BANGOR — The Gardiner girls don’t see themselves as sneaking up on everyone. To the rest of the state, though, it looks like upset after upset.

The Tigers won only seven out of 18 games during the regular season, and just about everyone overlooked that none of those losses were by more than 10 points.

Well, now, everyone can believe it’s for real, because Gardiner is playing for the Eastern B girls basketball championship. The Tigers showed their depth again, pulling away from No. 4 Camden Hills in the second half for a 53-42 victory in a semifinal Wednesday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Center.

“During the regular season, we lost a lot of close games that we definitely could have won,” said Gardiner center Mary Toman, who finished with 18 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots. “So our record didn’t come out as we wanted it to, and I think a lot of teams underestimate us because of that. But our record doesn’t show how good of a team we are.”

No. 9 Gardiner (10-11), which earlier defeated No. 8 Ellsworth and No. 1 Mt. Desert Island, faces No. 2 Presque Isle (18-2) in the Eastern B final at 2:05 p.m., Saturday, at the Cross Center.

Camden defeated Gardiner, 52-48, in the regular season behind the rebounding of 6-foot-2 center Rachel Pease. This time, Pease picked up two fouls in the first 90 seconds, and went to the bench. But even before she sat down, Toman was a demon inside. Just in the first half, she scored 13 of Gardiner’s 24 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked three shots.

“Since they have such a tall post player in there, I kind of thought I was going to get shut down in the first half,” Toman said. “But I think they underestimated us a little bit. She took Savannah (Vinton-Mullens), so I had the advantage.”

“Mary’s just been getting better and better and better as the season goes on,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said. “Just so much improvement. We decided we wanted her to be weak side — to not defend Pease, but defend as soon as Pease got it, to come help side. She did a great job with that.”

The Tigers led 12-10 after one quarter, then pushed that to 19-11, with Toman scoring all seven of her team’s points. With Pease back in the game, Camden bounced back, and it was Gardiner getting in foul trouble. Point guard Lauren Chadwick and senior guard Morgan Carver — two of the Tigers’ top scorers — each missed major minutes in the first half with three fouls apiece.

With Chadwick and Carver combining for four field goal attempts in the first half, Camden’s Charlotte Messer scored nine of her game-high 17 points in the second quarter. When Maddie Bowman got a rebound and drove the length of the floor for a three-point play, the Windjammers were on a 13-0 run and led 24-19.

Freshman Logan Granholm stopped that run with Gardiner’s only 3-pointer of the day, and Toman made two free throws to make it a 24-24 game at the half.

“I thought Leslie Stevens, and Megan Perry, and Ellie Luken came in off the bench and did exactly what we needed them to do,” Gray said. “That was the key, because Morgan and Lauren had three fouls, and Savannah had two. They kept us afloat, so we could make a run.”

Stevens, especially, made even bigger contributions in the second half. She was assigned with guarding Messer, who scored four points on only five shots after the break.

“She played some great defense,” Gray said. “I’ll say this — her and Granholm don’t play like freshmen.”

“We have to push her to her left side, because she drives right most of the time, and she shoots,” Stevens said. “We have to keep our left hand up in her face. To do that, you kind of shut off all the options.”

Gardiner led 32-30 late in the third quarter when Stevens made two more huge plays. First, she drove the lane and passed to Vinton-Mullens for a layup. Then Carver found Stevens for a fast-break layup, and suddenly the Tigers led 36-30 going into the fourth quarter.

If anything, the Tigers stepped up another level in the fourth quarter. First, Carver found Toman cutting through the lane for a short hook over two defenders. When Chadwick came up with the ball after a long scramble, she found Carver all alone for a layup. The rattled Windjammers turned the ball over again, and Vinton-Mullens scored to make it 42-30. After a Camden timeout, Chadwick’s soft jumper got the right roll for a 14-point lead, and Carver punctuated the moment with a fist pump.

Carver went on to score eight of her 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a 6-for-6 performance from the line. After going seven for 17 on free throws over the first three quarters, the Tigers made 11 of 15 foul shots in the fourth quarter.

These past few days have been surreal for everyone involved with Gardiner basketball. That’s as true for Stevens as anyone.

“I’ve been dreaming of just coming and playing here since I was probably in fifth grade,” Stevens said. “This is huge for me, and I’m so excited.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo


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