BANGOR — After two sublime games, Gardiner finally looked vulnerable. The Tigers got off to a slow start, and had an off day shooting. Against Presque Isle, that was just too much to overcome.

So, for that matter, was the play of Krystal Kingsbury. The Presque Isle senior scored 23 points and hit 1,000 for her career as the second-seeded Wildcats pulled away for a 47-24 victory in the Eastern B girls basketball championship game at the Cross Insurance Center.

Ninth-seeded Gardiner (10-12) shot 9 for 51 from the floor. The Tigers were 6 for 30 in the first half, then were 3 for 21 in the second half, when they scored seven points.

“They gave us problems with that zone,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said. “We had no room to attack. We couldn’t get into the gaps like we like to do against the zone. And we didn’t shoot the ball well. We’re not always a great shooting team, but we normally shoot the ball better than we did tonight, especially lately.”

Presque Isle didn’t shoot especially well, either (31 percent over the first three quarters), but one player was the exception. Kingsbury made all seven of her shots in the first half, and posted up in prime position for easy layups.

“We had talked about it,” Gray said. “It’s one thing to talk about it, and try to practice it, and look at it on film, and it’s another thing to see her. She has great strength and positioning. I thought we did a great job second half with it, but it was too late at that point. She’s a very skilled player, and we were just giving her too easy looks early, and she took advantage of it.”

After three minutes and six seconds, Presque Isle had an 11-0 lead. As if that wasn’t a good enough indication of the way things were going, Emily Lagerstrom shot a 3-pointer that hit the iron, bounced straight up, and swished through the net. That made it 16-2, and shortly after, Kingsbury scored inside again to make it 18-2.

It was do-or-die time for the Tigers, and they dug in and fought back with their best offensive stretch of the game. Lauren Chadwick (12 points) made a free throw and two layups, and Morgan Carver (seven points) banked in a runner, leading Presque Isle to call timeout. After one quarter, Gardiner was still down 18-10, but very much back in the game.

The Tigers would make other quick runs, but they also had frustration. Gardiner had five field goal attempts with a chance to get within six points at the start of the second quarter, but missed all five. Chadwick banked in a three in the final seconds of the first half, and Gardiner was down 26-17. But with a chance to get even closer, the Tigers missed four shots, including a 3-pointer.

“They jumped out on us, and I love the way we battled back,” Gray said. “We just couldn’t knock down the shot that would have got us back to a couple-possession game. It speaks to us as far as being able to battle to get to there, but also it speaks to what they do defensively. They got stops when they really needed to get stops.”

The Tigers trailed by as much as 14 in the third quarter, but again cut the lead to nine, this time with the help of a three by Leslie Stevens. Presque Isle then outscored Gardiner 16-2 in the fourth quarter.

It was still an amazing month of February for the Tigers, who beat the No. 8, No. 1, and No. 4 seeds in succession to reach the regional final for the first time since 1980. Gray credited the leadership of his seniors, especially Carver and Savannah Vinton-Mullens.

“Regardless of our overall record, our goal was, get as far (in Bangor) as we could,” Gray said. “There were times over the course of the winter where it didn’t look good. But the way we bounced back, I’m thrilled with the progress that this group made. We knew we had it in us to maybe get this far, but we exceeded outside expectations down the stretch. It puts us in a good spot moving forward, but a lot of it is what those seniors did down the stretch.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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