GARDINER — Don Brochu took over the Gardiner softball head coaching reins from Ginger Shaw this year fully aware that the Tigers are creatures of habit.

It’s one of the differences he’s noticed in years of coaching both girls and boys.

“Girls are kind of finicky when it comes to anything taking their routine out of line,” he said.

The Tigers are making a habit of going to the Eastern A softball championship. They will play in their third in a row at 7 p.m., Tuesday at Brewer High School’s Coffin Field. Brochu, Gardiner fans and the Tigers themselves are hoping that means they will see a more relaxed and focused team that is ready to end any concerns about the results of the last two trips to Brewer becoming habit-forming.

Five players — seniors Morgan Carver, Lilly Chepke, Kristal Smith and Mikayla Shaw and junior Bri Brochu — will all be playing in their third regional final when the unbeaten Tigers (18-0) meet the reigning Class B champions from Hermon (16-2). They’ve lost the first two — 11-4 to Oceanside in 2013, 6-1 to Hermon in 2014 — even though they were the No. 1 seed.

This year, like last, the Tigers (18-0) enter the championship game unbeaten. They are determined to exit it with an unblemished record this time.

“We’ve been on the bad side of it and we know how it feels to lose,” Chepke said. “I think we all know that’s not what we want to go through.”

“Our goal is states. We’ve been shooting for that ever since we’ve been in high school,” Shaw said.

Brochu hopes to help Gardiner make its second state championship appearance and first overall since 1980 — when it won the Class A title — by minimizing the disruptions to the team’s routine. That’s tough to do at the state game, where the pregame routine is virtually scripted right down to the second.

Since the Tigers know what to expect on the neutral field, they can focus on the task ahead of them.

“I think that would be the biggest thing (where experience helps), knowing that it’s a different warm-up than what we do here,” he said.

Gardiner should also have a better idea of what to expect from Hermon pitcher Karlie Theberge, a lefty who frustrated them last year with one of the hardest fastballs they had seen and a deadly change-up that threw off their timing and limited them to three hits.

“She hit her corners, changed speeds and kept us off balance,” Coach Brochu said. “We put the ball in play, but they weren’t good hits.”

Brochu, Chepke, sophomore Lauren Chadwick and Smith form the top half of a Gardiner lineup that reached double digits in runs in 12 of 16 regular-season games and put up eight in the quarterfinals against Presque Isle and seven in the semifinals against Oceanside.

Given that, the veterans don’t see any reason to adjust their approach against Theberge.

“We just need to play our game,” said Chepke, a third baseman. “Last year, I don’t think our heads were in it. I think we were worried about losing. Now that we’ve seen everything, I think we’re ready.”

A big part of the Tigers’ confidence is Smith, who took full command of the role of staff ace this year after splitting time in the circle last year with Brittany Rollins and became the dominant pitcher in the KVAC Class B.

“They all play well behind her,” Don Brochu said. “Everybody knows their role.”

“She’s proved a lot to us this year in the circle,” said Shaw, a first baseman. “She’s proved that she can compete with anybody. If she gets down in the count, she can bring us back up. Her confidence in us has helped us, too.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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