GRAY—The Clippers’ fourth-quarter defense decided it, when they dropped in on the Patriots on Thursday, Jan. 11: After the teams took turns thoroughly beating up on each in the first half, they tussled evenly through the third. Then, in the downhill eight minutes, Yarmouth outstripped G-NG to the tune of 18-7, claiming the night as their own – and claiming a bit of payback in the process.
46-35 the final, then, as No. 6 G-NG dropped to 5-4, while fourth-ranked Yarmouth improved to 7-3.
“You expect runs to be made,” Yarmouth head coach Adam Smith said. “You don’t expect eight-minute runs to be made. We had the first eight minutes, they had the second eight minutes. I think it’s a tell-tale sign of the two teams: We’re on the young side, they are, and so those runs, the quicker you can stem those tides, the better you’re going to do, and neither one did a great job in the first half.”
The Clippers owned the first quarter, furiously notching bucket after bucket: After Patriot Nick Pelletier drained a downtowner to give his boys an early, 3-2 lead, Yarmouth roared back. Johnny Torres hit a two, a three, a two; Aiden Hickey grabbed an offensive rebound and a two; Torres drained another three. The Clippers’ shots were simply falling, while G-NG’s were not; the Patriots seemed unable to generate quality looks and out of rhythm when they did shoot. Soon, Yarmouth stood on top 16-4.
“First quarter, they came out with a lot of energy – which we knew – and unfortunately we didn’t, which is inexcusable,” said G-NG head coach Ryan Deschenes. “They hit some shots, they were dominating us on the boards, they were out-toughing us; the officials were letting it happen, so we had to take some time to adjust – Yarmouth’s a big, physical team; they’re strong and quick.”
In the second, the momentum shifted wildly. Through the first two minutes of the stretch, neither side could find the net. Finally, Yarmouth’s Noah Eckersley-Ray knocked one down, pushing his boys out front 18-4. After that, though, the Patriots found their mojo, snatching up every remaining point the quarter had to offer: John Martin drained a deep three, then kicked out to Josh Magno for a baseline three; Hunter Colby marked the boards as his personal territory, rebounding, posting up and adding four; Martin sank another three.
Bam, bam, bam, the Patriots pulled even again: 18-18 at the break.
“We survived that [first-quarter] flurry,” Deschenes said, “and then, the second quarter, we came out, Hunter Colby was huge: He rebounded, he got some looks inside – that’s as good as he’s played against that type of team. He was the story of the second quarter, and everyone else flowed off that.”
“We had a few shots,” Deschenes said, “and upped our defensive energy – we kept them from driving lanes, and they weren’t able to get those same shots for the second quarter, and really, most of the third quarter too.”
When the teams returned to the court for the third, they matched one another point-for-point, 10 vs. 10. Colby hit one from the line, giving G-NG the early, narrow advantage, but Torres immediately matched him, going one of two following a Pelletier foul. Patriot Zac Brady next hit a two, then, on Yarmouth’s possession, threw himself in front of pass attempt and forced a turnover. Shortly, Martin drove up-court, stopped short in the key and lobbed in an easy-as-pie jumper.
Now G-NG held a small lead, 23-19; Clipper Nolan Hagerty halved it, but Colby added two from underneath before Rottari tried for a baseline three – only for a diving Torres to knock the ball OB. Straight off the inbounds pass, however, Rottari marked up in the exact same spot, volleyed up the exact same shot – and nailed it. 28-21.
“We’re up seven with three minutes left,” Deschenes said of the third. “We had a good look in the corner; it went in-and-out. It would’ve been a sit-down, up 10. And they go down and score – and then the run starts slowly.”
The Patriots had all the momentum. Yarmouth, however, – on a dime – spun the game ‘round, closing the third on a fiery run: Eckersley-Ray dropped in a whirling jumper and Torres hit two from the line and a slick three to balance the scoreboard at 28-28 heading into the final quarter.
“Johnny Torres came down and hit a bucket and it was a huge piece for us,” Smith said. “It cut into their momentum, and started a run of our own.”
It all came down to the fourth – which, just like they’d done to the first, the Clippers seized by the jugular and wholly dismembered. Caden Middelton opened the stretch with a three and a free. Mango then missed two frees and a bit of the wind blew out of the Patriots’ sails; Torres, Hickey, Hagerty and Eckersley-Ray then combined for a 9-1 Yarmouth run. Magno and Martin punctuated the waning minutes with a pair of G-NG threes, but Hickey and Ashanti Haywood also continued to add Clippers frees.
In the end, Yarmouth outstripped the Patriots 46-35.
“In the fourth quarter, they smelled blood,” Deschenes said. “And defensively, they clamped down. They were connecting to shooters, they were in the lanes – we couldn’t go inside anymore; they were just shutting everything down. They got stops that led to good looks on the other sides.”
“We played an aggressive, but smart, second half,” Smith said, “and the opportunities we had, we got something out of them – in the second quarter, any opportunity we missed, Gray capitalized on. We just chipped away in a constant fashion in that second half, and that made us tough to stay with.”
“We’ve got two stalwarts in there in Nolan Hagerty and Noah Eckersley-Ray,” Smith said, asked which of his boys were key to bringing the game full-circle. “Those guys, defensively and offensively, they get tough rebounds, they make big plays, they keep the ball alive. You’re going to get their best effort every time out. Jake Rogers came off the bench tonight, and he played a huge role in that fourth quarter for us, rebounding, defending. Caden Middleton hit a couple big threes for us. So there was a lot if contributions.”
Martin proved – as he often does – the Patriots’ scoring leader, tallying 11 on a trio of threes and a lone two. Colby added seven on three twos and a free and Magno six on a pair of threes. Pelletier and Brady contributed four apiece, and Rottari three.
Torres claimed the Clippers’ biggest take, adding 19 on three threes, three twos and four frees. Eckersley-Ray hashed a two in each quarter, for eight total, while Hagerty kicked in six, Hickey seven and Ashanti Haywood two frees.
Interestingly, the teams had also faced off less than two weeks prior, at Yarmouth. G-NG prevailed in that bout 51-45, so for the Clippers to dock in the Patriots’ port and claim victory was undoubtedly sweet.
“Their coach does a great job,” Smith said of Deschenes, “so anytime we get together, we know we’re going to be running into a tough team. They’ve played us tough over the last two or three years. They’ve got a great team with a lot of great pieces; Ryan’s got them playing very well. They’ve got some post-season aspirations, and they play like that. We have those same aspirations, and the two teams have a lot of respect for each other. It never gets chippy, just a hard, aggressive game.”
Next on G-NG’s docket were Waynflete – that game was rescheduled from Saturday the 13th to Monday the 15th – and Lake Region, on Tuesday the 16th. The Patriots travel to Wells on Friday the 19th.
Yarmouth, meanwhile, was slated to host Lake Region on Saturday, before welcoming Greely Greely on Monday and Freeport on Friday.
Worth noting: B South this year is a beautiful toss-up. On any given night, most any team – save for Poland and Sacopee Valley, both winless to this point – seems able of upending most any other team. On paper, No. 7 Lake Region ought to lose to first-ranked Cape Elizabeth, for instance; but the Lakers downed the Capers by 15. No. 2 Spruce Mountain gave up a 10-point loss to Mountain Valley, currently fifth. No. 3 Maranacook fell by three to Belfast – B North’s No. 11.
Given all that uncertainty, one thing nevertheless seems guaranteed: The postseason’ll be gloriously tense.
Adam Birt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME
G-NG’s John Martin approaches the Yarmouth perimeter; Clipper John Torres defends.
Yarmouth’s Noah Eckersley-Ray reels in a mid-air ball; Patriots Ryan Lachance (33) and Hunter Colby (34) make a grab for control.
Yarmouth’s Nolan Hagerty harangues G-NG’s Zac Brady.