Southern Aroostook guard Madison Russell charges down the court during the Class D North girls basketball quarterfinal game against Ashland at the Cross Insurance Center on Feb. 17.

The state title defense for the Southern Aroostook girls basketball team began in earnest Monday as the No. 1 Warriors of Dyer Brook blasted past No. 8 Ashland 77-22 in a Class D North quarterfinal at the Cross Insurance Center.

Southern Aroostook (19-0 overall), the two-time defending Class D champs, smothered Ashland with a pressing defense and fast paced offense that proved too much for the Hornets.

The Warriors advance to the semifinals at 3:30 p.m. Thursday against No. 4 Shead.

Youth was certainly in full force for the Warriors as freshman Maddie Russell led the Warriors with 20 points, including 5 of 6 from the free throw line. Senior Makaelyn Porter chipped in 15, including 5 of 8 free throws, while junior Emma Nadeau had 12 points and junior Kacy Daggett had eight points and multiple rebounds.

A number of underclassmen also contributed quality minutes against the Hornets. Freshman Callie Russell and eighth-grader Cami Shields both had six points. All 15 members of the Warriors saw action on the floor against Ashland.

“We had a lot of freshmen and eighth-graders out there toward the end,” SA coach Cliff Urquhart said. “They value the time they get and it is so important for them as they go forward, with a hope to play here in future years.”

Southern Aroostook jumped to a 11-0 lead in the first three minutes of play, using a stifling full-court press to force multiple Ashland turnovers and ended the first quarter with a comfortable 17-2 lead.

That lead grew to 37-11 by halftime and 60-20 after three quarters as Southern Aroostook subbed frequently, keeping its players fresh throughout the contest.

Southern Aroostook handily beat Ashland twice during the regular season — winning 82-34 at Ashland and 61-7 at Dyer Brook. Going back to last season, the Warriors have won 30 consecutive games.

“They [Southern Aroostook] are a fantastic team,” Ashland coach Diana Trams said. “They play a lot of basketball and I don’t think anybody really wants to face them. They are pretty formidable.”

Junior Willow Hall, a dual sport athlete at Ashland, led the Hornets with six points. Coach Trams said Hall gave up participating in a ski meet in order to play in Monday’s game.

“She could have competed for an individual medal today, but she chose to play basketball,” the coach said. “She can really get up and down the floor.”

Ashland ends its season with a 9-11 record.