AUGUSTA — Edward Little High School has a rule about this sort of thing. No exceptions, not even with impending vacations or basketball tournaments.

“If you’re not in school,” said EL girls’ basketball coach Craig Jipson, “you don’t play.”

Regulations are regulations. So Ashlee Arnold — a soft-spoken sophomore who is, by many accounts, the Red Eddies’ best player — didn’t have the luxury Friday of sleeping in or watching “The Price Is Right” after being up all night with stomach flu symptoms.

Safe to assume the schedule was scaled back. Because, seriously, who gives a test the last day before winter break, right?

Even safer to assume that Arnold was quarantined. From teammates, most of all.

EL had the trifling matter of an Eastern Class A quarterfinal game at 4:30 p.m. And yes, because she played by the book, Arnold was here to run onto the Augusta Civic Center floor and was entrenched in the Eddies’ starting lineup against Bangor.

She was here in both body and spirit.

First, the physical part: Arnold, pale in complexion but light on her feet and wearing a dogged expression that never disappeared, erupted for 17 points in an improbable first half. Her three 3-pointers, three steals, two assists and two rebounds staked EL to a 38-24 edge at intermission.

Unsalted crackers and electrolyte drinks just might become the new breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions in Auburn.

“Coach was really pumping me up and giving me motivation to stay in the game,” Arnold said. ‘I tried to relax at school. I tried getting as much water and Gatorade as I could.”

Then, the emotional component: Shut out and ultimately shut down for her own good in the second half, Arnold had one of the best seats in the house while the remainder of the EL whole exceeded the sum of its parts.

Chased and nearly caught by fearless Bangor, the Eddies went on a 10-2 run at the end of the third period without one of their brightest stars.

Miranda Martin, known primarily for her defense, hit a free throw.

Kory Norcross, probably lacing ’em up to play in a middle school tournament at this very second one year ago, drove to the hoop to trigger a 3-point play.

Dawna Daigle delivered her lone field goal of the night with one of the biggest offensive put-backs of her career. Then Frankie Lally found Kate Sawyer for back-to-back baskets — you guessed it, Martin’s only two shots from the field.

That’s how quickly a good team turns a scare into breathing room and a roster that looks short-handed and sick into an embarrassment of riches.

Refreshed, EL coasted home to a 74-56 victory, its highest-scoring game of the winter and perhaps its ultimate team victory to date.

“You have to stay mentally focused. Be a fountain, not a drain,” Sawyer said. “Get everybody up. Just encourage everybody and focus on what’s important right now. We’ve got to help her. We’ve got to pick her up. We’ve got to communicate with her. We’ve got to not just let her stay there (on the sideline). We love Ashlee.”

Drain as a noun or drained as an adjective are no good at this time of year. Drain as a verb works nicely, though.

Lally landed her fifth 3-pointer of the game in the fourth quarter, then went 10-for-10 from the line. That was good for a baker’s dozen of her career-high 25 points.

“(Arnold is) our best player. She’s a great player, but everybody can do it,” Lally said. “We just had to play through it like we’re the same team. Well, not the same team, but everybody needed to step up and they did. Kelly (Philbrook) stepped up. Kate (Sawyer) stepped up. Dawna (Daigle) stepped up. Everybody stepped up to make up for Ashlee not being healthy. We all knew she wasn’t healthy. It’s not like we came out and she just said, ‘I’m feeling sick.’ ”

Norcross nailed one of the Eddies’ nine 3-pointers and finished with a surprising 16 points. Philbrook sank a free throw when life was otherwise unraveling for the Eddies in the third quarter. Daigle latched onto seven rebounds. Martin blocked a pair of second-half shots.

To a player, they were inspired to invest their all by a colleague who couldn’t.

“You’ve got to do it when it counts, you know? Regular season doesn’t mean anything,” Lally said. “You’ve got to leave it all on the floor.”

“Ashlee ran out of gas in the second half, but I give some kids credit. We were able to sit her for a long time in the third quarter, and some other kids did a great job,” Jipson added. “I think she played with so much character, and then it caught up to her. You can only play on adrenaline for so long and then reality set in. She gave it everything she had.”

Not the least of which was answering the alarm clock and showing up for roll call.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected]


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