AUGUSTA — A three-game losing streak to open the season is starting to feel like a distant memory for the Gardiner girls basketball team. The Tigers extended their current unbeaten run to  three straight with a 61-49 win over Mt. Blue on Thursday at the Capital City Hoop Classic.

Juniors Taryn Nichols and Lydia Gero each led Gardiner with 14 points, each benefiting from the balanced scoring that comes with the high-low offensive sets the Tigers utilize.

“I run the floor a lot, so when I start getting looks that way it really helps me get into the game,” said Nichols, who scored all but two of her points in the second half. “A lot of our offense is run through the post. A lot of my game comes from running in transition, so once that started happening more when the other team got tired, I felt like that was the change.”

Gardiner (3-3) needed Nichols’ presence after halftime, as Elsa Perez heated up from the perimeter after the break. The Mt. Blue guard finished with a game-high 21 points on a blistering 5 of 7 shooting night from beyond the arc.

Perez kept the Cougars (2-3) within shouting distance after trailing 38-22 through two quarters.

But Gardiner’s play in that crucial first half was nearly all the Tigers needed. As a team they shot 46.7 percent from the field (14 of 30) in the first and second quarters and valued the ball, with only seven turnovers after 16 minutes.


Mt. Blue, meanwhile, didn’t look comfortable at the outset against the Gardiner defense.

Gardiner’s Taylor Takatsu, center, goes to the basket between Mt. Blue defenders Kensley Malcore, left, and Allison Casavant during the Capital City Hoop Classic on Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

When the Cougars did get shots off they couldn’t get them to fall, and finished at only 28.6 percent efficiency in the first half. The Cougars turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and finished with 20 turnovers on the night.

“We work a lot on getting out to the shooters,” Nichols said. “We don’t want to collapse too much so we’re ready to go (on transition). And we’re really fast, so it’s easy for us to move around and switch on defense on the fly.”

A Taylor Takatsu free throw with 2:10 remaining in the third quarter opened a 53-35 Gardiner lead, but Mt. Blue chipped away and got to within 12 at 59-47 with 2:07 left in the final period.

Nichols hit a quick bucket out of a Cougar timeout only 10 seconds later and the Tigers then sealed the victory with patient possessions — although they failed to produce additional points.

For first-year head coach Britney Gero said the nearly flawless first half has been what the Tigers have been seeking since a rough start out of the gates.


“We’re focusing on the high-low offense and getting it into Taylor and Megan (Carver),” Gero said. “They’re playing really well right now. We got a little bit loosey-goosey in the second half, and that’s the piece we’ve got to work on. We can’t let up when we feel like we’ve got a comfortable lead.”

Takatsu finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.

Takatsu said that the team’s identity may have changed following the departure of so many key figures from last season’s Class A North finalist squad, but the current crop of Tigers are starting to find their footing.

“It’s a lot of running and passing without dribbling. We really emphasize that, and we’ve always had (the high-low offense) in the works,” Takatsu said. “When Lizzy Gruber was here, we didn’t do it as much, but it was always in our mind.

“We know we’re not one of the best teams here (at the tournament), but we know we can be one of the fastest and smarter than other teams. That helps.”

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