GARDINER — Don Brochu paused to think for a moment. No simple answer came immediately to mind when the Gardiner softball coach was asked if he was happier with the top-to-bottom production of his lineup or the errorless defense that led to a three-hit shutout for senior pitcher Jillian Bisson in Tuesday’s Class B North preliminary round contest.

“All of the above?” Brochu answered quizzically. It was hard to find fault with his indecisiveness.

No. 7 Gardiner scored early and often while buoyed by stellar pitching and defensive performances, racing off to a 7-0 win over No. 10 Ellsworth. The Eagles (10-7) were shutout for the first time all season, while the Tigers (12-5) moved into the quarterfinal round Thursday at No. 2 Old Town. Junior center fielder Maggie Bell went 3 for 3 at the plate with two runs scored and also made a sensational diving catch in the sixth inning, while senior first baseman drove in three runs out of the No. 8 spot in the Gardiner lineup.

“It’s helped us a lot this season. We’ve been so consistent with our hitting,” Sirois said of the contributions throughout the Tiger lineup. “It’s really helpful. It feels so nice (to get a playoff win). It’s almost relaxing. We’ve got a day off with just practice, and then we get to go play another game.”

The shutout was the fourth of the season for Bisson, who struck out four and did not issue a single free pass. Only one baserunner — Mackenzie Chipman, who led off the third inning with a single to left — advanced into scoring position against her.

Bell, shortstop Maddie Farnham and second baseman Haley Brann were big reasons that Bisson enjoyed such a stress-free afternoon. The trio had a hand in nine of the 21 outs the Tigers recorded. In addition to Bell’s diving catch with one out in the sixth of a game already decided, Farnham made consecutive plays in the fourth and ranged well to her left to snag a ball ticketed for center field in the seventh, turning them all into outs.

It was precisely the kind of defensive outing the Tigers were looking for.

“If the pitcher is working hard, we should be working hard behind her,” Bell said. “Jill’s pitching overall was working really well. When they hit it, we just jumped on the ball defensively, all of us. I’m really proud of my whole team.”

“Bell is probably one of the better center fielders you’re going to see,” Brochu said. “She can cover some ground. Not just because she’s my player, but as a coach it’s unbelievable. It’s good to see that stuff.”

Gardiner took a 2-0 lead in the second inning when the first five batters of the frame reached base, Bell scoring on a Kaeti Philbrook (2 for 3, two runs) single that was thrown away in the Ellsworth outfield and Sirois driving home Philbrook on a fielder’s choice.

A three-run rally in the third was the polar opposite for the Tigers, who after two quick outs to begin the inning put five consecutive runners aboard to chase the starter Chipman. Sirois’ two-run single to left was the big blow after a wild pitch moved everybody into scoring position. All told, the last five spots in the Gardiner order collected seven of the team’s 10 hits, scored five of its seven runs and drove in four of the runs on the day.

“Imagine if we get all nine (going)?” Brochu said. “They get their hits.”

“I was just looking for a spark. They say when you hit a ball it just keeps the energy going. I just wanted to start something,” Sirois said. “When you get toward the end of the line, they’re always like, ‘Oh, it’s just the end of the line.’ They’re not really expecting anything.”

Gardiner tacked on single runs in late innings, on Bell’s RBI double in the fifth and Bisson’s infield hit in the sixth.

“Our effort is to work our defense, and then we’re playing for one run an inning,” Brochu said. “Seven innings, seven runs. Pretty good.”


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