NEWPORT — The Nokomis girls won three straight basketball games in no-doubt-about-it fashion. That left the Warriors a little flat.
Gardiner, on the other hand, had struggled to a two-point win over Erskine on Tuesday, and the Tigers were trying to prove they could bounce back from that and show again they could play with the best team in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.
The Tigers succeeded on both counts, and even led after three quarters. But Nokomis made the plays down the stretch and stayed undefeated with a 47-38 victory on Tuesday night.
“Oh God yes, we were terribly flat,” said Nokomis coach Michelle Paradis, whose team is now 16-0. “I love having these types of games. I honestly wish we had more games like this during the season. This is what builds your team, and builds your character and makes you have composure, and I think our girls handled it really well.”
The game could hardly have started any better for the Tigers (10-6). They beat the Nokomis press a couple times by going over the top of it, and led 10-4 when Ally Day scored on a fast-break layup. Then Camden Cone hit a lefty hook in the lane, and the Tigers led 12-4 and Paradis was calling timeout with 2:40 left in the first quarter.
“That’s what we talked about,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said. “We felt like we didn’t come out ready to play against Erskine. We wanted to come out ready to go.”
Nokomis responded with a 14-0 run spanning the first and second quarters. Trailing 12-8, the Warriors got 3-pointers from Taylor Shaw and Kelsie Richards sandwiched around a steal and layup by Kylie Richards to go up 15-12. Anna MacKenzie (11 points, eight rebounds) scored 10 points in the first half, and Nokomis led 24-16 at the break.
While the Warriors were hoping to extend their lead and cruise to another comfortable win, Gardiner snuck up on Nokomis and stole the lead. Day (10 points, nine rebounds) opened the third quarter with two quick layups, and twice Lauren Chadwick picked her opponent’s pocket and drove for a layup. That knotted the score at 24, and Gardiner went ahead and capped an 11-0 run on a straight-on three by Haley Tomberlin.
The game stayed close most of the rest of the way. The Tigers led 29-28 after three, but Kylie Richards (game-high 12 points) drained a 3-pointer to give Nokomis a 33-31 lead. After Gardiner tied the score on two free throws by Rachel Quirion and surged ahead on a three by Abby Dunn, it was time for some controversy.
Like most fans, the ones in Newport on Tuesday rooted for their team and saw the game with slightly biased eyes. There were a number of close calls and non-calls against both sides, but none more crucial than the one with 5:03 left.
Nokomis had the ball, trailing 36-34, when Day fell to the floor in an attempt to draw a charging foul. Instead, Day was hit with a technical foul for flopping. It was her fourth foul, and she went to the bench for a couple minutes, removing Gardiner’s best rebounder from the game. Nokomis went on a 7-0 run after that play.
“I couldn’t see it from where I was, but that’s a really tough call,” Gray said. “I feel like if that’s going to be the call, it needs to be very, very clear.”
Nokomis led 43-37 when Day fouled out on a less questionable call. Day had the ball and was driving to the basket on a fast break, and MacKenzie appeared to have good position. Day was called for the charge — her fifth foul — with 2:10 to go.
“That’s a 50/50 toss-up call,” Gray said. “If it goes our way, it could be a three-point game. If it goes their way, our best player’s on the bench (and) we’re still down six. Those are the breaks. Not to say either one was the wrong call or the right call, or whatever, just those are those 50/50 things we didn’t get our way tonight, and they took advantage.”
Nokomis played its possession game well in the final minutes, and held on for the victory. If the Warriors win two more games, they will finish the regular season unbeaten. But then the real season starts.
“I still think we have a lot of work to do, to be honest with you,” Paradis said. “We can always improve on stuff. We’ve been trying to run a lot of plays. We need to have everybody on the same page, and know what they’re doing on the play. Those are things that we’re working on in practice every day, and just trying to get better at.”