GARDINER – It was part challenge, part request from Gardiner girls’ basketball coach Mike Gray: “I’ve seen you come out great to start the second half, now let’s see you come out great to start the first.”

On Friday night, Gardiner accepted the challenge and fulfilled the request. The Tigers scored 20 points in the first quarter and never trailed in a 54-41 victory over Medomak Valley.

“Even going back to last season, we’ve been playing good third quarters and we talked about having that intensity right away,” said Gray. “I couldn’t be happier. That’s the first time I feel like, right from the get-go, we played four good quarters.”

One big factor was Gardiner’s shooting. Medomak Valley (1-2) lost standout center Ericka Christensen to graduation, so it went with a zone to strengthen the inside defense. This left the outside more open, and Gardiner (3-0) hit five 3-pointers.

“They exploited our weakness, which is the interior play. We’re just not solid there yet. We’re too small,” Medomak Coach Randy Hooper said. “They did a good job on the inside and they scored points from the perimeter, too. I was very impressed.”

Paige Pilsbury led Gardiner with 12 points, and Jenna Moore and Kylee Granholm each scored 10.

Gardiner had one poor stretch in the second quarter, and Medomak was within 24-20 with less than minute to play in the half. But Moore nailed a 3-pointer and Pilsbury beat the buzzer from the right corner, and the Tigers led 30-20 at the break.

“It lit a fire,” said Granholm. “We were all pumped up. Everybody was cheering in the locker room. We haven’t beaten Medomak since I was in the seventh grade. It’s exciting.”

Alanna Vose kept the Panthers close as long as she could. Vose had 16 of her team’s 20 points in the first half and had 21 through three quarters. But she finished with 24 and front-rimmed nearly every shot in the fourth quarter.

“She was dog tired,” Hooper said. “She was just so tired. The other thing that people don’t see is she works equally hard on the defensive end. Sometimes she has to (play) long stretches and she gets tired.”