Freeport boys hold off Morse in back-and-forth affair

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Freeport sophomore Gabe Wagner saves the ball during Tuesday’s home game against Morse. Wagner gave the Falcons key minutes off the bench in the second half and helped them to a 72-65 victory.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Freeport 72 Morse 65

M- 12 16 14 23- 65
F- 15 12 22 23- 72

M- Warren 9-0-24, Onorato 8-1-19, Doughty 5-0-10, Foster 2-1-6, Jackson 2-0-6

F- Shea 6-4-20, Holt 6-2-14, Thomas 4-3-11, Salter 1-4-6, Sclar 2-0-6, G. Wagner 3-0-6, Barrett 2-0-5, C. Wagner 2-0-4

3-pointers:
M (11) Warren 6, Jackson, Onorato 2, Foster 1
F (7) Shea 4, Sclar 2, Barrett 1

Turnovers:
M- 31
F- 36

Free throws
M: 2-9 
F: 13-16

FREEPORT—When you’re learning how to win and hoping to secure a playoff spot, there’s no such thing as style points.

On a night where it let an early 11-point lead slip away and committed 36 turnovers, Freeport’s resurgent boys’ basketball team could have easily gone down to defeat against the determined Morse Shipbuilders, but in a positive sign of things to come, the Falcons found a way to rise above their struggles and earn another victory.

Freeport, in the midst of its best season in a decade, scored the game’s first nine points and enjoyed a 15-4 advantage, but Morse roared back to pull within 15-12 after a mistake-filled first period, which saw the Shipbuilders commit 13 turnovers and the Falcons 10.

Morse then grabbed the lead on a 3-pointer from junior sharpshooter Tom Warren and held a 28-27 halftime lead.

The third quarter was lightning-fast, as the ball raced up and down the court and the lead changed hands nine times before a 3-pointer from junior Kaleb Barrett put Freeport ahead to stay and two late 3s from junior Eriksen Shea helped the Falcons take a 49-42 advantage to the fourth period.

There, the Shipbuilders refused to go quietly, pulling with 59-57 on a Warren 3 with 2:24 remaining, but Freeport sophomore Gabe Wagner, who gave his team critical minutes off the bench in the second half, drove for a layup and Shea added two free throws.

Warren hit a basket with 47 seconds left to cut the Falcons’ lead to 66-62, but Freeport made its free throws down the stretch and held on for a 72-65 victory.

The Falcons got 20 points from Shea, 14 from junior Toby Holt and 11 from senior Nate Thomas as they improved to 7-3 on the season and dropped Morse to 1-10 in the process.

“As disappointing as so many aspects of that game were, we still found a way to win,” said Freeport coach Bill Ridge. “We had a good second half and luckily, we got enough baskets late.” 

Waking up the echoes

Freeport is a proud program with a rich history. The Falcons won Class C state titles in 1959, 1960, 1964, 1966 and 1969, while also getting to the state final in 1958 and 1970. 

As recently as 2007-08, Freeport won 15 games and got to the Western B Final (losing to Cape Elizabeth), but the program then endured nearly a decade in the wilderness, which included a pair of 0-18 seasons.

Ridge was hired as coach for the 2015-16 season and after going 3-15 his first year, he led the Falcons to a 5-13 mark last winter, the team’s best since 2008.

This season, Freeport expected to contend and the Falcons have done so. Freeport opened with a decisive 78-34 home win over Sacopee Valley. After falling in overtime at Gray-New Gloucester (67-64) and at Yarmouth (63-49), the Falcons hit their stride, downing host Traip Academy (73-59), host Lincoln Academy (81-72), host Old Orchard Beach (66-51) and visiting Poland (83-42). After a hard-fought 64-50 home loss to defending Class A champion Greely, Freeport downed host Mt. Ararat Friday, 67-60.

Morse won its second game, 65-52, at home over Lincoln Academy, but hadn’t won since, dropping eight straight, capped by a 67-58 home loss to York Monday.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first ever countable encounter between the teams and Freeport appeared bound for an easy victory before the Shipbuilders rallied and made things very interesting for the duration.

Just 52 seconds in, Shea hit a 3-pointer to break the ice. Senior Colby Wagner then made a layup after a steal, Thomas hit two foul shots and with 5:48 left in the first quarter, after a turnover, Shea set up Thomas for a layup and a 9-0 lead.

Morse got on the board 33 seconds later when senior Parker Onorato made a layup. Warren added a putback, but Falcons senior Ethan Sclar hit a 3 and with 3:37 to go in the first, Holt took a pass from senior Caleb Salter, made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play and a seemingly safe 15-4 lead.

But the Shipbuilders, who threw the ball over the gym in the first four-plus minutes, flipped the script and began forcing Freeport to turn it over, sparking a comeback.

After a Falcons’ turnover, Warren set up Onorato for a layup, senior Jack Harrington passed to classmate Josh Doughty for a layup and off an inbounds set, Onorato set up Warren for a layup to cut the deficit to 15-12 after eight minutes.

Morse closed on an 8-0 run and overcame 13 turnovers, while forcing 10.

“We made some passes we don’t normally make,” Shea said. “Their zone messed with us. We usually come out strong and that usually boosts us through the game. Today, we had different combinations and honestly, I don’t know what happened. Tired legs maybe.” 

“One of the strengths of our team this year is our bench and our bench gave the lead up and that was uncharacteristic,” Ridge said.

When Colby Wagner drove for a layup 49 seconds into the second quarter, Freeport snapped a 5 minute, 25 second drought, but the Shipbuilders responded, as Onorato set up Doughty for a layup. Warren fed Onorato for a layup and with 4:56 to play in the first half, a Warren 3 gave Morse its first lead, 19-17.

Sclar put the Falcons back on top with a 3 of his own, but at the other end, Warren converted from long range again and a free throw from senior Tyriek Foster made it 23-20 Shipbuilders.

Shea countered with a jumper for the hosts and after Doughty made a leaner, Shea tied the score with a 3, but a 3 from Onorato put the Shipbuilders ahead again and a putback from Holt with 40.3 seconds on the clock only pulled Freeport within one, 28-27, at halftime.

In the first half, Onorato led all scorers with 11 points and Warren added 10. Shea led the Falcons with eight.

The action in the third quarter was so dizzying it was hard to keep up, but ultimately, Freeport settled down and regained control of the game.

A putback from Doughty started the second half, but Thomas made a layup after a steal and Gabe Wagner first made his presence felt by making a layup with 6:07 left in the third for a 31-30 lead.

It didn’t last, as Onorato drove for a layup, but Shea set up Thomas for a layup to put the Falcons back on top, 33-32.

A Foster layup put the visitors back in the lead, but Thomas set up Salter for a layup and Thomas added a layup.

With 3:22 on the clock, Foster sank a 3 for a 37-36 Morse advantage.

Holt drove for a reverse layup, but with 2:57 to go, Onorato set up Doughty for a layup and the Shipbuilders had what proved to be their final lead, 39-38.

Thirteen seconds later, Barrett hit a 3 from the corner and after a steal by Gabe Wagner, Barrett made a layup to stretch Freeport’s advantage to four.

Warren countered with a 3-pointer, but with 52 seconds to go, Shea hit a 3 and with 4.1 seconds on the clock, he made another, from the corner, and at last, the Falcons had a little breathing room and a 49-42 lead heading to the final stanza.

“Those shots were big,” Shea said. “It gave us a boost, but it was a team effort.”

“At that point of the game, that’s (Eriksen’s) time,” said Ridge. “He hits a lot of big third and fourth quarter shots for us.” 

In the fourth period, Morse made multiple runs at Freeport, but the Falcons managed to answer each time.

Onorato opened the fourth with a layup and junior Kaleb Jackson hit a 3 to cut the deficit to two, but Shea made a jumper and Thomas scored on a putback to make it 53-47.

Onorato hit a 3 to make it a one-possession game, but Holt tipped home a missed shot and after a Shea steal, Holt made a layup, forcing Shipbuilders coach Brian Bennett to call timeout.

It didn’t help, as with 3:22 on the clock, Gabe Wagner’s putback stretched the lead to nine, 59-50.

Again, the Shipbuilders weren’t done, as Onorato made a free throw, Warren sank a 3-ball and with 2:24 left, Warren made another 3 to pull the visitors within two.

Gabe Wagner then took matters into his hands, driving through the defense and going hard to basket before making a layup with 2:15 showing.

“Gabe always brings pressure,” Shea said. “He’s quick. He can shoot. He gets the crowd into it.”

“Gabe plays so hard and so aggressive,” Ridge said. “Today he harnessed that. He got steals and baskets in transition.” 

Thirty seconds later, Shea hit two clutch free throws, but with 1:30 to play, Warren made a 3-pointer from beyond NBA range and Morse was again within a single possession, down, 63-60.

Freeport wasn’t fazed, however, and with 1:16 remaining, Barrett fed Holt for a layup.

After Warren missed a long 3, Holt was fouled and made one free throw for a 66-60 advantage.

Warren made a floater with 47.3 seconds to go, but seven seconds later, Shea sank both ends of a one-and-one.

After a Warren miss, Salter had his turn and he also calmly sank two free throws.

With 23.9 seconds remaining, Jackson buried a 3 for Morse’s final points, but two more Salter free throws iced it and the Falcons celebrated their 72-65 victory.

“In the second half, Coach told us to just play basketball,” said Shea. “It really came down to foul shots at the end. It’s been fun. The last couple seasons have been tough, but we’ve come together. Our chemistry is good. We work on our quick pace. That quick pace tires other teams out. We love playing that way.”

“This group, except Ethan, doesn’t know any better,” said Ridge. “He lived it and went through the wringer. These younger guys, first-year varsity guys, they don’t know any different. They have confidence.”

Shea paced the Falcons with 20 points, five assists, four steals and three rebounds.

Holt added 14 points and five boards.

Thomas also finished in double figures and had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Salter, Sclar (three steals) and Gabe Wagner (three steals, three rebounds and two assists in limited time) had six points apiece, Barrett added five and Colby Wagner contributed four.

Freeport had a 39-23 rebounding advantage, overcame 36 turnovers and made 13 of 16 free throws.

Morse was paced by Warren’s game-high 24 points. Warren had six of the Shipbuilders’ 11 3-pointers and also had eight rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists.

“Warren shot well all night,” Ridge said. “He hit some big shots.”

Onorato added 19 points (and eight assists), Doughty had 10 (to go with six assists and five steals) and Foster and Jackson finished with six apiece.

Morse missed 7 of 9 free throws and committed 31 turnovers.

Eye on the postseason

Morse (13th in Class A South, where nine teams qualify for the postseason), looks to get back in the win column Friday at Medomak Valley.

Freeport, meanwhile, is ranked 10th in the Class B South Heal Points standings at press time, but only nine teams make the playoffs, so the Falcons still have some work to do to end their 10-year postseason drought.

A win Friday over visiting rival Yarmouth would certainly help.

“In the first half against Yarmouth last time, we had the lead, but we didn’t have a good team effort,” Shea said. “Now, we’re more of a team and hopefully we can play well and shoot well. It’ll be a ‘White Out’ doubleheader. It’ll be good.”

“Yarmouth will be a big game for us,” Ridge said. “It was a good game last time. It’s a rivalry game and the kids want to play tough against them. We don’t want to be just a nice story for some people. We want to be more than that. The wins we have don’t have us in the playoffs. We have to beat someone worth Heal Points. We’ll be as healthy as we’ve been in awhile.”

Freeport hosts Waynflete Tuesday. After going to Fryeburg Academy, Freeport goes to Cape Elizabeth, hosts York and Lake Region, visits Wells and finishes at home versus Gray-New Gloucester.

“We have some big games coming up,” Shea said. “We’ll focus on those.” 

“Defensively, we still have to get better,” Ridge said. “We cause turnovers, but we’re not incredibly disciplined. We gave away a lot of points today.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Freeport senior Nate Thomas goes up for a layup.

Freeport sophomore Gabe Wagner shoots over a Morse defender.

Freeport junior Toby Holt shoots a long-range shot over Morse senior Dom Green.

Freeport senior Caleb Salter shoots in traffic.

Freeport junior Toby Holt scores over Morse junior Tom Warren.

Freeport senior Colby Wagner tries to pass the ball over a defender.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.