By Richard Taylor
Ocracoke’s Cinderella hoops season came to an end Feb. 24 as the ninth-seeded Chatham Central Bears overcame the long trip from Bear Creek to the island, to beat the eighth-seeded Lady Dolphins 44-34 in the second round of the East 1A playoffs.
Earlier in the month, the varsity Lady Dolphins took the regular-season conference title before hosting two state playoff games on home court.
Despite leading the Atlantic 5 Conference, 8-0, the Dolphins lost their first-round conference tournament match to the Cape Hatteras Hurricanes, 48-38, at home on Feb.16. It was the third straight game that week for first-year coach Kadi Richardson’s girls, and they were tired and exhausted.
Ocracoke had already whipped their archrival Hatteras twice this year — 51-37, in the annual Battle for the Paddle Jan. 28 in Buxton and 61-40 at home Feb. 12.
The Dolphins then took down Triangle Math and Science Academy of Cary, 41-29, in the first round of the East 1A bracket Feb. 22 at home. Richardson was awarded Atlantic 5 Coach of the Year laurels before a cheering crowd after that game.
Sophomore guards Alyssa Bryan and Maren Donlon collected first-team All-Conference honors, as chosen by coaches and athletic directors. Senior guard Savannah Hodson earned a spot on the All Conference second team.
Donlon led the eight-seeded Dolphins in scoring and rebounds this season, averaging 17.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Bryan led the team in steals, blocks and assists.
Richardson said Chatham Central were well prepared. “They definitely did their homework and shut down Maren and Alyssa both,” she said.
Noting that the Lady Bears run the same offense every game, “I had developed a zone defense to cover that, but our girls didn’t have enough time for it to solidify,” she said. “I wish I had pulled them out of zone and put them in man (to man), but I didn’t do it soon enough.”
Richardson said that recent injuries hampered the team at this point in the season as Gisselle Perez was sidelined with an ankle injury received during the game with Triangle Math and Science Academy. Catherine Todd also was recovering from an earlier ankle injury.
The ever-positive coach lauded Hodson’s second half defense saying, “It was a good way to end her high school career.”
With talented freshmen and sophomores returning and several promising girls coming up from middle school, Richardson said, “The future is bright.”
“Chatham Central is a well-coached team with good defense,” said veteran WOVV broadcaster Peter Vankevich. “All our players were missing shots because they were double-teamed throughout most of the game.”
The Bears were very quick on their feet getting rebounds, he continued.
“The rebound ratio was hugely in their favor, both offensively and defensively,” he said. “For our team to come within 10 points of that team was actually pretty good.”
WOVV co-caller Chad Macek said Chatham Central’s experience was the main difference in the game.
“They had a lot of juniors and seniors, and you can tell they’ve been playing together for a while,” Macek said. “They just flip-flopped their point guards in and out and never lost a beat when it came to somebody running the point. Another big thing, they double teamed Maren. She went scoreless until three minutes to go and wound up with seven, including two technical foul shots. That was 10 points below her season average.”
Macek said the Lady Dolphins should be super proud for getting to the second round of the state tournament.
“Even though they lost, it was a fantastic way to end an amazing season,” he said. “They should be another force to be recorded with next season. We’re a young team. In a couple of years, Ocracoke’s going to be what we watched tonight with Chatham.”
Sophomore guard Alyssa Bryan led Dolphin scoring with 14. In her final game, senior Savannah Hodson netted six, followed by juniors Maggie Evans with five and Lillian Perez with two.
“It’s been a really good season,” Vankevich added. “The boys’ varsity played their last and best game of the season here Feb. 15, beating the Columbia Wildcats 53-32. They’re going to be super along with the Lady Dolphins next year. The middle schoolers and JVs are up-and-coming. Everything really looks bright for a school that couldn’t even play home games here after Dorian.”
On the school’s Facebook page, Principal Leslie Cole wrote, “It wasn’t the result we wanted but what a season, Lady Dolphins! We are proud of you and we loved watching you grow as a team.”
Cole also expressed support for junior guard Sonya Voitenko, a Ukrainian exchange student.
Two days after Chatham Central dashed the Dolphins dream of dancing one more time in the state playoffs, the Bears themselves fell 58-38 to the Bertie Falcons, the Easts top-seeded 1A team, in third-round play Saturday in Windsor.