AUGUSTA – Watching Gardiner try to handle Mt. Blue’s full-court press Saturday was like waiting for a dam to burst.

The inevitable deluge came in the third quarter, with Gardiner’s senior leaders, Sean McNally and Kyle Stilphen, relegated to the bench with foul trouble. Mt. Blue forced 10 turnovers in the period and broke away en route to a 69-48 victory in the Eastern Class A quarterfinals at the Augusta Civic Center.

Third-seeded Mt. Blue (16-3) avenged last year’s quarterfinal loss to Gardiner and will face No. 2 Bangor in the semifinals on Wednesday night. Gardiner finishes its season 12-7.

Adam Gilbert led a balanced Cougar offense with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Art Trask added 12 and Noah Paytas 10. Isaiah Brathwaite and Mike Toothaker chipped in with nine points apiece.

The Cougars jumped out to a 10-1 lead and never trailed. Gardiner was able to hang around with some excellent free-throw shooting (12-for-13) in the first half, but couldn’t slow down the up-tempo Cougars enough with its 2-3 zone.

“We just kept running, and we got the big guys in foul trouble,” said Trask. “We thought (not having played them this year) was to our advantage. We wanted a little revenge.”

“Obviously, they prefer to play slow and we prefer to play faster, and we did get the tempo our way,” Mt. Blue coach Jim Bessey said. “We got into some foul trouble (in the first half), so we did slow it down to just get to halftime without more foul trouble.”

Despite being a half-foot shorter, Gilbert did a fine job on McNally (14 points, 13 rebounds) defensively, holding the University of Maine-bound big man to just two first-half field goals.

“I’ve said this a hundred times, and I’ll say it once more – he’s not the best athlete, he’s not the best basketball player, but he is certainly our most valuable player,” Bessey said. “Every single game that he needs to be big, he’s big in.”

Unable to get McNally’s offense going inside and thus, unable to find its rhythm, Gardiner had almost as many turnovers (13) as shots in the first half. Mt. Blue stayed patient on offense and was rewarded when Ben Russell and Jamie Sawyer drilled back-to-back 3-pointers late in the first half to give the Cougars a 10-point lead at halftime.

The Tigers cut the lead to seven early in the third but began to fall apart when Trask spotted Brathwaite streaking to the hoop on an out-of-bounds play that drew starting point guard Kyle Stilphen’s third foul. Immediately after Brathwaite’s free throw to complete the three-point play, Stilphen picked up his fourth foul. McNally drew his fourth foul about a minute later, and Mt. Blue smelled blood. Gardiner turned the ball over in bunches, making forced and unforced errors, and the Cougars went on an 11-2 run to pull away.

“We worked hard this week on breaking the press, boxing out, which we didn’t do a very good job of either (Mt. Blue had 18 offensive rebounds),” Gardiner coach Pat McNally said. “My credit goes out to Mt. Blue. They’re very well-coached, they’re very athletic, and they’re very quick.”

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