The victorious Lady Dolphins display their conference awards after their first round state playoff win Feb. 22 against Triangle Math & Science Academy. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Richard Taylor

Ocracoke put on a powerful “palindromic” performance Tuesday, trouncing the Triangle Math and Science Academy Tigers from Cary in the first round of the state 1A East playoffs, 41-29 before a thunderous home crowd in the Tank.

The Dolphins advance to the East’s second round here today (Feb. 24) at 6 p.m. against the ninth-seeded Chatham Central Bears, who beat Durham’s 24th-seeded Voyager Academy, 53-34 in Tuesday’s first round at Bear Creek. WOVV will stream the matchup on the internet, with a local broadcast on 90.1 FM.

In Tuesday’s game, the Dolphins jumped off to a 4-0 lead, thanks to two free throws and a layup by sophomore first-team all-conference guard Maren Donlon. The 25th seeded Tigers quickly evened the score at 4-4, then led briefly 6-4, before the Dolphins found their rhythm, knotting the score at 10-10 to end the first quarter.

Ocracoke never trailed thereafter, leading 23-16 at the half and 34-18, after three periods. For much of the game, the Tigers had difficulty breaking the Dolphins full-court press, managing only two points in the third period.

With just a few minutes to go in the game, the Dolphins led 40-20. Then the Tigers finally got hot hands. It was too late, but they managed to close the final score to 41-29.

The Dolphins relentless defense held Tiger leader Samrita Sriram to six points, far below her 17.8 game average. Donlon led Ocracoke with 20, above her team-leading 17.1 game average, while senior Savannah Dodson chalked up 12. Sophomore Alyssa Bryan had five, while juniors Maggie Evans and Lillian Perez netted two each.

The Dolphins had trouble with long shots, as Donlon and Dodson hit only one three-pointer each, in the third period. “We struggled from the three-point line,” Coach Kadi Richardson said.

Savannah Hodson makes a breakaway layup shot. Photo: C. Leinbach

Richardson praised Perez as one of Ocracoke’s best defenders. “I put her on Sriram and Lillian shut her down,” she said after the electrifying win. “They didn’t know what to do. Lillian did an incredible job keeping her from shooting. Our defense was really the game changer for us.”

The coach also praised Evans’ defense for shutting down Triangle’s top rebounder, senior center Janeen Hamideh. “For the most part, Maggie did a good job boxing her out and making sure she didn’t get many rebounds,” Richardson said.

This second-round game today pairs two well-matched teams, with eighth-seeded Ocracoke’s 13-4 record edging the ninth-seeded Chatham Central Bears’ 13-12 record. The Dolphins averaged 43.6 points-per-game this season. The Bears averaged 38.8, playing eight more games than Ocracoke.

On Feb. 26 three years ago, Chatham Central’s boys squeaked by David Allewalt’s Atlantic 5 conference champion Dolphins, 58-56, here in the first round of the 2019 East 1A tournament. That game concluded the high school careers of Colby Austin, Sam Evans and Kalai Samick.

In other first round games Tuesday, the 10th seeded East Columbus Gators beat 23rd-seeded Bear Grass Charter in Lake Waccamaw, 50-44, while the first-seeded Bertie Falcons beat the 32nd-seeded Cape Hatteras Hurricanes, 68-18 in Windsor.

Richardson said Tuesday’s victory somewhat makes up for the Dolphins’ heartbreaking 48-38 home loss to Hatteras in the first round of last week’s Atlantic 5 (1A) Conference tournament.

Tuesday’s game was delayed late in the fourth period with the Dolphins ahead by 20 when guard Gisselle Perez fell on her right ankle. This exacerbated the injury she suffered in Ocracoke’s 58-37 loss to the Northside Pinetown Panthers, Dec. 17 in Bayboro.

Perez lay in pain, flat on the floor under the Tiger basket for several minutes, before she was helped off the floor.

“I was hesitant to play her tonight,” Richardson said. “But she felt good, so I let her play.” The first-year coach said Perez will not play against Chatham Central Thursday.

Maren Donlon lands a fast-break layup shot. Photo by Richard Taylor

The cheering did not end with the Dolphin’s win, as athletic director Mary McKnight handed out five conference plaques chosen by conference coaches and athletic directors.

Bryan and Donlon were named first-team All-Conference. Hodson won second team All-Conference.

“We also got a big plaque for our undefeated (8-0) conference season. “That was for the whole team,” Richardson beamed. “They also gave me coach of the year. That was unexpected and exciting.”

Earlier, a pre-game afternoon pep rally featured fun games between students and staff members.

“Are you smarter than Mr. Charles?,” matched English teacher and winner of the first ever Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament in 2013, Charles Temple, against a table full of high school boys. Questions revolved around current slang terms. The students shut out Temple, 4-0.

Besides being George Washington’s birthday, Feb. 22, was also Two-for-Tuesday, with the Dolphins big playoff win and surprise awards ceremony.

Written in the international numerical style, 22.02.2022 is a palindrome, reading the same backwards as forwards. “Twosday” was also an ambigram, meaning that 22.02.2022 written in block letters (with no curves) reads the same when you turn the number group upside down.

A day like this won’t happen again for 400 years.