GARDINER — It had the atmosphere of a showdown between two evenly-matched rivals. And early on, the score to match.

But soon, the distance between the Cony and Gardiner boys basketball teams began to show.

Cony scored 19 straight points to break a 24-all tie, and the Rams pulled away to beat the Tigers 75-47. It wasn’t that surprising a result; the Rams were the preseason favorites in Class A North, and the Tigers are working their way back to being a playoff contender once more.

Not that that had any effect on the mood Friday night. The teams might be on different paths, but from the opening tip, this one had the feel of a playoff game, with plenty of energy coming from a packed house.

“It’s a great atmosphere. The Gardiner people really support their team, and we’re starting to get more and more Augusta people to come to games and get excited about it,” Cony coach T.J. Maines said. “It’s a rivalry. Anybody who’s got a rival, it’s a different feeling to it, regardless. Our kids were amped up. They don’t care, I don’t care what records are or anything else.”

His players felt the same way.

“It’s crazy. The atmosphere out here is amazing,” sophomore forward Luke Briggs said. “It feels like an NBA game. It’s crazy out here. No matter what, (with) your rival, whether you’re bad or good it’s going to be close.”

And it was Friday — at least early on. The Gardiner fans were delighted when the Tigers came out exchanging blows with the favored Rams, the decibels rising as Gardiner jumped out to a 15-13 first-quarter lead, and then spiking when Logan Carleton drained a 3-pointer to make it 20-16 and prompt a Cony timeout with 7:09 left in the second quarter.

“The energy in here tonight was unbelievable,” Gardiner coach Aaron Toman said. “It was definitely a playoff-type atmosphere, and that means we’re on to some good things here.”

The surge didn’t last, however, as Cony’s frantic pace, ability to hit shots from all over the floor and a few untimely Tiger turnovers caused the dam to give out. The Rams went on a 19-0 run after Gardiner tied the game at 24, with Briggs (14 points) scoring nine points during the run and Simon McCormick (18 points) scoring six.

“We are a team of runs,” McCormick said. “Coach was telling us we can’t be a team of runs. We’re good to keep on going and keep it consistent.”

Still, the Gardiner crowd tried to urge the Tigers back, roaring its approval when Carleton hit another 3-pointer to make it 50-34 with 3:32 to go. Neither side expected to see the energy start to fade. In a rivalry, passions run high, and they don’t die easily.

“It’s just the legacy of the Gardiner-Cony rivalry,” McCormick said. “We both have a chip on our shoulders, them not making playoffs and us getting out in the semifinals when we were the top seed. … They’re a good team, they’re a good defensive team, and they play strong.”

Further down the sideline, Toman had the same impression.

“I’m proud of the way our guys fought, against arguably the No. 1 team in our conference,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere.”

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