SOUTH CHINA — Points were hard to come by Thursday night, so Kylee Nichols said a little prayer. It worked.

The junior guard came off the bench and sparked life into the Gardiner offense in the second half, and the Tigers rolled away to a 38-24 win over Erskine in a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A girls basketball game at Nelson Gymnasium. Nichols scored all eight of her points after halftime, including three-pointers in both the third and fourth quarters to put the exclamation point on Gardiner’s sixth straight win.

“I don’t know whether I’m going to be off or I’m going to be on,” Nichols said. “When I take big shots like that, I just kind of have to pray that they’re going in. If I get rolling, usually the rest of the game gets going for me.”

Gardiner (7-1) got a double-double from junior Lizzy Gruber, with the center finishing off her night with 13 points and 23 rebounds. She was only a few markers shy of a triple-double having added six blocks.

But Gruber’s post presence wasn’t the story.

Instead, it was a rabid defensive effort from Erskine (4-6), which had spent a week in quarantine following a game on Jan. 11. The Eagles returned to the practice court on Tuesday.


There was hardly any rust to be spotted as they routinely flummoxed the Tigers’ offense, and Emily Clark and Emma Stred nearly neutralized Gruber in the low post. Clark and Stred finished the night with a single bucket apiece, but Clark hauled down 10 rebounds with Stred grabbing nine more.

That grunt work from the Eagles wasn’t rewarded, particularly in the first half, when several offensive rebounds failed to turn into points. Erskine shot less than 18 percent from the floor in the first half and only a hair above 20 percent in the second.

Though senior guard Mackenzie Roderick finished with 13 points, the Eagles connected on just 10 of 52 tries.

“Tribute to my girls, they worked hard. They played their hearts out,” Erskine coach Jamie Soule said. “There are some games where we shoot well, and others where we don’t. It’s a night to night thing. We haven’t yet gotten to a consistent spot where we’re making shots on a nightly basis.

Gardiner’s Megan Carver, left, and Erskine’s Emily Clark struggle for control of a loose ball during a girls basketball game Thursday in South China. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We know what our identity is. We want our identity to be a defensive team, and they play great team defense. We just need to combine it with a little offense.”

That scrappy effort paid off in the first half, as Gardiner’s 15-5 advantage through one period was cut down to a 19-11 lead at the half.


In the second half, though, the Tigers pulled away courtesy of the outside stroke from Nichols, Savannah Brown and Megan Carver — as well as a stingy defensive effort to match that of their hosts.

“Tonight was definitely a focus on defense first, and if we can turn it into offense, great,” Gardiner coach Mike Gray said. “We know we’re going to get looks on the offensive end. We had that long stretch in the second and early in the third where nothing was falling, but because we were playing defense it was OK.”

Gardiner began to close it out with a 10-3 run to end the third and Nichols’ five points in 33 seconds midway through the fourth.

Her short jumper with 3:05 remaining gave Gardiner a 38-19 lead.

“If they’re shutting down Lizzy, we just try to cut as much as we can and move (the ball) around the perimeter as much as we can,” Nichols said. “But I think what worked mostly tonight was our defense. Our defense really stepped up and got our offense going.”

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