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TOWNSEND — When a team loses a close decision, post-game analysis can’t point to many culprits. The North Middlesex girls baskeball team saw its quest for a District berth stalled with a 45-41home loss to Gardner that was keyed by two things.

First, North Middlesex failed to consistently put the ball in the basket, connecting on only 19 of 73 shots.

But equally damaging was that Gardner’s Denise Della-Giustina took over the game at crunchtime at both ends of the court. The brilliant point guard etched a triple-double into the books with 22 points, 16 rebounds and 10 steals. She scored 17 of Gardner’s final 24 points, dominated at the defensive end and rebounded well.

“We needed this win and we didn’t get it,” said North Middlesex coach Pat Murphy. “This is a very disappointing loss. When you take more than 70 shots you should win, but Della-Giustina took the game over and we couldn’t stop her. It’s a tough loss and one I hope we learn from.”

The only points over the first 4:30 was a short jumper by Mackensey Farina, who finished with 16 points and 21 rebounds.

The Lady Patriots heated up, getting a pair of baskets from Emily Church (eight points, six rebounds, two steals), and one from Maddie Balassie (10 points, nine rebounds, three steals) to move in front 8-2, before Gardner’s Meg Doiron capped the scoring in the quarter with a lay-up.

The Wildcats put together a 10-1 spurt to open the second quarter to move in front 14-9.

Trailing 18-13, Farina closed the half with a drive, followed by a lay-up and the teams went to intermission with Gardner on top 18-17.

North Middlesex appeared to have taken control in the third quarter when they upped their defensive intensity and steadily lengthened their lead. Kim Morgan opened the quarter with a long three-pointer to put them on top 20-18. After Della-Giustina cut the lead in half with a free throw, a follow-up basket by Balassie, a lay-up by Church, and a 17-footer by Brittney Nelson made it 26-19 with 3:38 remaining in the quarter.

Just over a minute later, Nelson rebuilt the lead back to seven with another 17-footer, but the Lady Patriots would encounter an offensive drought as Della-Giustina fueled a 10-0 run to put the Wildcats on top for good.

Twice North Middlesex cut the lead to one point, the second time at 33-32 on a lay-up by Church, but the Lady Panthers could never get back on even terms.