GARDINER — The top-seeded Gardiner softball team rode a big first inning and the arm of sophomore Kristal Smith to a berth in tonight’s Eastern Maine Class B championship game.

The Tigers scored three runs in the first inning against Hermon freshman Karli Theberge and that was enough for a 3-1 victory.

Smith did the rest, with some help from her defense, as she went the distance, finishing with 10 strikeouts, including two to end innings with Hermon runners on second and third. Smith, who alternates on the mound with junior Brittany Rollins, found out she would pitch a couple of days ago.

“It gave me time to mentally prepare,” she said. “I knew this was a big game so I knew I had to throw my hardest.”

Gardiner (17-1) plays No. 3 Oceanside tonight at Brewer High School. The Tigers handed the Mariners their only regular-season loss, but Oceanside came back to beat Gardiner in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B championship game. No. 4 Hermon finishes at 16-2.

The Tigers jumped on Theberge in the first inning. Kylee Granholm led off with a walk, stole second, went to third on a passed ball and scored on Bri Brochu’s single. Taylor Banister doubled to right-center to score Brochu and came home on a single by Rollins.

“Just jumping on them quick certainly proved (important),” Banister said.

Hermon coach Stephanie Biberstein replaced Theberge with another freshman, Allessa Oakes, but the damage had been done.

“Karli’s done a good job for us all season,” Biberstein said. “We’ve done this all year. Both of them have pitched well, Karli just struggled a little early on and Allessa came in and did a fantastic job.”

Oakes retired the first 11 batters she faced, before issuing a leadoff walk in the sixth. That runner was picked off and the only other blemish on Oakes’ stat sheet was another walk in the sixth. The Tigers never got the ball out of the infield against her.

“She threw a lot harder than the first kid,” Gardiner coach Ginger Shaw said. “And it took (us) a little while to adjust.”

Oakes led off the second inning with a home run over the fence in right center to make it 3-1. Smith relied primarily on her fastball, but also got results from her curve which served as an effective off-speed pitch.

“It usually comes in flat and at the last second dies,” Smith said.

Oakes hit a vicious line to right that was speared by Kate Boyington to open the inning and Boyington made another good catch of Shannon Graves’ foul ball to open the sixth.

“The right fielder was amazing today,” Smith said. “If she hadn’t of caught those . . .”

Smith, who allowed five hits and walked a batter, found herself in trouble in the fifth and sixth innings. With runners on second and third, she fanned No. 2 hitter Kristen Wilcox to end the fifth, and in a similar situation in the sixth, she got Shaniah Haskell swinging after a lengthy at-bat.

“She works so hard in the off-season,” Gardiner coach Ginger Shaw said. “She’s developed a good repertoire of pitches. She’s just now hitting her stride and is able to do every one of those pitches.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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