GARDINER — The Gardiner softball team entered the season with a number of unanswered questions.

Would the experience many of the players gained as freshmen last year pay dividends? Would its pitching and defense improve? Would the Tigers be able to score runs?

Yes, yes and yes.

So far the Tigers have exceeded expectations.

Monday they defeated a hot Maranacook team 12-0, scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to invoke the mercy rule.

Gardiner improved to 13-1 and sits in first place in the Class B North standings while Maranacook fell to 8-4 in Class B South.

“Mostly they were all freshmen, now they’re sophomores,” Gardiner coach Don Brochu said. “We’re gaining a little one step at a time.”

The game was played in a steady rain from the second inning on, which favored Gardiner’s aggressive style of play. The Tigers stole eight bases, laid down three bunts and took advantage of four errors by the Black Bears. They also drew another quality pitching performance from sophomore Jillian Bisson, who scattered six hits and didn’t walk a batter.

“This year we’re just more fundamentally sound all around,” junior shortstop Logan Granholm said. “We don’t let a lot of balls go by. We’ve been doing great at keeping teams to usually a minimum two runs. That gives us a lot of leeway.”

The Tigers, whose only loss is a 1-0 decision to Nokomis, have held opponents to 20 runs in 14 games. Bisson escaped jams in the first, fourth and fifth innings, twice by inducing ground balls and, in the fifth, with a strikeout and pop-up. She appeared unfazed by the wet conditions.

“Not too bad,” she said. “I’ve been playing travel ball so when I play in the rain, it doesn’t affect me that much.”

The Tigers collected nine hits in all and scored in every inning. Senior Mallory Bailey and freshman Haley Brann each had a pair of hits while Granholm tripled and hit a bases-loaded ground ball in the sixth that led to a three-run error.

The Black Bears were coming off a 2-0 shutout of Leavitt, their most important win in recent memory, but were a little overwhelmed by lack of big game experience.

“They come after you,” Maranacook co-coach Don Beckwith said. “They create mistakes. We’ve got to bounce back and play a little bit better ball.”

The first inning set the tone for the game. Kira Degen and Amanda Goucher each singled for the Black Bears but were stranded when Bisson got Fayth Jacques on a ground ball to first. Maranacook starter Paige Costa got the first two batters in the bottom of the first before Julia Nadeau singled and Sydney Bartunek’s bunt fell for a hit due to a mental error. Jazmin Clary followed with a two-run single to make it 2-0.

“We’re working as a team more (than last year),” Bisson said. “We’ve definitely improved with everything. More confidence, too.”

The Tigers scored three times in the third with Bisson singling home a run and twice in the fourth on a pair of Black Bear errors.

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