FAIRFIELD — When your team runs through a 6-foot-4 Division I-bound star in a state this small, it’s easy for the surrounding pieces to go unnoticed.

There was no way, though, Taylor Takatsu and McKenna Johnson can go unnoticed right now — not after the plays the two made to deliver the Gardiner basketball team possibly its most crucial one in its toughest environment.

Takatsu and Johnson made key plays down the stretch Tuesday to propel Gardiner to a 53-44 victory over Lawrence in a battle between the top two teams in Class A North. The win came as the Tigers outscored the Bulldogs 33-16 in the second half despite not getting a basket from standout senior Lizzy Gruber after the break.

“Those two stepped us in a huge, huge way for us (Tuesday),” said Gardiner head coach Mike Gray. “When you have a player like Lizzy, she’s going to get a lot of the press because everybody knows her, but not everybody knows about some of the other kids we have, and (Tuesday), they showed we’re not a one-person team.”

Lawrence’s Bri Poulin and Gardiner’s Gruber battled it out in the first quarter with Poulin scoring eight in the frame and Gruber providing six and securing four rebounds. The Tigers led 12-10 after one and stayed in front of the Bulldogs (14-3) early in the second with a six-point spurt from Johnson that made it 20-15.

From there, though, Lawrence would dominate the rest of the first half. Beginning with an Ali Higgins jump shot, the Bulldogs kept the Tigers (17-0) scoreless the rest of the half to take a 28-20 lead into the locker room. Higgins had eight points in the 13-0 run and three 3-pointers overall for the half.


Gardiner senior Lizzy Gruber, center, takes a shot over Lawrence defender Brianna Poulin during a game Tuesday in Fairfield. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Takatsu, though, immediately got Gardiner back in it in the second half as she scored three baskets to fuel a 7-0 run that got the Tigers within one. Lawrence would stay a possession or two in front of Gardiner for much of the third quarter, but that changed with 20 seconds to go in the period as a Johnson 3-pointer tied it at 35.

“You just have to think, ‘we’re the better team here, and we can’t let them think they’ve got it in the bag,’” Takatsu said. “We bounced right back (in the second half) and got our momentum back up. Our energy was good, and we were smiling and said, ‘Let’s go.’” 

Gardiner would still enter the fourth quarter clinging to a two-point lead after Hope Bouchard ran the floor for a basket with seconds to go in the third. But then Takatsu, unfortunately for the Bulldogs and their raucous Folsom Gymnasium crowd, was just getting started.

After hitting a pair of free throws to tie the game at 37, the junior forward bookended a Bouchard 3-pointer with two layups to put Gardiner up 41-40. With the Tigers leading 46-43, Takatsu made another basket to put the visitors up two possessions for good before Gruber iced the game with free throws down the stretch.

Gardiner’s Emilee Brown, center, tries to grab a loose ball as Lawrence’s Hope Bouchard closes in during a girls basketball game Tuesday night in Fairfield. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Takatsu led all scorers with 16 points and added eight rebounds for Gardiner. The Tigers also got 15 points, 19 rebounds and six blocks from Gruber, who had to play careful basketball in the final minutes after picking up her fourth foul. Johnson added 11 points and three rebounds.

Lawrence got key contributions from Higgins (11 points, seven rebounds), Bouchard (11 points) and Poulin (nine points, three rebounds). The loss snapped a 12-game winning streak for the Bulldogs, who lost for the second time this season to the Tigers following a 41-37 defeat Dec. 14 in Gardiner.

The Bulldogs were able to hold Gruber in check offensively after her solid first quarter, but their double- and triple-teams opened up space for Johnson outside and Takatsu inside. The performance by the latter (along with Gruber’s success on the defensive end)  Lawrence head coach Greg Chesley said, made the difference in the outcome.

“They started feeding Takatsu more, and we didn’t have an answer,” Chesley said. “She doesn’t get a lot of the notoriety playing right next to Gruber, but she’s a strong physical presence. She showed that (Tuesday).”

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