GARDINER — Throughout the years, you’ve been able to pencil the Brunswick boys lacrosse team into the later rounds of the state tournament.

Sophomore Zach Stern-Hayes gets the feeling people are a little slow to do that with the Dragons this season.

“I think this is the first year we’re not necessarily looked at as a contender, or the top team,” he said. “I think we’re out here to prove something.”

That test will come later in the season, but for right now, he and his teammates are off to a good start. Stern-Hayes scored five goals, fellow sophomore Nick Marro added five more, and Brunswick defeated Gardiner 21-9.

The Dragons (2-0) also got three goals from Gus Silverman and two apiece from Albert Putnam, Max Rudgers and Chris Kousky. The Tigers (0-1) got three goals from Gabe Poirier and two from both Sean Doyle and Cam Rizzo.

Gardiner coach K.C. Johnson accentuated the positives, which included being in striking range at deficits of 5-3 and 9-5 despite taking the field with a young and inexperienced group.

“Through three quarters of lacrosse, it was really fun,” he said. “We got after it for a while. Yes, they are a really good team. They’ve got a lot of tradition behind them, and we’re a young team overall. I’m starting a freshman, a sophomore. But they got after it. Honestly, for three quarters, it didn’t feel like a distanced game.”

Brunswick coach Jason Miller, an assistant with the team since 2007 but in his first season in charge, backed Stern-Hayes’s observation. With five seniors on the roster and a new coach running things, he said he can understand there being more doubt than usual.

Gardiner’s Cole Brann, left, tries to stay ahead of Brunswick’s Chris Kousky during a game Thursday in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“I’ve talked about that with the kids,” he said. “We’re not on anybody’s radar, and I say ‘Good.’ That’s a good spot for us to be, coming in as the underdogs. We have one senior offensive player, but that’s allowing those younger guys to mature faster, get the game experience on the fly and really step up and play way ahead of their years. It kind of showed today.”

Stern-Hayes had two goals in the first quarter to help Brunswick to a 4-1 lead, and after back-to-back goals by Poirier cut the gap to 5-3, the Dragons scored the last four goals of the half to get the game back firmly in control.

A pair of Rizzo goals 35 seconds apart to start the third swung some momentum back Gardiner’s way, but goals by Marro, Rudgers, Marro and Stern-Hayes got the lead back up to 8.

Brunswick did this without high scorer Tommy Labbe, instead using contributions from rookies and veterans alike to maintain their stride.

“We’ve got some kids who can play, a lot of athleticism, we move the ball well,” Stern-Hayes said. “We’ve had a lot of good kids come out of this program, and now we have a lot of kids who haven’t been playing too many years. But there’s definitely a lot of potential, you can see it.”

“It’s been trial by fire,” Miller said. “We have kind of an older defensive group and a younger offensive group, so our defensive group has really polished those guys. … The offensive guys have done some growing very quickly.”

Miller knew his team was going to need to be ready Thursday.

“Every time we play Gardiner, they are a team of grinders,” said Miller, who got six saves from Jake Reeves. “They hustle, from whistle to whistle, sideline to sideline. They don’t stop. So we knew that we needed to be in shape and we needed to keep up with them.”

At the same time, Johnson knew what to expect from Brunswick, and threw a zone defense at the Dragons with a man look. They adjusted as the game went on, but Johnson said he was happy with the intensity from his team.

“We ride exceptionally well. I think that was our focal point today,” he said. “Our attackmen are really pressuring the ball.”

Despite the score, Johnson, who also got goals from Kayden Weston and Connor Bell and 10 saves from new goalie Connor Cote, said he likes the direction of the team.

“We’re OK. We’re growth. That’s what it is,” he said. “I’m not pleased by the score, but I’m pleased by the effort. The kids worked hard.”

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