Gardiner Area High School’s Nathan Phillis, left, collects the ball from under Mt. Blue High School’s Matt Hyde during a lacrosse match Thursday in Gardiner. (Andy Molloy/Morning Sentinel)

GARDINER — It was cold. It was overcast. It was the start of a brand new season. And for most of Thursday evening at Hoch Field, that’s exactly how it looked.

Gardiner shook off a sloppy and uneven start with an impressive second-half effort and rolled to a 14-2 win over Mt. Blue in Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B boys lacrosse. Junior attack Cody Rizzo led the Gardiner onslaught with four goals and an assist, while seniors Sloan Berthiaume and Marshall Clements each added hat tricks. Junior Matt Boynton registered five assists.

Like the weather, it wasn’t picture perfect for the Tigers (1-0), but four goals in a span of 3:17 late in the third quarter went a long way toward getting things rolling in the right direction.

The outburst helped turned a 5-2 game at halftime into a 10-2 lead for Gardiner through three quarters.

“It was only our second time outside (on grass), so that doesn’t help anybody,” Rizzo said.

For Mt. Blue (0-1), Will Salisbury and Reed Wells each produced second-quarter goals. The Cougars didn’t find the back of the net again.

“It’s coming,” Gardiner coach K.C. Johnson said. “This is a different group of kids. The drive isn’t there yet, but we’re going to find something will get that drive up.”

ROLE PLAYER: With the graduation of a number of key attacking players for Gardiner last spring, plus all of the attention focused on the reigning KVAC Player of the Year in Berthiaume, the opportunity is there for a new Tiger to emerge.

On Day 1 of the season, at least, that Tiger was Rizzo.

“We’re young, but hopefully we’ll get there,” said Rizzo, noting that last year’s team went unbeaten in the regular season. “It’s a lot to live up to.”

Johnson hopes Thursday was a sign of things to come for Rizzo, who scored twice inside the first 10 minutes of the first quarter and added two more goals just 1:16 apart in the third.

“He had a lot of chances last year early, but he became a ball-dropper. Kids didn’t feed him anymore,” Johnson said. “It’s a trust thing, and I think he’s grown into his role. He did a good job today, he really did.”

DEFENSE FIRST: Gardiner ended up only needing a fraction of the goals it scored against Mt. Blue, holding the Cougars scoreless in three of the four quarters — including the entire second half.

“We did a good job staying together,” Gardiner sophomore defender Jared Shaw said. “We wore them down, but we talked during halftime and really cracked down on where to be and how to do a better job with our slides.”

“I thought the kids played well,” Johnson said. “We’re a little more tenacious defensively than we were last year, and we had some pretty good defensive players before.”

POSSESSION GAME: Gardiner won 12 of 18 faceoffs and used three different players on draws. That allowed them to set up long possessions time after time.

Seven different Tigers scored goals and 12 different players registered at least one point in the win.

“I think we are that team,” Johnson said. “That’s part of our identity. I don’t know what the rest of it is, but we’ll adjust. We’re going to be OK.”

Mt. Blue created its opportunities off restarts and on fastbreaks, utilizing players cutting through the middle for looks at goal. The Cougars struggled, though, to set up sustained possessions and were often one-and-done at the offensive end.

“Even in the first quarter, we struggled clearing the ball and weren’t able to get possessions,” said Mt. Blue coach Kevin Averill, also noting that his team has been outside for most of the spring — albeit to practice on asphalt parking lots. “It kind of hurt us and limited us offensively. We couldn’t score any goals or even get chances to score goals.”

Gardiner Area High School’s Cody Rizzo, right, gets tagged by Mt. Blue High School’s Levi Hiltz during a lacrosse match Thursday in Gardiner. (Andy Molloy/Morning Sentinel)

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