The Deer Isle High School girls basketball team was without one of its best players during the Class D North tournament in February, but still reached the regional championship game.
The Mariners lost 62-49 to Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook, which went on to capture its second straight state championship.
This winter, guard Rylee Eaton, who missed the tournament after undergoing a surgical procedure, is healthy. She has helped lead a veteran group of Mariners to a 7-1 start.
Deer Isle-Stonington has won 42 of its past 45 games spanning 2 1/2 seasons.
“I think it’s going to be a good year,” said junior guard Kaylee Morey, who earned a spot on the Class D North all-tournament team last season, averaging 11 points in three games.
The Mariners’ only loss so far was to senior-laden Greenville (39-35) last Saturday night in a seesaw battle at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
Deer Isle-Stonington bounced back Monday with a hard-fought 42-38 victory over a Shead High School team that is 5-4. Its four losses came against the Mariners (twice), 6-0 Southern Aroostook and 5-1 Class C team Narraguagus of Harrington.
The Mariners seek the program’s first regional championship since 1987 when they captured the state D championship behind Bangor Daily News All-Maine first-team selection and future Husson University Hall of Famer Sharon Siebert.
The Mariners did lose all-tourney point guard Lily Gray, but virtually everyone else is back.
Eaton, a junior, is happy to be back healthy and was excited about playing at the Cross Insurance Center after missing the 2019 tournament.
“It was great to be back on this floor, again. I hadn’t played here since my freshman year,” Eaton said.
Eaton scored a team-high 10 points in Monday’s victory over Shead.
“She is a big help anywhere on the court,” Morey said.
Morey said the team is similar to last year, talent-wise, “but the team dynamic is better, player-wise.”
The Mariners have been stingy defensively, allowing just 33.5 points per game. No opponent has scored more than 42 points.
The swarming Mariners are tenacious on the ball, forcing teams into turnovers and then scoring easy baskets off those transition opportunities.
“Defense is definitely our strength,” Morey said. “We play a fast game.”
Coach Randy Shepard’s Mariners have good scoring balance, which makes it hard for opposing teams to shut them down.
In their past two games, three different players have produced a double-digit showing in at least one of the contests and two more have scored six or more points.
“Just about everybody can shoot,” said Morey, who scored 11 points against Greenville.
The aggressive, 5-foot-5 Morey is difficult to guard because she is quick, likes to attack the rim and has the ability to shoot from the outside.
Eaton can score in a variety of ways and is also a good ball-handler and rebounder.
Eaton, at 5-8, uses her length to her advantage on the defensive side.
The Mariners’ top rebounder is 5-9 senior Katie Hutchinson, another capable defender who can produce points in and around the paint.
Taylor Hardy is a versatile 5-6 junior forward who scored 10 points against Greenville.
The other starter is 5-3 senior guard Brienna Limeburner, while the Mariners also have enough quality depth to effectively play an uptempo style.
Juniors Makalya Lebel and Peyton Rice, senior Brittany Gray and freshman Macey Brown have been contributors off the bench.
Morey said the Mariners have extra incentive after reaching the regional final last season after being ousted in the 2018 semifinals.
They last played in a regional final in 2011, losing to eventual state champ Washburn.
Deer Isle-Stonington returns to action at 1 p.m. Saturday when it visits Machias.