FARMINGDALE — Jarod Richmond called this girls basketball pandemic-affected season a “sea of crazy.” But the Hall-Dale coach pointed to one bright spot that’s come of it.

That would be matchups like Monday’s against Gardiner, which gave his Bulldogs a rare look at Class A competition — and a grade A challenge early in the season.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” he said. “Gardiner, they’re one of the teams that’s the cream of the crop in Class A, so to get to play against them and go out and measure ourselves against them is a tremendous opportunity.”

Hall-Dale was ready for that opportunity, as Amanda Trepanier’s 17 points and freshman Hayden Madore’s nine led the Bulldogs to a 56-50 victory over Gardiner. They overcame 18 points and 24 rebounds from Lizzy Gruber, while McKenna Johnson added 12 for the Tigers, who were playing their second game against only two team practices.

“That gives us a lot of momentum, for certain,” Richmond said. “We talked about keeping it in perspective, we’ve been lucky to be in the gym for a while, and conditioning was a factor late, I thought. But that’s a great win, against a very good program.”

The Bulldogs normally play in Class C, but with the pandemic putting a focus on regional scheduling, that opened the door for them to play teams they wouldn’t normally meet while playing their Mountain Valley Conference schedule.

“We play (Gardiner) twice, we play Mt. Ararat twice. We have a lot of A and B teams on our schedule this year, which is awesome,” Richmond said. “Looking at some of the silver linings to this whole mess with the pandemic … to play some really tough competition, you can’t really ask for anything better here in this kind of a season.”

There were benefits for Gardiner as well. For the Tigers, it was another opportunity to grow as a group after losing three starters and five seniors from the team that reached the Class A North final last season, a shakeup that was made even more difficult to adjust to by a COVID-compromised offseason.

Hall-Dale High School’s Hayden Madore, right, and Gardiner’s Megan Gallagher scramble for the ball during a game Monday in Farmingdale. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Gardiner is still formidable with Gruber, a sophomore center, and senior forward Kassidy Collins (six points) leading the way, but the Tigers lost key players in guards Maggie Bell, Jaycie Stevens and Maddie Farnham, and forward Bailey Poore. Instead, they’ve needed sophomores Johnson and Kylee Nichols and freshman Taylor Takatsu to adjust to bigger roles, and as a season-opening loss to Mt. Ararat and then Monday proved, those growing pains need time — and games — to work themselves out.

“We’re definitely young, and that has been an adjustment to us,” said assistant coach Britney Thompson, who was filling in for head coach Mike Gray, who unavailable Monday. “I think we came a long way just from Friday night, already. But we definitely have our eyes open now to what we need to work on a little. … This game was huge for us. Now we know what we need to work on.”

Thompson acknowledged the team having holes to fill as the year goes on.

“Finding new roles, like a point guard. That’s a huge thing for us,” she said. “We’re still working that out, who’s going to step into those roles. But we definitely have a deep bench, and I think it could be anybody.”

Gardiner’s new-look lineup was clicking early, with Gruber dominating inside — she had eight points and eight rebounds in the first quarter alone — and the Tigers’ height advantage paying off as they took a 30-26 lead at the half. But the Bulldogs kept hanging around, narrowing the gap to one point at 41-40 by the end of the third, and then jumping ahead for the first time in the second half on a Madore basket that made it 50-48 with 1:32 to play.

After a pair of missed Gruber free throws, Trepanier (11 points in the second half) had a breakaway layup, and she hit two free throws with 10 seconds left to push the lead to 54-50.

“We knew we needed to step up because they’re Class A. … We knew we had to play hard and give it our all,” Trepanier said. “It’s really big (for us), but I know our coach said, this was just a peak. There are bigger mountains ahead of us.”

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