GARDINER — The Gardiner Area High School girls basketball team doesn’t often enjoy a noticeable size advantage. When they do, they want to make sure they capitalize.
The eighth-seeded Tigers used a strong inside-outside game on Tuesday night, riding the hot shooting hand of senior guard Lauren Chadwick in the second half as they pulled away for a 63-50 win over No. 9 Brewer in a Class A North preliminary round game. The Tigers advance to meet top-seeded and unbeaten Messalonskee in the regional quarterfinals on Friday night at the Augusta Civic Center.
“We just wanted to come out strong and establish something in the middle,” said Chadwick, who finished with 16 points, one of four Tigers to hit double figures in the win. “We knew we had an advantage with the height on our team. That’s where our points were going to come from.”
The task of establishing inside dominance fell largely on the shoulders of senior center Mary Toman, whose double-double told a big piece of Tuesday night’s story. Toman finished with a game-high 19 points and 12 rebounds.
“Having that (size) advantage inside is a big help,” Toman said. “There’s not many teams that we can post up against, because we’re pretty small ourselves. When we get that opportunity, we have to take it.”
Brewer coach Chris Horr said his team simply couldn’t match up with Gardiner’s post presence. And when the Witches (5-14) struggled to find open looks from the perimeter in the second half, they found themselves chasing the Tigers down the homestretch.
“I thought the game was a little faster and a little more physical than what we’ve played in the past against them,” said Horr, whose team split two close contests with Gardiner in the regular season. “We had to adapt to that, and we didn’t do a very good job of adapting in the beginning. We don’t mind playing that way, but we didn’t adjust.”
Gardiner (12-7) broke open a close game midway through the third quarter, utilizing an 11-1 run to close out the period and turn a 37-37 game into a 48-38 lead through 24 minutes. Chadwick keyed the run with with an uncontested 3-pointer from the top of the key, following that bomb with two cuts to the rim for easy buckets off the glass.
Chadwick scored 10 of her 16 points in the third quarter, including that seven-point flurry in a span of just under two and a half minutes.
“We really got momentum from everybody, on and off our bench,” said Chadwick, who also grabbed six rebounds. “I thought that really helped us with our scoring.”
Patience paid off for the Tigers, as neither team could find breathing room in the first half. When Gardiner opened up an 11-8 lead late in the first quarter, Brewer answered with a Julie Bulliard (11 points) trey from the left wing to knot the score. When the Witches tried to pull away to a comfortable cushion on a Bulliard layup to make it 28-23 with 2:40 remaining in the half, Aimee Adams (12 points) and Toman teamed up inside to turn offensive rebounds into baskets.
Adams board and follow-up bucket on Leslie Stevens’ missed 3-point attempt with four seconds left in the second quarter sent the Tigers into the break with 32-31 lead.
“I thought in the first half, what was working was both Mary inside and Amy,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said. “The two of them combined in the first half, and we knew if we established inside it would open up some other things. Lauren hit a big three that kind of turned the momentum around.”
Brewer connected for six of their eight 3-pointers in the first half alone, but they couldn’t keep up that pace in the second half. After shooting 6-of-9 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Witches were just 2-of-9 from long distance after the intermission.
“That’s kind of how we are,” Horr said. “We’ll go in flows. We can look terrible for a six-minute span, and then we go and rip off five threes and a couple of penetrations and look fine.”
Logan Granholm finished with 10 points for Gardiner, including six critical free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
“The girls worked really hard, and they stepped up when they needed to, especially the seniors,” Gray said. “They’ve all been through this. They’ve been through (the playoffs) before. It was just a great effort on both ends, especially in the second half.”
Travis Barrett — 621-5621