crunch time he’ll be ready to go.”
Billings said he will wait to see how Grindle’s ankle responds to the game action against Bangor Christian before determining if and how much he might play against Jonesport-Beals.
Those teams met in their initial rematch from last year’s Eastern Maine final at Jonesport on Dec. 15, with defending state champion Jonesport-Beals outlasting Deer Isle-Stonington 64-58 in overtime.
It’s the closest any team has come to knocking off the Royals so far this winter.
The rematch, on the Mariners’ senior night, originally was scheduled for Friday but on Monday was moved up a day in anticipation of a possible snowstorm at the end of the week.
“If he’s good to go he’ll play,” said Billings. “But we’ve also looked at the silver lining from this, that it’s helped our team because the other players have stepped up more without Sam and hopefully they’ll continue to do that with him coming back.”
Games to watch
The final week of the high school basketball regular season features plenty of games with tournament ramifications for teams seeking to earn preliminary-round byes or home-court advantage for prelims, or just for the chance to qualify for postseason play at all.
Tuesday night’s schoolboy schedule includes a battle at Fairfield between two of Eastern A’s top four teams in No. 3 Lawrence and No. 4 Bangor, both 12-4. Lawrence edged Bangor 52-49 in their earlier meeting at Red Barry Gymnasium on Jan. 2.
In Class B, Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston (13-3) will try to secure its hold on first place in Eastern Maine when it travels to No. 3 Medomak Valley of Waldoboro. Oceanside defeated the Panthers 71-65 on Dec. 21.
Houlton will try to cap off an unbeaten regular season when it visits a similarly hot Caribou squad. Houlton (17-0), which already has secured the No. 1 seed in Eastern C, defeated the Vikings 59-51 at home Jan. 2, but Caribou (12-4) has won its last five games to move into sixth place in Eastern B.
Two Class D showdowns also are on tap Tuesday night, with No. 3 Central Aroostook of Mars Hill (12-4) at No. 2 Washburn (15-1) and No. 1 Jonesport-Beals (16-0) at No. 7 Machias (12-3).
Wednesday’s schedule is light, but a key Class B game sends No. 2 Mount Desert Island (13-3) to No. 11 Hermon (7-9). MDI is trying to secure one of the three available preliminary-round byes in Eastern B, while a win would help Hermon maintain its postseason standing, with the Hawks currently holding a six Heal-point lead over the first team out of the playoffs, No. 14 Belfast.
Thursday and Friday’s schedules feature numerous rivalry games, including the final Class A contests to be played at the Bangor Auditorium when Bangor and Brewer square off in a boys and girls doubleheader.
The Brewer boys, who began the week at 7-9 and ranked 10th in Eastern A, may need a victory over their rivals to secure a trip to the postseason.
The Bangor girls began the week in fourth place in Eastern Maine with a 12-4 record, while Brewer was eighth at 9-7 entering a key game Tuesday at No. 7 Skowhegan.
Nine teams qualify for postseason play in Eastern A.
Other key boys games Thursday have Winslow (13-3) at Waterville (11-5) and Oceanside at Camden Hills of Rockport (11-5) in Class B and Jonesport-Beals at Deer Isle-Stonington (13-4) in Class D.
The final night of regular-season play Friday includes a Aroostook County Class B clash that sends No. 4 Presque Isle (13-3 beginning the week) to Caribou, along with MDI at Ellsworth in the renewal of their Hancock County rivalry.
Then it’s on to the tournament, with Eastern Maine girls preliminary-round games set for Tuesday, Feb. 12, followed by the EM boys prelims on Wednesday, Feb. 13.