GARDINER — It didn’t take long for Leavitt to realize this was going to be different.
The Hornets had scored 78 points and beaten Gardiner by 21 the first time out this season. Thursday night, the Tigers had Leavitt at home in front of an electrified crowd and the Hornets faced a different Gardiner team.
The Hornets fell behind early and had to not only compensate for Gardiner’s momentum but also had to improvise against a determined Tiger defense.
Leavitt utilized a different brand of basketball at times in its regular season finale and showed it could do that and win. The Hornets rallied from the deficit and took a lead just before halftime. Leavitt then maintained it the rest of the way against a game Gardiner team in a 65-60 win.
“I think that was the best thing to happen for us,” said Leavitt coach Tammy Anderson. “The kids now can believe that we don’t have to run-and-gun. We can play basket for basket for awhile. We can be behind and still come back. Getting that experience and knowing you can comeback and win is huge at tournament time.”
Leavitt (16-2) likely earns a spot in Saturday’s KVAC B championship game at 5 p.m. at Cony. The Hornets would play Nokomis, a rematch of last year’s state championship game. Leavitt could also jump as high as second or third in the final Western B standings.
“We got off to a slow start but got together as a team and played really well to get a good win,” said senior forward Sarah Frost. “I think it helped us a lot to prepare for the playoffs. It was really good competition for us. They’re a great team.”
Gardiner (15-3) did a great job adjusting to its mistakes in the 78-57 loss in Turner. It took the Hornets out of its game and made Leavitt have to battle foul trouble and Gardiner’s effort.
“”I think we did a much better job than last time in transition,” said Gardiner coach Mike Gray, whose team might end up with a prelim game in Eastern B as a result of the loss. “We got back better, and we did a much better job on Kristen Anderson. We stayed in her face and made her work a lot harder for her points.”
Anderson finished with 25. She had 16 in the second half. Adrie Newton added 16. Leavitt also got great contributions from other players. Mariah Treadwell added nine points. Amanda Jordan and Sarah Frost were immense in the post while Kelly Pomerleau and Kasidy Stevenson were contributors off the bench, especially when Newton was in foul trouble.
“Sarah was huge for us,” said Anderson of Frost, who finished with six points and was a factor in Leavitt’s ability to beat Gardiner on the boards. “Her rebounds and fighting for the ball and chasing it down, she’s been doing that for us for a long time, but tonight, I think she showed some senior leadership. That really helped us through.”
Gardiner got 16 from Jenna Moore and 11 from Kylee Granholm. The Tigers turnovers late and some missed shots kept them from closing the gap down the stretch.
“They took advantage of little mistakes here and there a little more than we did,” said Gray. “The girls are legitimately dissapointed because they couldn’t get over that hump.”
Gardiner roared out to a lead that was up to 15-6 in the first quarter. The Tigers hit their first four shots and dictated a slower pace than Leavitt is used to. The Hornets missed their first four shots and had nine turnovers in the first quarter.
Still, the Hornets were able to settle down and trim the deficit. A 3 by Newton and a jumper by Anderson got the lead down to three and Gardiner settled for a 20-16 lead at quarter’s end.
Gardiner built a 24-18 lead on baskets by Granholm, but Leavitt used a 12-3 run to take the lead. Though the Hornets were taken out of their run-and-gun style, Leavitt was still able to spring for a number of fast break hoops with quick outlet passes. Pomerleau put back a rebound and Treadwell scored in transition. After a Moore 3, Anderson scored in transition and then set up Newton for a tying basket with 3:25 left. Frost scored on a fast break to make it 29-27. Another Moore 3 tied the game late in the half, but a Treadwell rebound made it 32-30 at the half and had Leavitt ahead for good.
“I feel really good about the stepping up of other players,” said Anderson. “A win like this is going to make them feel even more comfortable if we get into a physical game and get behind.”
Leavitt opened the second half with six straight to build a 38-30 lead. Gardiner was able to stay close. While Anderson scored seven in the third, Moore had a pair and Kelsey Moody hit a 3, allowing the Tigers to pull within three twice.
A 6-2 spurt made it 48-47 early in the fourth. Leavitt answered that with a key Frost basket and a 3 from Anderson. Gardiner got within two twice late in the fourth. Missed shots and turnovers hampered their hopes. Leavitt hit some key fouls shots but also get crucial field goals from Treadwell and Jordan in the final minutes.
“We stalled actually,” said Anderson. “We ran some time off. We got a foul. We got a layup. I’m pretty impressed. We try to get poised and this was a perfect situation for us. When we get in a situation like this, we may have to run something that’s unconventional for us.”