GARDINER — It was part challenge, part request from Gardiner girls basketball coach Mike Gray: I’ve seen you come out great to start the second half, now let’s see you come out great to start the first.

On Friday night, Gardiner accepted the challenge and fulfilled the request. The Tigers scored 20 points in the first quarter, and never trailed from that point in a 54-41 victory over Medomak Valley.

“Our pregame talk was about coming out ready to play in the first,” Gray said. “Even going back to last season, we’ve been playing good third quarters, and we talked about having that intensity right away. I couldn’t be happier. That’s the first time I feel like, right from the get-go, we played four good quarters.”

One big factor in Gardiner’s hot start was its shooting. Medomak Valley (1-2) lost standout center Ericka Christensen to graduation, so the Panthers went with a zone to strengthen their inside defense. This left the outside more open, and Gardiner (3-0) hit five 3-pointers.

“They exploited our weakness, which is the interior play. We’re just not solid there yet. We’re too small,” Medomak coach Randy Hooper said. “They did a good job on the inside, and they scored points from the perimeter, too. I was very impressed.”

Paige Pilsbury led Gardiner’s balanced offense with 12 points, while Jenna Moore and Kylee Granholm each scored 10. The Tigers had one poor stretch in the second quarter, and Medomak was within 24-20 with less than minute to play in the half. But Moore nailed a 3-pointer and Pilsbury beat the buzzer with a bomb from the right corner, and the Tigers led 30-20 at the break.

“It lit a fire right under our butt,” said Granholm, a junior guard. “We were all pumped up. Everybody was cheering in the locker room. We haven’t beaten Medomak since I was in seventh grade. It’s exciting.”

Alanna Vose, a 5-foot-6 senior guard, kept the Panthers close as long as she could. Vose had 16 of her team’s 20 points in the first half and had 21 through three quarters. But she finished with 24 and front-rimmed nearly all of her shots in the fourth quarter.

“She was dog tired,” Hooper said. “She was just so tired. The other thing that people don’t see is she works equally hard on the defensive end. Sometimes she has to (play) long stretches, and she gets tired.”

Even with Taylor Banister still out with a sprained ankle, the Tigers are deep enough that they can give people a rest and maintain control.

“The girls off the bench (give us) so much more depth than we ever had in the past — just because it’s the same kids getting more responsibility and having more experience,” Gray said. “I was a little worried when Granholm got two fouls in the first half, but we go to the bench and other kids can step up.”

This early in the season, Friday’s win won’t give Gardiner a big boost in the standings. But Gray is certain it is still an important victory.

“That’s a good win,” Gray said. “That’s a good team. They’re going to win 10 or 12 or 13 games this winter. That’s going to be a huge win for us by the end of the season.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

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