AUGUSTA — Jaycie Stevens’ 3-point shot swung around the rim, threatening to pop back out like so many had already for the Gardiner girls basketball team.

This time, however, the ball fell through. And the Tigers were off and running.

Stevens’ shot put No. 2 Gardiner in front late in the third quarter, and the Tigers didn’t trail again and beat No. 6 Skowhegan 41-34 in the semifinals of the A North tournament at the Augusta Civic Center on Wednesday afternoon.

Bailey Poore had 14 points and Lizzy Gruber added 13 and 19 rebounds for Gardiner, which improved to 17-3 and moved within a victory of its first Class A state final appearance.

Jaycie Christopher had 22 points and 15 rebounds for Skowhegan, which flirted with its second straight upset of the tournament before falling to 10-10.

“We have nights where we’re good offensively. Today was about defense,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said. “Defense is what’s done it a lot for us. I’m thrilled for these girls and these seniors, just because they’ve fought through so much.”

On Wednesday, the Tigers had to fight through a frigid shooting display, one that threatened to undo their bid for a regional title. Gardiner went 1-for-16 from the field in the second quarter, scoring only two points and going into halftime tied at 12, and the shooting woes hadn’t cleared in the third quarter as Skowhegan worked its way to a 19-18 lead.

And then, with just under two minutes to go in the third quarter, came the breakthrough. Stevens, scoreless to that point, hoisted up a 3-point attempt from the right side that rattled around the basket before finally falling, giving Gardiner a 21-19 lead.

“I definitely felt the momentum change,” said Stevens, who finished with eight points. “I (was) like ‘Please, just go in, for once!’ ”

The game changed with that shot. It was the start of an 8-0 run, with Gruber getting a basket off the glass and Stevens adding another three in the fourth for a 26-19 lead.

“(We) just exhaled,” Gray said. “We reversed it once or twice, we kicked it over to her. She (Stevens) struggled the other night and she struggled in the first half, but we know with her we’re never going to tell her not to shoot.”

Skowhegan wasn’t finished, working to within three with three minutes to go, but Poore put the game out of reach with six of Gardiner’s next eight points. The junior forward had 10 points in the fourth quarter alone, six coming on off-balance shots in traffic that nevertheless found twine.

“Bailey shoots some shots, we’re like ‘What’s going on?’ And they go in,” Gruber said. “It’s some kind of angle thing, I don’t know. But she works really hard all the time, and she just brings it to the table.”

Gruber was the Tigers’ focal point early, scoring eight first-quarter points as Gardiner got out to a 10-6 lead.

“The first game I was so nervous. I’ve always been so nervous, but playing here is just a bigger court, a bigger atmosphere,” Gruber said. “Today I was a lot more relaxed, and my teammates and I just took a deep breath.”

Until the shots stopped falling, at least. But even when the Tigers were in the depths of their shooting slump, Gray had a feeling the course correction was coming.

“We got frustrated and took a few bad shots from the outside, not many,” said Gray, whose team also got 13 rebounds from Kassidy Collins and four steals from Maggie Bell. “A lot of them were good shots, they were shots in our offense. We knew they were eventually going to make those shots. … If we get enough shots, we’re going to score.”

Skowhegan got eight rebounds from Sierra Carey and six apiece from Callaway LePage and Hailey Paquet, but couldn’t find the supporting scoring it got in ample supply when it toppled No. 3 Messalonskee in the quarterfinals.

“We decided to mix it up and go a little bit of zone, because Gruber was getting way too good of looks,” coach Mike LeBlanc said. “It came down to rebounding. They outworked us, and that’s a testament to them. That’s a very aggressive team.”

LeBlanc, however, had no regrets about the season, one that saw Skowhegan struggle to find a rhythm early after losing a lineup of seniors, only to play its best basketball late.

“We can’t define ourselves on that one game,” LeBlanc said. “We talked about the big picture all season, and to be able to improve that much and be able to have a good showing here, I’m very proud of them. Win or lose.”

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