WATERVILLE — The Waterville girls basketball team had found itself in the middle of a tussle.

The Purple Panthers, in fourth place in Class B North, were up against 16th-place John Bapst, but if the Crusaders were supposed to be a pushover, they didn’t get the message. For three quarters, John Bapst pushed Waterville, and seemed poised to take the hosts to the down to the wire.

For Waterville, though, it was just another challenge to meet in a season that’s been full of them.

Denelle Eldridge had 20 points and 19 rebounds to lead the way for the Purple Panthers, who pulled away for a 67-48 victory after outscoring the Crusaders 19-4 in the final quarter.

“We had some of our players that come off the bench that hit some huge shots for us today,” Waterville coach Joy Charles said. “We had some threes, and we definitely had some great defense out of them. All the way down the bench, everybody put forth a team effort and they really worked together.”

Sadie Works added 13 points, Dakodah Aldrich had eight and Keira Gilman scored seven for the Purple Panthers (6-1). The Crusaders (1-9) got 19 points and five steals from freshman Claire Gaetani, and 11 points from Lily Higgins.


“We definitely fought back for that, we started playing more as a team,” said Eldridge, whose team held John Bapst to a single free throw for the first six-and-a-half minutes of the fourth. “I’ve seen them play games before, they’re a very strong team. I wasn’t shocked when they came out wanting to win this game. … We definitely pulled through.”

That’s been nothing unusual for Waterville this season, which has dealt with different instances of adversity and difficulty since the first practice of the season. Waterville has only nine players, and though depth was promising from the start to be an issue, the Panthers followed up a season-opening loss to Hermon with three straight victories to rise up the B North standings.

Watervillel’s Dakodah Aldrich (13) fouls John Bapts’ Jane Wu (20) during a girls basketball game Friday in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“I think we support each other really well,” Gilman said. “We know each other, we know how we play together. I think that helps us out a lot, but I also think the encouragement from the bench helps a lot.”

The encouraging start was suddenly knocked off course. Waterville was not immune to the COVID bug that’s been sweeping through the winter sports scene, and didn’t play a game from Dec. 23 to Jan. 12. Nearly all the Panthers got it, Charles said, and some felt it worse than others, and the coach said she was more concerned about safety than she was about how the team would play upon its return to the court.

“I was nervous about that,” Charles said. “Being out and barely being able to walk down the street or go to the store without struggling and being exhausted, I was really concerned. We have some wonderful parents and they took care of their girls, and we were able to come back full speed.”

Gilman said the team returned to the court with a determination to not let the shutdown slow it down.


“Since we came back from COVID, our connection has been even stronger than it was to start,” she said. “I think we’ve just bonded together.”

With wins over Lincoln Academy (44-31) and Belfast (42-21), the Panthers regained a rhythm quickly, but they had their hands full Friday with the Crusaders. From the moment the game started, with three straight turnovers after the jump ball, the tone was set that it was going to be a messy game, and indeed, the Panthers found it hard to separate from their scrappy opponent.

Waterville’s Keira Gilman (4) fouls John Bapts’ Lily Higgins (14) during a girls basketball game Friday in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We didn’t start out at our best,” Charles said. “The game started just unconventional and messy. I said at one point ‘I think I just need a re-do.'”

Waterville found a path to victory in getting contributions from all nine players in uniform. While Eldridge led the way, Works scored 10 points in the second quarter. Gabby Maines scored all six of her points in a three-minute stretch in the third quarter, including a basket that gave the Panthers the lead for good. Abby Williams made two threes, both in the fourth quarter to help Waterville finally separate.

“They all found their moment to step up when we needed them most,” Charles said.

Crusaders coach Marisa Kelley, who has no seniors in her starting lineup, said the night was a learning experience for her growing team.

“The biggest thing for our team is we’re young,” she said. “When we talk about this team, we look in the future. Everything we do is for tomorrow and continuing to build. Today was a little bit of physicality, and a little bit of beating ourselves.”

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