NEWPORT — The senior leadership on the Nokomis boys basketball team isn’t just apparent to the Warriors and coach Ryan Martin anymore. Coaches around the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference are starting to take notice.

“I’ve scouted them a few times, and really, the leadership on the floor from their players, Ryan’s done a good job getting those guys to communicate. I’m just very impressed with that team,” Gardiner coach Jason Cassidy said.

On Thursday night, Cassidy’s Tigers held an early lead, but couldn’t hold off the Warriors for long. Nokomis scored the final eight points of the first half, then pulled away in the second half for a 59-44 win.

Nokomis improved to 9-5, while Gardiner dropped to 6-7.

“This group is so together, and they do just a phenomenal job of working together. They’re just really, really unselfish,” Martin said. “They lay it on the line for each other and it’s awesome.”

Early in the game, Gardiner was able to work the ball inside and get open layups. The Tigers closed the first quarter with a 10-0 run to take a 13-8 lead. Against Gardiner’s 2-3 zone, Nokomis struggled to find its offense early. Zach Hartsgrove, the KVAC’s leading scorer, did not make a field goal until sinking a 3 with 1:24 left in the second quarter. Hartsgrove found his touch in the second half and scored a game-high 23 points.

“We just needed to start moving the ball. We aren’t used to running against a 2-3 (zone). Their changing defense really threw us off,” Hartsgrove said. “I had a couple that rattled in and out, so I knew I wasn’t missing by much. My teammates told me to keep shooting. I kept my head up, still confident.”

Added Martin: “His misses were real close. They were around the rim.”

Ahead 21-17 at the half, the Warriors pushed their lead to 40-32 after three quarters. Nokomis opened the fourth quarter with a 17-2 run to take its biggest lead of the game, 57-34, with just over two minutes to play.

“We just can’t match up to anyone man-to-man right now, especially those two kids. It slowed them down a while,” Cassidy said. “You get their shooters hot. Josh (Smestad) does a good job distributing through that. Hartsgrove, once you give him a couple of those open looks at the top, you can’t make that error.”

After the first quarter, Nokomis held Gardiner’s inside game in check. Connor McGuire finished with 11 points, while Kyle Johnson added 10.

“We did a really good job of that. We tried to make them throw it over the top. I thought our help side was very good,” Martin said. “We didn’t find our game legs there right at the beginning of the game. It took us a few possessions to get into it.”

Gardiner had 19 turnovers to Nokomis’ eight.

“They were throwing three guys at Connor and making it hard for him to move on that left side over there. There was an opportunity a few times for that back door slash, and we found Logan (Carlton) a few times, but you’ve really got to commit to moving the basketball. That’s something we’re struggling with right now,” Cassidy said.

Smestad had 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Warriors.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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