GARDINER — Gardiner Area High School girls basketball coach Mike Gray had one overriding instruction for Maggie Bell and Maddie Farnham when it came to defending Mt. Blue’s Lexi Mittelstadt on Tuesday night.

Be a pest. Be annoying. Get weird.

“I was a little worried about defending her,” Bell said. “She’s a great athlete and so quick.”

Bell and Farnham did their job nearly flawlessly when Gardiner played man-to-man defense in the first quarter. When the Tigers went to a zone in the second quarter, the defense pressure was still there, and that was a key to Gardiner’s 57-46 win over the Cougars.

It’s not often the Tigers will be asked to defend a player bound for Division I college basketball. In Bell and Farnham, Gray knew he had a pair who could do the job.

“That’s what (Bell) does, she and Maddie both. They get in your face. They’re not afraid to make people feel uncomfortable,” Gray said.

Mittelstadt has seen all kinds of defenses used to try and slow her down. A 5-foot-8 guard, the senior recently committed to play Division I basketball at the University of Maine, beginning next season.

An ankle injury kept Mittelstadt out of the lineup in Friday’s 56-37 season-opening loss to Messalonskee. Last season, she earned first team all-Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference honors after averaging 19.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Mittelstadt finished Tuesday’s game with 15 points, 13 in the second half.

“It was my first game back in two months. Obviously you’re going to be a little rusty,” Mittelstadt said. “They were face guarding me pretty good.”

Gardiner began the game with Bell hounding Mittelstadt in half court man defense. In the first minute, with Bell sagging off, Mittelstadt shot and missed a long three. When Mittelstadt drove to the basket, Bell got help from teammates like 6-foot-3 freshman Lizzi Gruber, whose length altered Mittelstadt’s shot enough to keep it out of the cylinder.

Mittelstadt’s only two points of the first half came at the line, on a pair of free throws with 1:58 left in the first quarter, giving the Cougars an 8-6 lead.

When Bell left the game with 3:15 to play in the first quarter, Farnham drew Mittelstadt. In the second quarter, the Tigers went primarily zone, once shooters like Eva Stevens and Hannah Wilbur began knocking down shots from the outside.

“When we saw Maggie was face guarding me really well, Eva was able to find those open shots,” Mittelstadt said.

In preparing to face the Cougars, the Tigers talked about using a box and one defense on Mittelstadt, before electing to come out in man. In Monday’s practice, Savannah Brown and Megan Gallagher played the role of Mittelstadt, with Bell chasing them up and down the court.

The experience of guarding one of the league’s top offensive players made Snell smile once it was over.

“I enjoyed it,” Bell said.

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