Text and photos by Richard Taylor
The Ocracoke Lady Dolphins varsity basketball team may have fallen in the first round of the Atlantic 5 (1A) conference tournament on Wednesday, but the team’s impressive season earned them a berth in the first round of the Eastern Division 1A state playoffs.
The Lady Dolphins, seeded eighth in the east, will play the Triangle Math and Science Academy Tigers of Cary at home Tuesday evening. WOVV 90.1 FM will broadcast the game.
Fatigue and exhaustion from three straight conference games last week — including Valentine’s Day’s hard-fought 57-48 road win against Bear Grass Charter (with its 1:30 a.m. return to the island) and Tuesday afternoon’s 47-37 home win over Columbia — were more than the Lady Dolphins could overcome in the conference tournament opener Wednesday against a dominant 15-player Cape Hatteras Lady Hurricanes team.
The Dolphins got off to a quick start with a 6-3 lead early in the game, but the stifling full-court press the Dolphins used in their win over the Hurricanes a week earlier was not as effective and Hurricane senior shooting sensation Emma Del Monte got hot, hitting four long 3-pointers in the first half.
The Dolphins were down 25-20 at the half, thanks mainly to driving layups and aggressive defense by sophomore guard Maren Donlon.
Long shots and layups from Ocracoke’s normally good-shooting guards — senior Alyssa Bryan and sophomore Savannah Hodson — mostly failed to fall.
The Dolphins were tired, and it showed, as they fell 48-38 to the same Hatteras team they had beaten twice this year.
Senior Del Monte led Hatteras with 23 points, earning her Hatteras Player of the Game honors.
After the heartbreaking loss, the Lady Dolphins left the court dejected, some almost in tears.
“Our girls were trying to push it, but Hatteras came to play,” Coach Richardson lamented after Wednesday’s loss. “They shot the lights out, hustling and getting rebounds. When you have an entire team that cannot miss a shot, you can’t guard against that. We were just so tired and exhausted from last week’s games.”
She said the team will recover and regroup for the playoffs.
“We had an amazing undefeated (8-0) conference season,” Richardson continued. “We had already beaten Hatteras twice (51-37,Jan. 28 in Buxton to win the Battle for the Paddle and 61-40 at home, February 12), so to lose in the first round of the tournament was tough. This was our third game in a row this week.”
Hatteras’ hot hand ran out in the conference finals Friday night in Buxton as the Hurricanes fell to Bear Grass Charter, 45-41, holding Del Monte to only 12 points. The Lady Bears finished their season 14-8 overall, and third (4-4) in the conference.
Friday was also a bad night at home for the Hatteras boys, who fell to the Bears in the tournament finals, 65-52. The boy Bears finished their season 17-5 overall and first (8-0) in the conference.
Despite the Lady Dolphins loss to Cape Hatteras Wednesday, Coach Richardson was philosophical, noting that the season is not over yet.
“They were hurt and starting to get sick, because their bodies were so tired from all the traveling, the late nights, staying hydrated and eating enough when they’re full court pressing and exercising so much,” she said. “They’re also fantastic students, they’re in all the clubs and they have so much going on. I’m so proud of them for how hard they work in basketball and in their lives. They’re really good kids.”
Richardson expects to have another great squad next season, as all Lady Dolphins return except senior guard Savannah Hodson. “We’ll have some eighth-graders coming up, too,” she said.
The Lady Dolphins have the league’s best record, 12-4 overall and 8-0 in conference (Wednesday’s home tournament loss to Hatteras only counts in the overall record). “Most of our losses were early on,” she said. “It’s so amazing that we are still able to have a state playoff game when we lost in the first round of the conference tournament,” Richardson said joyously. “We actually got a very good seed. This speaks to how far we’ve come since the beginning of the season.”
Athletic Director Mary McKnight said if the Lady Dolphins win here Tuesday, they likely would get another home game Thursday in the second round of the East 1A playoffs. The Triangle Math and Science Tigers are 8-9 overall, led by sophomore Samrita Sriram, averaging 17 points per game.
After beating the Columbia Wildcats 53-32 at home Feb. 15, in their most impressive win of the season, Ocracoke’s fourth-place varsity boys lost to the Bear Grass Bears, 55-19 in the first-round tournament game at Bear Grass the next day. The boys finished their season 5-9 overall, fourth (3-5) in the conference.
The boys’ varsity team is expected to be strong next season and onward, losing only senior Rosalio Villanueva to graduation and there are several talented JV and middle school players.