SOUTH CHINA — Gardiner senior Connor McGuire missed significant parts of the second and third periods against Erskine on Tuesday night due to foul trouble. But he was there in the fourth period when it counted most.

The 6-foot-4 center scored eight of his 17 points in the final quarter and blocked three shots. He also made the critical play of the game when he corralled a missed Gardiner free throw and turned it into a three-point play. It added up to 75-69 victory that puts the Tigers at 5-4 in Class A North play. Erskine fell to 3-5.

This was a game of runs for both teams. The Tigers twice led by 18 points, at 40-22 in the second quarter and 49-31 in the third. Both times the Eagles battled back after McGuire went to the bench due to foul trouble.

“The way he’s playing, teams have to pay attention to him,” Gardiner coach Jason Cassidy said. “It draws the defense in, then we can get our three point shooters out there.”

The Tigers ran off 13 straight midway through the second quarter as Cole Heaberlin (15 points) sandwiched a pair of threes around another from freshman Gavin McArthur. The Eagles didn’t fold, closing the quarter with a 9-0 run fueled by free throws by Braden Soule (28 points) and a couple of hoops from Austin Dunn to cut the margin to 40-31 at the break.

“They’re really big and strong,” Erskine coach Tim Bonsant said. “Heaberlin made shots tonight when they needed it. I’m proud of my guys to battle back two, three, four times.”

The Tigers opened the second half with 9-0 run to make it 49-31 but McGuire picked up his third foul and the Eagles took full advantage of his absence.

“Even if I get a couple of fouls, I want to do at least what I can on the offensive end,” McGuire said. “Maybe slack off on defense a little bit and (not) be more of the straight out shot blocker I know I can be.”

Cassidy took no chances. He got good minutes out of Ben Shaw (14 points, seven rebounds) and Kyle Johnson (15). But the Eagles wouldn’t quit.

Caden Turcotte ignited a 13-0 run with a 3-pointer that included a layup and a three from Soule and another trey from Jacob Praul. The Tigers clung to a 51-50 lead at the break following layups from Dunn and Soule.

“Our goal is to make the playoffs, we’ll see what happens,” Bonsant said. “I think that kind of effort wins a playoff game.”

Heaberlin gave the Tigers some breathing room with a pair of early 3-pointers from the left side, but the Eagles cut the lead to 59-57 when Soule canned a three from the top of the circle.

McGuire took over from there, converting the first of two three-point plays in the quarter. With just 40 seconds left, he hustled along the baseline for a missed Tiger free throw and converted a layup and was fouled to make it 70-63.

“That was the play of the game,” Bonsant said.

The Tigers are finally getting a set lineup according to Cassidy and look forward to stringing some wins together.

“There’s been roster changes since Day 1,” Cassidy said. “This is our set roster and we’ll build off this. We’ve had three good practices with this roster and I think we’ll continue to improve now.”

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