GARDINER — Sometimes how you start can be more important than how you finish.

The Gardiner Area High School girls basketball team never trailed Friday night against Nokomis (7-6), yet there were still plenty of nervous moments in the closing minutes of the Tigers’ 43-36 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B victory at John A. Bragoli Memorial Gym. The win is the Tigers’ first of 2015, snapping a four-game losing streak in which Gardiner (5-8) lost each game by single digits.

“We were due. We actually had a get-together before this game and that helped a lot,” senior guard Morgan Carver, who finished with six points and 11 rebounds, said. “We came ready and our losing streak kind of gave us that push to finally change that around.

“We definitely wanted this one a lot because we know how good we are and losing to teams by 10 or less is definitely frustrating. I’m glad we pulled through with this one.”

Carver — along with fellow starters Lauren Chadwick, Logan Granholm, Mary Toman and Savannah Vinton-Mullens — came out with great energy that helped translate into an 11-2 Tigers run to start.

Gardiner — which led by as many as 13 points in the first half — ultimately took a 25-17 advantage into the break, as Nokomis spent the bulk of the opening 16 minutes trying to find its footing.

“We’ve been struggling,” Nokomis coach Michelle Paradis said. “When you miss the first five layups of a basketball game, basically our shoulders started shrugging then.”

A big part of the Warriors’ — who start three sophomores and a freshman — struggles came as a result of the way the Tigers defended Nokomis’ top player, senior Mikayla Charters. Gardiner made sure it had a fresh defender on her at all times — either Vinton-Mullens or fellow senior Megan Perry — and doubled Charters any time she touched the ball in the post.

“She has a huge heart and her heart’s always in the game full force, so she wears her emotions on her sleeve,” Paradis said. “When she gets frustrated, everybody can tell in the whole gym and then the rest of our team can see that so they start to struggle.

“You’ve got to have players on your team like that to get you fired up too, so it can work for you or it can kind of be against you.”

Nokomis still trailed 31-19 midway through the third quarter when it finally gained its first semblance of momentum, closing the quarter on a 9-0 run thanks in part to four points from reserve Hannah Meservey.

Once again the malaise that plagued the Warriors early in the contest returned, however, as they were held scoreless for the first 6 minutes and 20 seconds of the fourth quarter to allow Gardiner to build a 38-28 advantage.

Nokomis did not go away quietly though, as a pair of free throws from Olivia Brown started what would be a stretch a seven points in just 45 seconds. After getting a stop, Charters got a bucket at the other end and the Warriors managed to force a turnover to get the ball back.

Sidney Moore was then fouled on a drive to the lane. She made the first and missed the second free throw, but Brown was there to get the rebound and an easy put-back layup to cut the deficit to 38-35 with 35.6 seconds remaining.

“Had we played the last two minutes like that the entire game we would have had hopefully a better outcome,” Paradis said.

The Warriors never got a chance to tie the contest though, as Chadwick, Granholm and Vinton-Mullens combined to make 5-of-6 foul shots in the final 33 seconds to close out the Gardiner victory.

“(Friday) was the best job we’ve done of just down the stretch really digging in and getting defensive stops, then taking care of the ball at the other end and hitting free throws,” Gray said. “We hit just enough free throws down the stretch and that’s a huge win for us. They have seven wins. With how close everyone is going into this last stretch of the season that’s a huge win for us.”

Chadwick led the scoring charge for the Tigers with 12 points and Granholm knocked down a pair of 3-pointers on her way to nine points. Toman chipped in with eight points and six rebounds, while Vinton-Mullens added six points and seven rebounds.

Brown paced the Warriors with a game-high 13 points and Moore finished with eight points. Charters was limited to just four points but did finish with eight rebounds, while Chelsea Crockett knocked down a 3-pointer and added a team-high nine rebounds.

For the contest Nokomis was held to just 14-of-47 shooting, including 2-of-17 on 3-pointers. Gardiner was not any better in terms of percentage at 13-of-49 from the field, but it was 3-of-8 on 3-pointers and did pull down 17 offensive rebounds. The Tigers’ commitment to establishing the paint reflected in the free throw discrepancy as well, as Gardiner was 14-of-20 at the line while Nokomis was just 6-of-8.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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