GARDINER — After a somewhat-rocky start to the second half of the year, the Gardiner softball team knew it was time for the change.

Although the Tigers weren’t necessarily flashy to open the 2022 season, the team managed to win its first nine games on the back of its strong defense. Yet after a five-game stretch in mid-late May saw Gardiner falter defensively, head coach Ryan Gero decided to mix things up in the infield.

“We made some defensive changes three weeks ago that we thought were best for the team,” Gero said following his team’s Class B South title game win over York. “It just kind of brought the team together more, and we’ve been more solid defensively, so that’s what we’ve been doing.”

The changes have assuredly worked wonders for Gardiner, which quickly returned to its early-season form as the regular season came to a close. Riding those adjustments to a seven-game winning streak, the Tigers now find themselves in the Class B championship game, the team’s first appearance in a state final in 42 years.

On May 16, Gardiner delivered an error-strewn performance in a 12-6 loss to a Leavitt team that it had beaten 7-1 earlier in the season. Just more than a week later, Oxford Hills took advantage of several blunders from the Tigers in the field to hand Gardiner a 9-4 defeat.

“I think we were ready to make some changes after that,” said sophomore third-baseman Taylor Takatsu. “(Those two losses were) tough, but we knew we had to come back to practice and get to work, and we’ve been playing a lot better since.”


Following that game, Gero made the decision to move catcher Dakota Lovely to first base. He also moved Devin Clary from shortstop to catcher while sliding Brooke Gero, who had been playing second base for Gardiner when not pitching, over to short.

At the time of those defensive changes, Gardiner had been rotating between Gero and Lainey Cooley in the circle. Yet although that rotation continued into the playoffs, the team’s head coach decided after the Tigers’ 6-2 Class B South Round of 16 win over Erskine Academy to commit to Cooley the rest of the way.

“When we got to the playoffs, we pitched Brooke the first game, and then we pitched Lainey from there on out,” Ryan Gero said. “I just felt as though we were better with Lainey on the hill and Brooke at short, so we just decided this was what we were going to ride out for the rest of the tournament.”

The moves worked wonders for No. 2 Gardiner over the next three rounds. After beating 10th-ranked Fryeburg Academy 6-1 in the Southern Maine quarterfinals, the Tigers earned two very impressive wins as they beat No. 3 Poland (17-2) 6-2 in the semifinals and topped No. 1 York (18-2) 3-2 in the title game to bring home their first regional championship since 1980.

Messalonskee High School short stop Elise McDonald (15) tries to turn the double play as Gardiner High School’s Taylor Takatsu (14) tries to break up the play at second base April 29 at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Defense was particularly crucial in the win over a York team that Ryan Gero said looked a bit shell-shocked by Gardiner’s prowess in the field. The Wildcats also appeared, he said, to be a bit taken aback by the prospect of taking on a southpaw in a regional final.

“I don’t think they’ve played a team with our level of defense, and a left-handed pitcher, they’ve probably never seen that as well,” Ryan Gero said. “That ball comes in at a different angle, and that’s huge. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely something to get used to.”


Not every team has the ability to make the kind of defensive maneuvering Gardiner did prior to embarking on its current seven-game winning streak. The Tigers, Brooke Gero said, owe the success stemming from the recent changes to the team sporting a multitude of versatile players.

“One of the things that’s helped is that we have the kind of depth to move things around like that whenever we need to,” the junior said. “It’s really helped us with making sure we have somebody in the right place to make the play. Our defense now is 10 times better than before.”

There remains one hurdle for Gardiner (18-2) to clear if it wants to end its long wait for a second state title: A central Maine-tinted Class B title game battle with Northern Maine champion and No. 8 seed Winslow (13-7). Like the Tigers, the Black Raiders also had some stumbles to begin the second half of the year before playing some of their best softball over the past few weeks.

Gardiner, though, isn’t about to change anything about what got it to this moment. The Tigers’ most recent wins have come against some of the state’s best teams, and they’re confident that seven more innings of timely adjustments, top-notch defense and Cooley’s big-time pitching can get them over the top.

“We’ve all been playing together since we were little, and it would be great if we could start together and then be able to finish the job together,” Brooke Gero said. “I think we’ll be able to do that this game.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.