Yarmouth junior Noah Eckersley-Ray races up the court as Freeport sophomore Gabe Wagner tries to keep up. Eckersley-Ray’s double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds helped the Clippers to a 43-36 victory.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
Y- 11 11 9 12- 43
F- 7 12 5 12- 36
Y- Eckersley-Ray 4-6-14, Hickey 2-2-8, Torres 3-1-7, Rogers 2-2-6, Hagerty 2-1-5, Middleton 1-0-3
F- Barrett 2-3-9, Holt 4-0-8, Sclar 3-0-8, Shea 3-0-8, C. Wagner 1-0-3
Y (3) Hickey 2, Middleton 1
F (7) Barrett, Sclar, Shea 2, C. Wagner 1
FREEPORT—Sometimes, the key to winning a basketball game is to have a football mentality.
Yarmouth’s boys’ basketball team was holding on for dear life Friday evening in front of a full house at Freeport when junior captain Noah Eckersley-Ray imposed his will on the Falcons and led the Clippers to a pivotal victory.
Eckersley-Ray, a force on the gridiron, who also plays much bigger than his listed 6-foot-2 frame on the hardwood, made a series of superb plays with the game on the line.
Yarmouth scored the final six points of the first quarter to grab an 11-7 lead, as junior Jake Rogers made a pair of layups to put his team on top.
Freeport, which lived and died from the 3-point line, tied the game, 18-18, late in the first half, but the Clippers went on top to stay on two Eckersley-Ray free throws and clung to a 22-19 advantage at halftime.
When Eckersley-Ray made a bank shot and junior Jonny Torres converted consecutive layups in the first 46 seconds of the second half, it appeared Yarmouth was about to pull away, but the resurgent Falcons held the visitors scoreless for seven minutes and cut the deficit to four before the Clippers got a late 3-pointer from junior Caden Middleton to take a 31-24 lead to the fourth quarter.
There, Yarmouth pulled away to go up by a dozen points, 36-24, on a 3-ball from sophomore Aidan Hickey with 6:2o remaining, but again, Freeport roared back and a 3 from junior Kaleb Barrett cut the deficit to just two, 38-36, with 2:15 to go.
After the Clippers missed a shot, it appeared the Falcons would have a chance to tie or go ahead, but Eckersley-Ray stole the ball and while he missed his shot, senior Nolan Hagerty was there to clean the glass and finish and that gave Yarmouth the breathing room it needed to go on to a 43-36 victory.
Eckersley-Ray finished with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers improved to 8-4, beat Freeport for the 18th successive time and dropped the Falcons to 7-4 in the process.
“We haven’t had style points all year,” said Yarmouth coach Adam Smith. “We knew the intensity from Freeport would be up. Their crowd was great and they’ve been playing well. They’re scrappy. With the runs they can put on, we could be vulnerable, but we didn’t let that happen tonight. We didn’t let the excitement swallow us.”
Yarmouth has owned Freeport over the past decade, entering Friday’s game on a 17-game win streak in the series, including a 63-49 victory Dec. 16 at home.
The Falcons have closed the gap dramatically this winter, producing their best team in a decade and like the Clippers, they’re very much in the Class B South playoff hunt.
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, 67-60, and visiting Morse (72-65).
Yarmouth began with a 44-42 loss at York, then downed visiting Sacopee Valley (69-19), Freeport (63-49) and Fryeburg Academy (39-29). After a 51-45 home loss to Gray-New Gloucester, the Clippers won at Waynflete (54-53), at home over Wells in a regional final rematch (57-40) and at home over Traip Academy (44-35). After a 48-44 setback at Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth avenged a loss by prevailing, 46-35, at Gray-New Gloucester, but Monday, the Clippers fell at home to Greely, 56-46.
Friday, Freeport was seeking its first win over Yarmouth since a 67-60 upset in the 2008 Western B semifinals and its first in the regular season since a 55-52 triumph Feb. 10, 2006 at home, but the Clippers did enough to make it 18 in a row over the Falcons.
Yarmouth’s size was the difference in the first period as it opened up a lead.
It took 2 minutes and 6 seconds for a point to be scored before Hickey hit a 3 for the visitors.
Falcons junior sharpshooter Eriksen Shea countered with a bank shot, then junior Toby Holt made a baseline jumper to put Freeport on top, but a pair of free throws from Rogers made it 5-4 Clippers.
With 2:32 to go in the first, Shea hit a 3, but Hagerty countered with a bank shot, Rogers put back a miss, then Rogers drove the lane and made a layup for an 11-7 advantage after eight minutes.
Things remained tight in the second period.
A 3 from Freeport senior Ethan Sclar opened the frame, but Hagerty countered with a free throw and Eckersley-Ray made one as well.
A pair of foul shots from Barrett drew the Falcons within a point, but Eckersley-Ray answered with a layup and after a steal, Torres made a layup for a 17-12 advantage with 4:22 to go in the half.
Sclar ended the mini-run with a 3 and after Eckersley-Ray made a free throw, Shea made a 3 from the corner to tie it up, 18-18.
Yarmouth went back on top on two free throws from Eckersley-Ray and after Barrett made a foul shot for the hosts, two late free throws from Hickey put the Clippers up, 22-19, at halftime.
In the first half, Shea led all scorers with eight points and Sclar added six, but the Clippers, despite 14 turnovers, held the lead thanks to six points apiece from Eckersley-Ray and Rogers.
Yarmouth then threatened to run away with thanks to a fast start in the second half, but Freeport would rally.
Just 14 seconds into the third period, Eckersley-Ray made a bank shot. Hagerty then set up Torres for a layup and after a Hickey steal, Torres made another layup for a 28-19 lead, forcing Freeport coach Bill Ridge to call timeout.
It helped, as senior Colby Wagner answered with a 3-pointer and off an inbounds set, Barrett fed Holt for a layup which cut the deficit to four.
Despite many opportunities, the Falcons couldn’t draw any closer and with 11.6 seconds to go, a 3 from Middleton ended the Clippers’ 7:03 drought and gave them a 31-24 lead heading for the fourth quarter.
Eckersley-Ray started the final stanza the way he began the third, with a basket, making a layup off a Hickey pass, and Hickey added a 3 to push the lead to 36-24 with 6:20 to go.
Freeport refused to buckle, however, and after Holt made a floater, Barrett sank a 3 with 4:39 on the clock, cutting the deficit to seven and forcing Smith to call timeout.
It didn’t help, as Sclar threaded a beautiful pass to Holt for a layup, then Sclar drove for a layup with 3:45 remaining to make it a one-score game, 36-33.
Forty-two seconds later, Yarmouth ended the 9-0 run, when Eckersley-Ray stole the ball and made a layup, but with 2:15 left, Barrett’s 3 pulled the Falcons within 38-36.
Freeport wouldn’t score again, however, and the Clippers closed it out.
The game turned for good with roughly 90 seconds to go, when Yarmouth missed a shot and Sclar grabbed the rebound while falling to the court.
He couldn’t hold on to the ball, however, as Eckersley-Ray pilfered it. Eckersley-Ray missed a shot, but Hagerty was there for the rebound and his layup extended the Clippers’ advantage to two possessions.
“It’s probably my football mindset,” said Eckersley-Ray. “I saw the ball and tried to get the fumble.”
After a Falcons’ miss, Torres was fouled and he made one free throw for a 41-36 lead.
After Barrett missed a 3, Eckersley-Ray got another rebound. Torres missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Eckersley-Ray again got the rebound and after being fouled, he calmly sank both foul shots to push the lead to seven with 37.1 seconds on the clock.
“It’s tough, but I try to just imagine we’re in practice at a quiet gym and I’m all alone,” Eckersley-Ray said.
Sclar and Holt then missed 3s and one final Eckersley-Ray rebound ended all doubt as Yarmouth went on to a 43-36 victory.
“We knew (Freeport’s) a good team that could make outside shots,” Eckersley-Ray said. “We just tried to stay contained and get the boards we could and control our effort.”
Eckersley-Ray led all scorers with 14 points and also grabbed 11 rebounds and had four steals.
“I try to get good positioning,” Eckersley-Ray said. “I try to hold my spot the best I can. It helps having Nolan inside tipping the ball out. I just tried to do what I could. I knew my teammates had my back.”
After the game, Eckersley-Ray was praised by both coaches.
“What I love about Noah is that I know what I’ll get every time out,” Smith said. “He’ll go for 32 minutes. He’s so steady. He doesn’t make mistakes. He’s a great captain for us. He’s taken the leadership role to another level lately and gets guys to play with passion.”
“Eckersley-Ray is just a tough kid,” Ridge said. “He plays the right way. He works hard, he gets scrappy points. I really respect him and like watching him play.”
Hickey added eight points, Torres had seven, Rogers six, Hagerty five (to go with 11 rebounds, three blocks and two assists) and Middleton three.
The Clippers had a 37-31 rebounding advantage, overcame 19 turnovers and made 12 of 21 foul shots.
Freeport didn’t have a player in double figures, as Barrett led the team with nine points. Holt (four rebounds), Sclar (seven rebounds and four assists) and Shea added eight points apiece, while Colby Wagner finished with three.
The Falcons had 17 turnovers and shot just five free throws, making three.
“(Yarmouth) earned it,” Ridge said. “We didn’t shoot as well as we’re accustomed to. We were something like 3-for-12, 3-for-12, 2-for-11 in the first three quarters. That’s not even close to what we’re used to. They focused on Eriksen. They knew what to expect from us. We’ve had some good battles with Yarmouth. We had good games last summer and the two games this year have been tight and hard-fought.”
Freeport, despite its record, hasn’t guaranteed itself a postseason spot, so the Falcons still need to win some games. Freeport, currently ranked 10th in the Class B South Heal Points standings, where just nine teams qualify, hosts perennial Class C South contender Waynflete Tuesday, then goes to Fryeburg Academy and Cape Elizabeth. After hosting York and Lake Region, the Falcons go to Wells before closing at home versus Gray-New Gloucester.
“We have a good schedule setting up for us with (Heal Points) available,” Ridge said. “We’ll look at Waynflete Tuesday. If we get a few wins (the playoffs) are right there.”
Yarmouth, now second in Class B South, has a pivotal home test versus top-ranked Cape Elizabeth Tuesday, then travels to Wells, hosts Lake Region in a makeup game and visits Greely, Poland and Lake Region to close the regular season.
“We have to work on moving the ball around,” said Eckersley-Ray. “We’re still getting used to each other. We’re really excited. We’re getting a little bit better each day.”
“I’m hoping this gives us confidence,” Smith said. “We’ll continue to grind. I’m hoping we can finish better in the games we have coming up. We saw tonight we can stay within ourselves.”
Freeport senior Colby Wagner looks to pass while Yarmouth junior Jake Rogers (35) and Jonny Torres defend.
Freeport junior Eriksen Shea dives for a ball in front of Yarmouth junior Jonny Torres.
Yarmouth sophomore Aidan Hickey splits the Freeport defense.
Yarmouth junior Jake Rogers tries to grab a rebound from Freeport junior Shea Wagner, left, sophomore Gabe Wagner and senior Ethan Sclar.
Yarmouth junior Jonny Torres goes up for a layup over Freeport senior Colby Wagner.
Yarmouth sophomore Gavin Hamm hounds Freeport senior Nate Thomas.
Yarmouth senior Nolan Hagerty drives on Freeport junior Shea Wagner.
Freeport senior Ethan Sclar goes up for a basket.
@ Yarmouth 63 Freeport 49
Yarmouth 63 @ Freeport 33
@ Yarmouth 81 Freeport 54
@ Yarmouth 66 Freeport 32
Yarmouth 84 @ Freeport 54
Yarmouth 73 @ Freeport 32
@ Yarmouth 74 Freeport 48
@ Yarmouth 77 Freeport 30
Yarmouth 94 @ Freeport 41
Yarmouth 83 @ Freeport 42
@ Yarmouth 69 Freeport 40
Yarmouth 92 @ Freeport 31
@ Yarmouth 77 Freeport 16
@ Yarmouth 75 Freeport 25
Yarmouth 74 @ Freeport 34
Yarmouth 52 @ Freeport 29
@ Yarmouth 63 Freeport 42
@ Yarmouth 50 Freeport 48
Yarmouth 73 @ Freeport 48
Western B semifinals
Freeport 67 Yarmouth 60
Yarmouth 60 @ Freeport 55
@ Yarmouth 71 Freeport 66 (OT)
Freeport 57 @ Yarmouth 39
@ Freeport 55 Yarmouth 52
@ Yarmouth 58 Freeport 54 (2 OT)
@ Freeport 56 Yarmouth 43
@ Yarmouth 39 Freeport 28
@ Freeport 40 Yarmouth 37
Yarmouth 53 @ Freeport 24
@ Yarmouth 55 Freeport 44
@ Freeport 51 Yarmouth 49