AUGUSTA — No matter what happens in Wednesday’s Class A North semifinal against No. 2 Messalonskee, 10 of the 12 members of the third-seeded Gardiner girls basketball team will have another chance at a deep playoff run next winter.

That, however, could not be further from how the Tigers are approaching this year’s postseason.

“We look at everything like it’s our last game and we play hard every game,” Gardiner junior captain Mary Toman said. “We’re hoping that it’s enough to make it just a little bit further than we did last year.”

Last season the Tigers made an improbable run to the Class B East championship game as the No. 9 seed with a rotation full of freshmen and sophomores. They knocked off No. 8 Ellsworth, No. 1 Medomak Valley and No. 4 Camden Hills before finally falling in the finals to second-seeded Presque Isle.

That success raised expectations for Gardiner, even though they start just three juniors in Toman, Lauren Chadwick and Leah Weymouth and two sophomores in Logan Granholm and Leslie Stevens. Sophomores Mikayla Bourassa and Hailee Lovely, as well as senior Heidi Owen, also saw time in the Tigers’ 43-35 win over Mt. Blue in the quarterfinals last Friday.

“We made it to Eastern Maines last year and lost so our goal is to win at least that this year,” Toman said. “That’s our drive.”

The development of Granholm and Stevens in particular has played a key role in Gardiner’s seamless transition from Class B to A this season, said Toman. Both sophomores saw significant playing time as freshmen.

“Logan started as a freshman last year, Leslie was the first one off the bench and I think that really helped them coming into this year because they had so much confidence,” Toman said. “Playing with them it’s almost like playing with someone that’s older than you because they have so much experience.”

Both Granholm and Stevens noted that playing as much as they did as freshmen — as well as experience in the town’s youth program — helped to build chemistry heading into this season and, presumably, the next.

“It feels like we’ve been playing with them for four years,” Granholm said. “Just playing with them it makes us play harder, and when we play harder it makes them play harder.”

“It all starts down in youth basketball. You always see them, you look up to them and you want to achieve to be like them,” added Stevens. “You come up here and you’re working together and they push us in practice, but I think we have an equal push on them as well.”

Gardiner is hardly the only team relying on sophomores and juniors to navigate the Class A North bracket. Juniors Sophie Holmes (34) and McKenna Brodeur (15) combined for 49 of Messalonskee’s points in the Eagles’ 64-44 win over Waterville in the quarterfinals, while sophomore Ally Turner is one of the team’s top playmakers.

“We had a senior (Dakota Bragg) that’s been hurt (knee) that had been starting but a lot of those younger kids really do a nice job,” Messalonskee coach Keith Derosby said. “I say younger, but all of them have a lot of experience.”

Undefeated Lawrence has gotten to where it is largely on the shoulders of seniors Nia Irving and Domi Lewis, but after taking a hit in graduation from last season, the top-seeded Bulldogs turned to a pair of sophomores — Camryn Caldwell and Molly Folsom — to fill out their starting lineup along with junior Morgan Boudreau. Caldwell scored eight straight points to open the game in Lawrence’s 63-33 quarterfinal win over Skowhegan and finished the contest with 18 points.

“We lost three starters from last year so these young kids have a chance to prove themselves,” Lawrence coach John Donato said. “They’re young, but when you’ve got Nia on the floor, a lot of things open up for some of these younger kids. (Caldwell) is a good shooter and when three people are on Nia she’s going to hit the open shot.”

Lawrence’s opponent Wednesday, No. 5 Hampden, is by far the youngest team of the four semifinalists. Outside of seniors Erica Martin and Courtney Dunton, the rest of the team is comprised entirely of freshmen and sophomores. Dunton had 11 points in Hampden’s 42-40 quarterfinal win over No. 4 Nokomis, while Bailey Donovan, a 6-foot-3 freshman, had a team-high 12.

More often than not the state high school basketball tournaments belong to seniors, and with players like Irving and Lewis roaming the court, Class A North very well could still.

Yet with so much talent in the sophomore and junior classes, expect Wednesday’s semifinals to serve as a precursor to the division’s future.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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