Gardiner coach Mike Gray talks to the Tigers during a timeout against Skowhegan in a Class A North semifinal game Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo


AUGUSTA — With the exception of a lone minor upset in the early rounds, the Class A North girls basketball tournament has gone according to script.

Well, almost.

“In order to win this thing, you’ve got to win three,” said Nick Winchester, head coach of top-seeded Hampden Academy. “Sometimes you have to win ugly in one of those three. For us it’s been a quarterfinal in the previous two years, but (in the semifinals) we had to work one out.”

Hampden (19-1) meets No. 2 Gardiner (17-3) in Friday’s regional championship game. It’s a highly-anticipated rematch of a Feb. 3 meeting, which the Broncos took by seven points over a Tigers squad that was playing the first of three games on consecutive nights.

Each team reached the final having breezed through the quarterfinals — Gardiner with an easy win over Medomak; Hampden topping Nokomis — but overcame scares in the semifinals.


“It’s an indication of the competitive level when you get to this stage,” said Winchester, whose team is making its third consecutive appearance in the final. “Teams aren’t going to lay over. They’re not going to roll over. They’re going to come after you.”

Lawrence led Hampden with less than 90 seconds remaining in the third quarter before a 13-1 Bronco run put the No. 1 seed in the driver’s seat, while Gardiner overcome a dreadful second quarter against No. 6 Skowhegan en route to a 12-point half before hitting big shots down the stretch to advance.

The Tigers were just 1 of 16 from the floor in that second period against Skowhegan.

“We don’t get down on ourselves,” said Gardiner senior point guard Jaycie Stevens, who hit a pair of big 3-pointers in the win. “When you get down on yourselves, that’s when bad things will happen. … I felt the momentum change. I didn’t take anything for granted, because you know how that works. It goes back and forth, but we really pulled together.”

Gardiner lost only three games this season. One of those losses was avenged in a quarterfinal win over Medomak. Another can be erased Friday.

The Tigers rely on the inside presence of 6-foot-3 freshman Lizzy Gruber and forwards Kassidy Collins and Bailey Poore to force teams to beat them on the perimeter. It’s a formula that’s led Gardiner to the A North championship game.


The Tigers last made it to a regional final in 2015, when they competed in Class B. A win over Hampden would mark Gardiner’s first regional title since 1975, having won the tournament as a No. 2 seed in their region after beating a No. 1 Hampden side.

“We hoped we could get there,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said. “We talked in November and said this league is wide open and anything could happen. I didn’t know how well they’d come together. We have nights where we’re good offensively, and (the win over Skowhegan) was about defense. Defense is what’s done it a lot for us.

“I’m thrilled for these seniors. They’ve fought through so much and not had the success (in the tournament) that we’ve wanted. They put themselves in a spot to be successful and play two great defensive games to get us (to the final).”

Hampden also plays tough defensive, having allowed 41 or fewer points to the opposition in 17 straight games. That effort is balanced by a group that offensively has relied on different faces each night to lead the scoring department. Against Lawrence, three different players scored eight points with Sydney Hodgdon pacing the group with nine.

With two teams routinely holding opponents’ scoring to the 30s, points should be extremely difficult to come by in the title game.

“We know the atmosphere here,” Hampden senior Alydia Brillant said. “It will be a good matchup. Very physical, I believe, but it will be a good game.”

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