GARDINER — For the Nokomis girls basketball team, the most important thing about Friday’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B game against Gardiner was that the Warriors played a close game against a tough opponent. For Gardiner, the most important thing was that Nokomis got that kind of game against Gardiner.
Nokomis improved to 11-0, but won by less than 30 points for just the third time all season. Gardiner rallied back after a disastrous first quarter, and Nokomis had to hit its foul shots in the final minutes to pull out a 48-41.
“They beat us by 28 points last year,” said Gardiner coach Mike Gray, whose team is now 10-2. “We closed that gap. We can play with any team in our league. It’s just a matter of putting it all together in one night.”
This was an entertaining game, but it didn’t look like it would be in the first quarter. Nokomis, led by Marissa Shaw and Anna Mackenzie, dominated the boards early and worked inside for easy baskets. Gardiner, meanwhile, had trouble finishing, and Nokomis led 19-7 after one quarter.
“I feel like it’s the first time all year we didn’t come out ready to play,” Gray said. “They brought the pressure early, and took advantage of things. I love the way we bounced back and made it a game.”
Before halftime, Gardiner was within two points. Jenna Moore (10 points), Paige Pilsbury and Taylor Banister each hit 3-pointers in the quarter, and the Tigers also got some inside baskets. Gardiner settled for being within 27-23 at the break.
Gardiner carried that momentum into the second half, and took its first lead at 30-29 when Pilsbury grabbed an offensive rebound and fed Moore, who buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4:29 left in the third quarter.
At that point, Shaw (12 points, seven rebounds) was on the bench with three fouls, and Nokomis had four sophomores on the floor. Warriors coach Kori Dionne stayed with the lineup and didn’t call timeout despite some turnovers, and was rewarded when Kelsie Richards drove in for a three-point play, then stole the ball and hit Kylie Richards for a layup that gave Nokomis a 34-30 lead.
“We don’t have very many games that are like this,” Dionne said. “We need to be in a situation where we have to figure things out. I have to let them play through it, because hopefully, we’re getting to the tournament, and that’s what all those games are (like), no matter who you’re playing. We need to be in those situations as much as we can be, (and) we need to know how to handle them.”
While Gardiner took a lot of things away from the Warriors, Nokomis had enough weapons to find another way to win. The Tigers focused heavily on Mackenzie, and held her to four points and 12 rebounds. Nokomis usually hits multiple 3-pointers, but hit none Friday.
But Gardiner couldn’t stop everything. Shaw was effective the entire time she was on the floor, and the Richards sisters combined for 18 points. Nokomis ended the game on a 10-3 run after the teams were tied at 38 with 5:49 to play, and during those final minutes, sophomore Lindsay Whitney came off the bench and made four straight free throws.
“I think it’s just a testament to how hard these girls work,” Dionne said, “and the fact that we aren’t one-dimensional, with either an inside or an outside game, and we don’t have just one or two people that we can go to on any given night.”
Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243