GARDINER — With size, shooters and a Division I-bound star, there are so many ways for the Gardiner girls basketball team to beat you.

The easiest way, though, is on the boards — and as they opened the season, the Tigers dominated that facet of the game in every way possible.

Gardiner claimed a 70-45 victory over rival Cony in Saturday afternoon’s Class A North showdown at Gardiner Area High School. The Tigers recorded 50 rebounds to the Rams’ 22 as St. Joseph’s University commit Lizzy Gruber snatched 21 boards and added a game-high 19 points.

“We have a lot of girls who can rebound, and to be able to do that and start out the season strong, it just feels great,” Gruber said. “We have some girls who have size and some girls who don’t have a lot of size, but everyone steps it up. The effort is amazing.”

Gardiner (1-0) struggled in the very early going as turnovers and two 3-pointers from Cony’s Maci Freeman put the Rams up 8-4 midway through the opening period. The Tigers would respond with an 8-0 run to take the lead, but the visitors hung around as Gardiner led just 16-14 early in the second quarter.

The Tigers, though, seized control of the game quickly with back-to-back 3-pointers from Kylee Nichols and Megan Gallagher. An and-one from Gruber then put Gardiner up double digits, and the home team would take a 39-23 lead into the locker room as Taylor Takatsu got hot from the field.


“Those (two 3-pointers) were huge,” said Gardiner head coach Mike Gray. “We know Lizzy and Taylor are going to do some really good things for us, and when our guards are knocking down shots, it’s going to make us that much harder to guard all the way around.”

Gruber then dominated Cony (0-1) on the boards in the third quarter, grabbing eight rebounds in that period alone. After establishing a 20-point advantage, Gardiner would hold a lead of that margin or larger the rest of the way with Takatsu continuing to score and Savannah Brown adding key baskets.

Cony’s Abby Morrill, left, plays defense on Gardiner’s Lizzy Gruber during a basketball game Saturday in the James A. Bragoli Memorial Gym at Gardiner Area High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Takatsu finished with 17 points and nine rebounds to complement Gruber’s 19 and 21, and Gardiner also got nine points and four boards from Savannah Brown and seven points from Emilee Brown. Emily Grady (five rebounds), Megan Gallagher (four rebounds) and Taryn Nichols (three) also contributed for the Tigers on the boards.

There were some jitters early for Gardiner, which wasn’t exactly crisp over the first few moments as the nerves showed against its biggest rival. Yet the Tigers, who have high expectations this season with the majority of last year’s 17-3 unit back, were ultimately able to funnel the atmosphere of a full gymnasium into positive energy.

“There was nothing but excitement; to have a full gym again is so great,” Gruber said. “Last year, we (played our opening game) at Cony with no fans except for their fans, so for this season, to start it off with everyone together in our gym, it was a great experience.”

Sage Fortin led the way for Cony as she scored a team-high 15 points and grabbed three rebounds. The Rams also got 10 points from Freeman, eight points and five rebounds from Abby Morrill, seven points and five rebounds from Morgan Cunningham and four points and eight rebounds from Cale Barajas.


Even as Gruber sat in the fourth quarter with the game largely in hand, Gardiner continued to dominate on the boards through Takatsu. The sophomore forward can be a bit overshadowed at times with the 6-foot-4 Gruber’s dominance stealing the show, but the Tigers are still plenty potent with her as the No. 1 big on the floor.

Gardiner’s Megan Carver, left, and Cony’s Morgan Cunningham rebound during a basketball game Saturday in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I look up to Lizzy a lot, so when it’s just me out there on the floor for us, I just go, ‘OK, it’s my turn to show Lizzy that I’m like her,’” the 5-10 Takatsu said. “It’s a great relationship; we practice every day together, and we’re with each other all the time. Like I said, I definitely look up to her.”

Gardiner, Gray said, is a team that likes to push the pace, something it’s plenty capable of doing with quickness up and down the lineup. That philosophy starts with the Tigers getting the ball and then moving it quickly in transition, something that becomes infinitely easier when they can rebound like they did Saturday.

“We emphasize that we want to run, but we can’t run until we have the ball,” Gray said. “Lizzy obviously does such a great job on the boards. Taylor doesn’t always get noticed as much, but she stepped up today. When they’re both out there, not a lot of teams are going to get second chances against them.”

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