AUGUSTA — Jaycie Stevens was there the year her eighth-seeded Gardiner girls basketball team nearly pulled off the ultimate underdog upset over Hampden Academy two years ago. She was there the year before that when the Tigers needed a preliminary-round win to squeak into the Class A North tournament proper. And she was there, too, last season when Gardiner didn’t put up much of a fight in bowing out to Messalonskee in the quarterfinals.

It came as no surprise, then, that Stevens hit a little pull-up jumper just over a minute into Friday evening’s regional quarterfinal to spark a 19-2 game-opening run which turned into No. 2 Gardiner’s 58-30 rout of No. 7 Medomak Valley at the Augusta Civic Center.

Led by 13 points from junior forward Bailey Poore and a dozen more from freshman center Lizzy Gruber, the Tigers made it out of the regional quarterfinals for the first time since 2016.

“I didn’t want this to be my last game,” said Stevens, Gardiner’s senior point guard. “We’ve been out first round every single time we’ve come here. We really pulled it together, got ourselves under control and played as a team really well.”

Stevens and Gardiner head coach Mike Gray spent some quality time together leading into the start of the regional tournament. As a four-year starter, it’s Stevens the coach seeks for input — and through whom he can deliver subtle messages about expectations.

Gray saw the fire in Stevens last week.

“Jaycie has a really good pulse on where the team is at,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said. “She’s like, ‘I’m tired of losing in the first round.’ She’s the only one of these seniors that was out on the court with us when she was a freshman.”

It wasn’t the prettiest game, nor the most aesthetically pleasing. But at this time of year they don’t ask how, only how many. And Gardiner earned this one the old-fashioned way — through hard work, defense, rebounding and unselfishness.

Six different Tigers finished with six or more points, and they forced Medomak (6-13) into 28 turnovers. Gardiner (16-3) out-rebounded the Panthers by nearly a two-to-one count (40-21) for the game.

Stevens distributed the ball. Gruber, Poore and Kassidy Collins pounded the boards relentlessly. Maddie Farnham was a spark plug off the bench.

“We all wanted to win, that’s for sure,” Poore said. “All week we’ve been working for this. We knew what we were in for, because we’ve already played (Medomak) twice. We just had to adjust our game.”

“We shared the ball really well. I think we play better when we do. I think that everybody got the ball and got a chance to score. That was really good for us.”

Teams often talk about trying to treat tournament games as “just another game on the schedule.” But talking the talk and walking the walk are very different things.

The Tigers did both, avenging one of only three regular-season losses on their record. They lost at Medomak in the second-to-last game of the season on Feb. 4.

“In years past, we knew we had a really tough matchup and we were more worried about the moment than about the game,” Gray said. “This week, none of them were fazed. Everyone was just, ‘It’s just another game,’ and that was their approach.”

Skowhegan’s upset of third-seeded Messalonskee meant that Gardiner wouldn’t get a chance in the next round to seek retribution for another of its losses this winter. But there is a potential regional championship matchup looming against Hampden, whom the Tigers only faced once this year — but who nearly fell to Gardiner in a 1-vs-8 game in 2018 on this same Civic Center court.

“Our loss against Medomak kind of fired us up,” Stevens said. “We knew if we played together we could beat them. It was unlucky our second (game) against them, so we wanted to get it back.”

That they did, outscoring the Panthers in each and every quarter.

That sigh of relief you heard across central Maine around 7 p.m.? That was the Gardiner faithful finally knocking what had proven time and time again to be the most difficult postseason victory for the Tigers to ascertain.

The first one.

“It’s a big relief,” Gray said. “It makes the rest of the week that much more fun. Sometimes the week leading up to the quarterfinals is stressful. This stretch between now and the next game, it’s fun. They know at this point it’s really a bonus. there’s only four teams left in our bracket. They know anything can happen, and we just have to come ready.”

 


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