GARDINER — There’s a learning curve for any freshman playing varsity basketball. Even the most talented player is going to have ups and downs.

For Gardiner’s Kalvin Catchings and Mt. Blue’s Zach Poisson, expect mostly ups from here on out.

Catchings and Poisson squared off Friday night, and each showed he should be considered among the top freshmen in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A division. The 6-foot-5 Catchings was the best player on the court throughout Gardiner’s 53-47 win, scoring a game-and career-high 25 points to go with 11 rebounds and eight blocks.

For the Cougars, Poisson scored a team-high 12 points while starting in the backcourt.

Catchings has been starting for the Tigers, but Gardiner coach Aaron Toman mixed things up Friday, and Catchings was the first Tiger off the bench.

“Coming off the bench fired me up a little bit,” Catchings said.

Added Toman: “We have the same starting lineup for two-thirds of the season, and we wanted to try something different tonight to try to help our team chemistry on the court. And the boys responded. (Catchings) development has been rather impressive. He works hard, he loves the game, and he’s willing to learn.”

Five of Catchings blocks came in the first half, as he made the paint a danger zone for Mt. Blue shooters. In the second half, Catchings scored 15 of his 25, including nine in the fourth quarter to help the Tigers increase the lead they took in the closing seconds of the third.

“In December, I was forcing more shots. Now I’m letting them come to me,” Catchings said.

Poisson has been a key contributor all season for a Mt. Blue team looking to hold onto the eighth spot and a playoff seed in Class A North.

“He’s played great. We don’t consider him a freshman anymore, as we get towards the end of the season,” Cougars coach Troy Norton said. “He’s one of the leaders on the court.”

That’s the thing about freshmen. They become upperclassmen, and if they continue working hard, they become the guys you can build a team around. Check back with Gardiner and Mt. Blue in a couple years, and it’s a good bet you’ll see Catchings and Poisson leading the way.

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