GARDINER — If you told the Gardiner fans before the game that their Friday night battle with Maranacook would come down to the final second, they probably would have taken it. If you told the Maranacook fans the same thing early in the second quarter, they probably would have thought you were nuts.
On a night when Gardiner honored eight seniors in its girls basketball family, the Tigers raced to a 17-point lead in the first half. Maranacook caught up in the third quarter and won the game 52-51 on a buzzer-beating baseline drive by Christine Miller.
Miller finished with a game-high 22 points to go along with 13 rebounds.
“She always plays that last play in complete control, and she’s not afraid to give it up,” Maranacook coach Jeannine Paradis said. “But right there, she knew she had it, and she was going to take it for the win.”
Gardiner (10-7) had tied the game at 49 on a free throw by Morgan Carver with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining. After Carver missed the second free throw and Maranacook got the rebound, Gardiner’s Ally Day (11 points, 16 rebounds) scored off a steal to put Gardiner on top, 51-49.
Miller made one of two free throws with 1:35 to go to get the Black Bears (12-5) within a point. After a few possession changes, Maranacook called timeout to set up a final play with 6.4 seconds left.
Catherine Sanborn got the ball to Miller, but Day knocked the ball out of bounds along the baseline with 4.1 seconds left. Sanborn inbounded again to Miller, who received the ball behind the three-point line in the right corner. Miller cut left around a defender and darted to the basket for a layup and the game-winner.
“I just got it on the post,” Miller said. “I don’t even know what was going through my head. I honestly felt like I was in a dream or something. It went in, and then I just felt everybody on top of me, and it was awesome.”
“The effort was great. They hit the last shot,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said. “I don’t know what else we could have done to defend that play. Christine made a great play. I think two different kids on our team tipped it on the way in, and she regained control and made a tough shot.
Over the first 10 minutes, everything was working for Gardiner. The Tigers had nine different players score in the first half, and Day was working hard and getting the payoff of rebound after rebound. Moreover, the Tigers easily handled Maranacook’s tough full-court press, to the point where Paradis took the press off late in the half. Gardiner led 18-7 after one quarter, and 24-7 early in the second as Maranacook started the game 2 for 20 from the floor.
“I think that the defense that we were playing against them wasn’t working at all,” Miller said. “We were not hustling back to the basket. I don’t think anyone was really into it too much. They were obviously up for this game, because it was senior night and everything. But in the locker room at halftime, we really just got it through our heads that we needed to pick it up.”
Maranacook made a nice run to get within 32-22 at halftime. In the third quarter, Gardiner’s Lauren Chadwick (15 points) kept Gardiner in control until the Black Bears suddenly took over.
Maranacook guard Sarah Clough played only six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, but scored eight of her 10 points in the third quarter. Sanborn (11 points, eight rebounds) also got into the act. The Black Bears got within one point when Sanborn hit Sage Hyland for a layup, then took the lead when Miller fed Sanborn for another layup. All told, Maranacook ended the quarter on a 16-4 run for a 40-40 tie heading into the fourth quarter.
“We knew someone was going to make a run, and someone was going to make another run,” Gray said. “Even when we got a big lead early in the first half, we knew it was just a couple possessions away from being close again.”
It was the second straight tough loss for the Tigers, who led undefeated Nokomis after three quarters on Wednesday. Gardiner likely would have secured a home preliminary round game with a win against either Nokomis or Maranacook.
“We’re playing better now than we were at the beginning of the year — on both ends of the floor,” Gray said. “That’s what we want to be doing for playoffs. We have one more game to make sure we get a home prelim, because who knows how everything’s going to shake out?”
For Paradis, it marked Maranacook getting over a hump. She is in her fourth season at Maranacook, and couldn’t remember the Bears beating Gardiner before.
“We always play really hard here,” she said. “I knew we had it in us. We just had to get through that mental block. It definitely builds some character for us. Mike is a great coach. I have great respect for his kids, just as much as he has for mine. We always know we play tough against one another, and we expect a good game. And that’s what we give the crowd every time we play.”