SKOWHEGAN — The 2023-24 Skowhegan girls basketball team opened the season with its share of question marks. It found a few answers Friday night.

Thanks to a 17-0 run in the first quarter, the River Hawks cruised to a 55-37 win over Gardiner in a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A game at the Finley Gym.

Senior guard Annabelle Morris led the River Hawks (1-0) with 22 points, 13 of which came in the first quarter. She also had seven rebounds. Junior forward Allie Frey had 12 points, while senior forward Laney LeBlanc added 10 points.

“It feels great (to win),” Morris said. “We came out hard and we didn’t give up.”

It was an excellent start to the season for the River Hawks, the 2022 Class A champion, which worked its way to a 7-12 record a season ago and a trip to the A North quarterfinals. In some ways, Skowhegan is still trying to find its identity after the departure of Jaycie Christopher, who is now playing at the University of Maine.

“I was really happy with the way we started the first half,” Skowhegan head coach Mike LeBlanc said. “Second half, I won’t say I was happy, but I wasn’t too disappointed, either. We put in the new zone offense with the odd-man front (Friday night), so we really weren’t prepared for it like we thought we were.

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“I think we’re still trying to learn our identity. We struggle defensively at times. But their effort is always going to be there, and that’s all I can ask for. We talked (before the game) about respect and controlling what we can control. That’s our effort. And (I told the team), ‘If you’re going to make a mistake, make it at 100%.'”

Addy Serber led the Tigers (0-1) with 14 points, while Taylor Takatsu added nine. It was the first game for Gardiner under new head coach Britney Gero, who took over the position after Mike Gray resigned after at the end of last season. Gray coached the Tigers for 19 seasons.

Skowhegan’s Lauren Moore (33) takes a shot against Gardiner during a girls basketball game Friday in Skowhegan. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

“First game jitters for all of us, I think,” Gero said. “I have seven new varsity kids, so we’re pretty inexperienced. This is kind of new for all of us. It’s kind of an eye-opener, but I’m proud of them for not giving up.”

Morris and the River Hawks got to work early, going on a 17-0 run out of the gate. Morris scored 11 out of the 17 points in the run, including a streak of nine straight for Skowhegan. The River Hawks ended the quarter with a 21-1 lead.

“We knew, because we had lost key players (from last season), we knew we needed to come out (of the start) strong,” Morris said. “People were doubting us (coming into the season), but we came out hard. … I was just feeling it early. I just kept shooting, and (the shots) kept falling.”

Frey provided a presence in the post for the River Hawks, scoring 6 of her 12 points in the quarter to lengthen Skowhegan’s lead to 36-11 at halftime.

Gardiner, which had shooting woes in the first half, turned its play around in the second half, outscoring Skowhegan by a 26-19 margin. The Tigers put together a 12-0 run early in the third quarter, thanks to a 3-pointer by Serber, and two 3-pointers by Emilee Brown.

“I’m proud of all the adjustments that we made (in the second half),” Gero said. “And we just keep moving forward.”

Maddy Morris added seven points and seven rebounds for Skowhegan.

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