GORHAM — Ryan Gero knew how well the York softball team had played this season. He knew his Gardiner team wasn’t the favorite heading into Tuesday’s Class B South final.

And the Tigers coach was just fine with that.

Gardiner was the team celebrating after a 3-2 victory over top-seeded York at the University of Southern Maine, wrapping up the Tigers’ first trip to a state final since reaching the Class A championship in 1980. Second-seeded Gardiner improved to 18-2, while the Wildcats, who had outscored three playoff opponents 43-2 entering the game, finished 18-2.

“This team likes to be the underdog,” said Gero, whose team was led by seven strong innings from pitcher Lainey Cooley. “Every team that comes to us always says that Gardiner doesn’t have what it takes to finish at the end. … I knew this was going to be a special group, and it’s turning out that way.”

Gardiner got the three runs it needed in the fourth. York had runs in the fifth and seventh.

“Everything, so far, has gone our way,” Gero said. “And we’re there. Hopefully we can finish it out now.”

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York Coach Kevin Giannino’s team had opposite fortunes. The Wildcats stranded six runners, including two in the seventh.

“To win a championship, you need to be a great team and you need to be a little lucky,” he said. “We had no luck today.”

Down 3-1 in the seventh, York seemed to be in business. Ella Moon led off with a double and scored two batters later on Jill Carr’s one-out single. Carlie Welch then reached on a fielder’s choice, and had an opportunity to score the tying run when Alexis Osterhaus hit a ball to deep right over the outfielder’s head.

Welch lost her footing around second base, though, and had to stop at third while Osterhaus went to second with a double. Elly Bourgoine followed with a hard grounder but hit it right to first baseman Dakota Lovely for an ending forceout.

“Hey, that’s softball,” Giannino said. “Like I told (Welch), there’s nothing you can do about that.”

The Tigers kept calm throughout the inning.

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“My stomach definitely was dropping,” said third baseman Taylor Takatsu, who had two singles. “(But) everybody knew in their heads ‘We worked hard, we’ve got this.’ ”

Gardiner took the lead for good in the fourth. Takatsu hit a one-out single, and after a strikeout, Brooke Gero singled and Grace Plourde hit an infield single to score Takatsu. Maddie Inman then grounded to third, but an error on the throw allowed both Gero and Plourde to score and make it 3-0.

Cooley, who struck out only one but kept the Wildcats off balance most of the game, handled it from there.

“I’m so beyond proud of my team,” she said. “We talked about how it’s just another game. Nothing else matters except for defense, offense and supporting each other.”

York scored its first run in the fifth. Maggie Hanlon and Moon led off with singles, but Hanlon collided with Brooke Gero on an Emily Estes grounder to short and was called out. Moon ended up scoring on an error, but the out loomed large.

“We had so many opportunities. We had runners in scoring position with the girls we wanted up,” said Giannino, who got 11 strikeouts from Maddy Raymond. “This one hurts.”


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