GARDINER — The Gardiner and Leavitt boys basketball teams are no strangers to close and dramatic contests.
Chances are good during the last three seasons that when the Tigers and Hornets get together, no matter the venue, drama would follow.
Friday was no different.
Junior forward Andrew Middleton converted a three-point play with 3.9 seconds left in regulation to snap a tie game and lift Leavitt to a 56-53 victory over Gardiner before a packed crowd at Bragoli Gym.
“It’s typical Gardiner-Leavitt,” Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said. “Whether it’s football or basketball, there is a lot of respect toward each other. We both play hard and we both want to beat each other.”
The Tigers edged the Hornets 54-51 on a 35-foot buzzer-beater in the regular-season finale last February.
This time, it would be the Hornets who came out on top.
The teams were tied 53-53 with under 30 seconds to play, but Leavitt guard Sam Green stripped sophomore Brad Bailey of the ball to set the Hornets up with a chance to win.
The Hornets (2-1), after calling a timeout, used Middleton — who scored a game-high 19 points — as a decoy and worked the ball around the perimeter to Isaiah Calder, who attempted a 12-foot jump shot from the corner. The ball rimmed out, but Middleton grabbed the offensive rebound and laid it in. He drew a foul and sank the free throw for a 56-53 lead.
Middleton said he got inside positioning underneath the basket and made the most of an opportunity.
“Amazing,” he said. “The ball came right to me and I just threw it up and hoped for the best. It was the game.”
Added Gardiner coach Jason Cassidy: “We love playing these guys. They play hard like we knew they would. I should’ve called a timeout when Brad had the ball. He’s a young, sophomore point guard.”
Leavitt trailed 53-51 after Gardiner senior Dennis Meehan made a free throw with 43 seconds left.
The Hornets pushed the ball up the court and Middleton drew a foul and calmly made both free throws to tie the game at 53-all.
“Neither team gave up,” Hathaway said. “To win a game like this, in a hostile atmosphere, is great. It was just a great atmosphere.”
Gardiner (1-2) had its chances, but turnovers and missed free throws cost it, particularly in the second half.
The Tigers, who never led by more than six (33-27), had 23 turnovers. They also made just eight of their 16 free throw attempts.
The Hornets had 17 turnovers and made 16 of their 23 free throws.
“Twenty-three turnovers and eight foul shots,” Cassidy said. “That’s the ball game.”
Bailey led all Gardiner players with 13 points while Meehan had 12. Sophomore Seth McFarland scored seven points while Tyler Jamison added six.
Leavitt used an abundance of players, big and small, to try and slow Jamison.
“We wanted to go after Jamison,” Hathaway said. “We used big and small guys on him. Defensively, we did a good job on him.”
Zac Goulette scored 14 points and Green added 11 for the Hornets.
Bill Stewart — 621-5640