GARDINER — The Gardiner boys basketball team didn’t need any extra motivation for Tuesday night’s game. After all, Hampden — that would be team to beat in Class A, year after year — was in the building. A victory would be a statement, underlined, to the rest of the class with the tournament fast approaching.

But for the man coaching them, the Tigers knew, it would mean a little more.

“We had an emotional talk in the locker room. It’s Coach Lawrence’s dream to ever coach a varsity game,” senior point guard Isaiah Magee said. “So we thought we’d win it for him.”

Normally the junior varsity coach and pressed into a stint at the helm of the varsity team, Charlie Lawrence couldn’t have asked for a better debut. One game after leading the Tigers over Class AA Oxford Hills, Lawrence turned the trick again by leading Gardiner to a 64-54 victory over Hampden in a matchup of two of the top three teams in Class A North.

The win makes Lawrence 2-0 while filling in for head coach Jason Cassidy, who served the last game of a two-game suspension Tuesday, and the acting coach found it difficult to stifle the smile in the moments following the final buzzer.

“I’ve coached in Gardiner for 25-plus years, probably, in youth and middle school, so I’ve always talked to these guys about that,” he said. “When I got the chance the other day, I told them ‘Hey, this is a dream of mine. Let’s go out and do it together.’ I can’t think of a better group of kids to do it with.”

Hampden (12-3) has been to four of the last five Class A title games, winning two of them. But Tuesday was the Tigers’ night, and it became clear early that the Broncos were going to be taking a backseat.

“We were pumped coming into this game,” said Magee, who scored eight points at the helm of an offense that shot 59 percent from the field, including a sparkling 66 percent in the second half to ward off the Broncos. “We were screaming in the locker room, had our music blaring. We were ready.”

Gardiner (9-6) led 13-11 after one quarter, then got baskets from Eli Kropp, Collin Foye and Hunter Chasse, a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left, to finish the first half on a 9-2 run to stretch its advantage to 32-23.

Hampden trimmed the gap to seven points in the third quarter, but Gardiner patiently led a long possession that ended with a crisp Magee pass to an open Cole Heaberlin (eight points) underneath, kickstarting a 7-0 run that put the Tigers ahead 49-35 going into the fourth.

“Usually the third quarter isn’t our game,” Magee said. “We usually come out really slow and we can’t control the ball or anything. But today we buckled down.”

There was no fourth-quarter drama. Gardiner hit five of its seven shots and Hampden, lacking a momentum-killing run all night, couldn’t cut the deficit to single digits until the final minute of play.

“Gardiner’s peaking at the right time. They’re playing really well right now,” Broncos coach Russ Bartlett said. “I didn’t think we defended them well, but they made a lot of shots tonight. … When you shoot the ball that well, you’re probably going to win a lot of basketball games.”

The shots went in, and they came from everyone. Connor McGuire led the way with 14 points, while Chasse had nine and Cole Lawrence and Kyle Johnson joined Magee and Heaberlin with eight.

“We are very balanced,” Coach Lawrence said. “We’re eight, nine guys deep, if not 12. Any given night, we’re not quite sure who’s going to step up.”

They’re deep, and as Hampden can now attest, they’re good.

“This team’s capable of beating anybody in the state, I believe,” Lawrence said. “They play great together, they’ve got great chemistry. We feel like we’ve turned a corner with that.”

Two wins like the ones Gardiner has just earned will do that — not that Lawrence thought his team had them in the bag.

“I’ve been a little nervous, just because it’s my first time,” said the coach, who will hand the reins back to Cassidy for Thursday’s game against Messalonskee. “But for the most part, I’ve coached most of these kids when they were young, on travel teams and whatnot. They’re very familiar with my voice and how I coach, I’ve been to every varsity practice with them. I knew everything they did.”

Well, not everything. The Tigers had a surprise ready Tuesday night.

“It shows that we can compete with the bigger teams,” Magee said of the win. “We came out a little slow at the beginning, we found our pride and we’re just going to keep building.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM