BATH — After going winless last year in head coach Jeannine Paradis’ first season on the job, the Morse High School girls basketball team is making strides in the right direction and building a new culture within the program.

“The team was shaped differently and the players were taught to play a certain way that didn’t really sit with me,” said Paradis, whose team lost to Gardiner 66-27 on Thursday night. “We’re continuing the focus of building that culture that we want here at Morse, and have made noticeable improvements in that regard so far this season.” 

On Thursday, the Shipbuilders again flashed their potential in spurts, but were unable to overcome the offensive firepower Gardiner had on display.

“It was the little things again that hurt us tonight,” said Paradis. “We show signs and have spurts of good team basketball, but need that to translate into longer periods of time.”

Gardiner was led by Lizzie Gruber, who scored 21 points and blocked three shots. 

“We’ve come a long way since our first game a few weeks ago,” said Gruber. “With practice time and putting in the work, our communications skills on and off the court have really taken a leap.

Morse was led by Dakota Shipley, who had six points. Maddy Werner and Haley Kirkpatrick each added four points. 

With the circumstances surrounding this season with the coronavirus pandemic, it was a setback for Paradis and her program when they were unable to meet in the offseason or enjoy summer workouts. The players have taken the limited opportunities they’ve had in stride this season.

“I know everyone around the state had limited opportunities, but a summer program would’ve been very beneficial for us,” Paradis said. “They’re committed to getting better and working hard when we get together.”

The players are absorbing what Paradis is teaching, particularly when it comes to learning what it takes to have success. 

“Coach P has been amazing, without her we wouldn’t be at the level that we are now,” said Morse senior Abby Carpenter. “With the help of her and us putting in the work, we can improve on this as we move forward this season.”

While the team is still working on laying a strong foundation, it is also hoping to earn some victories this season; Morse hasn’t won a game in two years. 

I want to be able to help my teammates get one before I graduate in June,” said Morse senior forward Mary LaRochelle. “It would mean a lot to my teammates, parents in the program, my coaches, as well as myself to finally have all of our hard work pay off. With how much dedication the girls on the team are showing this year, I think we will be able to accomplish that goal.”

Gardiner’s Lizzie Gruber, left, swipes the ball away from Morse’s Maddy Werner on Thursday at Bath Middle School. Eli Canfield/The Times Record

“It makes it easier to coach in practice when you have a team who’s eager to learn and work like this group is,” added Paradis, whose coaching career included stops at Mt. Blue in Farmington and at Maraancook in Readfield.

Paradis guided the Black Bears to a state final appearance in 2015.

In their first game of the young season, the Shipbuilders took Lincoln wire-to-wire in Bath, but ultimately fell by five. The next day, Morse took on a tough Medomak Valley team but lost by 13. However, Paradis said the team showed improvement in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve shown flashes of how we want to play, now it’s about translating that to four quarters of play in games,” said Paradis. “It all starts everyday at practice, and finding the right combination of players who seem to have chemistry and work well with each other on the court.”

Amid everything that’s happened, the Shipbuilders aren’t taking any moment on the court for granted this season. 

“The feeling of being on the court with your teammates is second to none, so I’m making sure to savor each opportunity I get, especially in my senior season,” LaRochelle said.

The Tigers led 17-4 after the first quarter and 31-15 at the break.

Coach Paradis had a simple message for her team at halftime. 

“Play how you guys practice and hustle on every possession,” Paradis said.

The Shipbuilders got the message, and came out with some energy in the beginning of the second half, but the Gruber and the Tigers were too much to handle. 

After Morse trimmed the lead down to 13, the Tigers responded with a 17-4 run late in the third to blow the game open. Gruber accounted for 10 of the 17 points that Gardiner scored in the frame. 

“I’m really happy with how tonight went, we turned our defense into offense which was what we were really working on recently,” said Gardiner coach Mike Gray. “We shot the ball really well tonight.”

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