GARDINER — If you walk into the Gardiner Area High School gymnasium and look straight ahead, you’ll see the visiting team’s fan section.

The last thing anybody expected Thursday night was for those fans to come alive in the second half.

Gardiner led a listless Maranacook team by 20 at halftime, and it didn’t look that close. As soon as the third quarter began, Maranacook was a different team, and Gardiner had to hold on for a 48-41 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B girls basketball victory.

“I was my unusual self in the locker room (at halftime) — I was actually kind of quiet,” Maranacook coach Jeannine Paradis said. “We talked about the fact that we looked like we gave up before we even stepped on the floor, and that we didn’t just give up as a team, but I felt that they were giving up on me. I’ve seen them play so much better in terms of team basketball, so we needed to get back into that.”

It was a game Maranacook (5-9) badly needed for its Western B playoff chances, but in the first half, the Black Bears looked like they badly wanted to be anywhere else. Gardiner led 20-4 after one quarter, and the rebounds were also 20-4 in favor of Gardiner at that point. The Tigers led 28-6 at one point and settled for a 28-8 lead at the break.

The Tigers (12-2) were simply outhustling Maranacook. With the score 22-4 early in the second quarter, the Bears lost a possession because the Gardiner player got on the floor for a loose ball while the Maranacook player stayed on two feet and reached. Maranacook shot 3 for 22 in the first half and committed 14 turnovers.

“The defense we played in the first half is as good as we’ve played all winter,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said.

Maranacook looked like a new team in the second half, as senior forward Nicole Smith, a substitute, helped spark the Bears and set the tone with her hustle. Maranacook’s press, which had succeeded only in getting Gardiner breakaway layups in the first half, was suddenly ferocious, and the Tigers committed 18 turnovers in the second half.

“We got caught up in their pace of play,” Gray said. “Their press is great. They were forcing turnovers, but even when we broke the press, we just got caught up in the frantic-ness that they were bringing.”

Maranacook got the lead down to 37-23 by the end of the third quarter, and was within 39-32 when Hannah Clough (21 points) hit a running bank shot with 4:55 left. But at the other end, Gardiner junior Kelsey Moody knocked down a huge 3-pointer from the left corner.

“One of our team’s mantras is, ‘Shoot the ball before you get a chance to turn it over,’ ” Gray said. “And she knows — and any of our guards know — you’ve got an open shot, put it up. She stepped in and hit a huge three.”

Senior Hillary Owen and junior Kelly Macomber also hit some big shots for Gardiner, and guard Jenna Moore pulled down eight rebounds. Those plays were important, because Maranacook got as close as 46-41 when Clough drained a three with 28 seconds left, and then Gardiner threw the ball away 10 seconds later. But Clough’s next three kicked off the back rim, and the Tigers could finally relax the way they thought they would at halftime.

“We have to play that way the rest of the season,” Paradis said. “We’re capable of playing that way. These kids certainly didn’t give up. They showed everybody in here that they still had the heart to play.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]


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