GRAY–Spurred on by John Martin’s 15, the Patriots eked out a hard-fought win – Zack Pomerleau pushed them ahead for the last time, late in the fourth – over visiting Lake Region on Friday night, Dec. 7. The comparatively inexperienced Lakers impressed: They kept pace with their hosts until the waning moments, and sophomore Evan Willey turned in the game high, 18. G-NG, however, got it done in the end, 48-43.

Patriots head coach Ryan Deschenes applauded the opposition. “They’re definitely team that’s going to get better, the year goes on,” he said of Lake Region. “They came in certainly believing they could beat us and they almost did.”

“I was really proud of them tonight,” Lake Region head coach John Mayo said. “We came together…[G-NG comes] out, they compete, they’re athletic; trying to find who’s going to play, we rotated a lot of guys and everyone stepped up tonight…We came up a little short, but it’s exciting. Good start. I told them in the locker room, ‘This is only game one; we’ve got 17 more to go, and we’re only going to get better.’”

G-NG opened the contest looking sharp: Nick Pelletier added the first points of the first quarter on a two, and Matt Johnson quickly followed him up with a three. Anyone who expected the Patriots, a deep and seasoned outfit, to come on strong – maybe even to manhandle the Lakers, who lost 10 seniors last year – seemed to see their prognostications coming to fruition before their very eyes.

Not so fast, though! Lake Region answered soon enough, Dawson Smith knocking down one three-pointer and Willey another to invert the early momentum and seize the lead, 6-5. The Lakers then inched ahead 8-5 on a Mark Mayo inside two. G-NG soon jumped back out front, 11-10, on a quick steal and another Johnson two, but LRHS responded in kind, Derek Langadas and Mark Mayo adding back-to-back buckets to make it 14-11.

“We knew they wanted to get the ball inside, be really physical,” Deschenes said of Lake Region. “They started three bigs tonight, with a 6-6 guy who really stepped out and can shoot. That’s a young guy that we didn’t know a lot about and didn’t adjust as good as we could have during this game. I hope we will next game.”

The Patriots tallied the last points of the first, and the first points of the second, regaining the upper-hand at 16-14. Martin then hashed five in a row – on a three and a two – to pry open the biggest lead by either team yet, 21-14. Lake Region staged a prompt comeback, however: Ryan Walker and Langadas dropped in consecutive twos and Willey followed them up with a three to tie the game at 21-21.

Martin next fed a midcourt steal to Nick Kariotis, who capitalized in the waning seconds for 23-21. But Mark Mayo managed to reel in one final two for the Lakers – reeled it in just this side of the buzzer – to send the action into the break at 23-all.

“We shared the ball pretty well tonight,” Coach Mayo said. “And we limited our turnovers – because that’s always a big deal against pressure like that and a good team. Just little short at the end. We make a couple shots at the end and we go out of here with a win.”

“Defensively, we tried to throw a few different looks at them,” Deschenes said. “Between a lot of two-three, a lot of our trapping two-three, our one-two-two trap. So we did throw everything at them today, and I think it kept them enough off-balance to not get in a rhythm.”

G-NG gave up quite a few second-chance points to their guests, which Deschenes noted. “We’ve got to clean that up, and 22 obviously got open a lot in our zone and sunk some big shots.”

The third quarter unfolded much like its predecessors: G-NG pushed out front 33-25 early, thanks to Pomerleau and Hunter Colby’s work at the line, and Colby and Martin’s work from the field. LRHS battled back on work by Willey and others, taking back the upper-hand on a three-point-play by Anthony Thomas.

The teams , as the game unwound towards its end, tied again at 40-40, but then a nice Pomerleau jumper from the key gave G-NG, their bench and their fan contingent something to roar about. Willey, though, answered, and the Lakers & Co. took a turn going berserk.

It was Pomerleau who broke the deadlock for the last time: Barreling toward the net, he fought through a pair of Lake Region opponents to pull the trigger on an ugly, contorted layup – one that somehow fell through the hoop. 44-42. Laker Liam Grass then hit one of two from the line – but one of two wouldn’t be enough.

With under a minute to go, LRHS needed possession, so Mark Mayo fouled Pelletier. Pelletier hit one of one-and-one, putting the Patriots on top 45-43. Mayo momentarily found himself at the line as well, but couldn’t hit his first basket, and Martin came away with the ball. Martin in turn hit a free for 46-43.

“Over the last four to six minutes, we stretched the floor a little bit,” Deschenes said, “and that’s where you’re able to get the paint, make some big plays. Pomerleau made a bit shot, Martin got to the rim and were able to close them out.”

With just about 17 seconds remaining, Pelletier returned to the line, knocking down both shots of a double-bonus opportunity. Down by five now, the Lakers needed equal measures skill, focus and luck to have any hope of pulling out a W. Mark Mayo dashed up-court and fired off a long three: The shot had perfect line, but not quite the right distance; it bounced out.

LRHS’s valiant efforts thus came up short, while G-NG’s earned them the victory.

“We’re a team that has, obviously, a really good player, Martin, one of the best players in the State,” Deschenes said. “But we’re only go so far with him, and we need our bigs to be involved and our other guards to be involved. Pomerleau’s a versatile guy that, tonight he had a good match…As long as we had double gaps, we were able to find driving lanes tonight, and that’s when Pomerleau hit that big shot.”

In addition to Martin’s 15, Pomerleau finished with six; Pelletier with five, Wyatt Edwards with three, Kariotis with four, Johnson with seven, Ryan Lachance with two and Colby with six.

Over on the LRHS scoresheet, Smith finished with three, Walker with four, Anthony Thomas with three, Liam Grass with one, Langadas with six, and Mark Mayo with eight.

Mayo is the Lakers’ only returning starter. “He’s the quiet leader of the group,” Coach Mayo said. “But we’re allowing some of those other guys to use their skills too, and it opens it up for him. They knock down a couple, then [the other team’s] gotta go guard them, and he’s not getting double- or triple-teamed.”

Willey is new to the varsity scene, but clearly a player to watch. “He practiced with us a lot last year,” Coach Mayo said. “He’s got the potential to do it, and tonight he got his opportunity to start and show it. He’s got a ways to go, too, and every time he steps on the floor, he’s getting better.”

Coach Mayo expressed satisfaction with his lineup on the whole: “I don’t think there was anyone that played bad for us,” he said. “Mark was solid inside; I thought our two guards there, the Walker kid and and Dawson Smith, they handled the pressure pretty well for us. Liam Grass, he was the other starter; he had some really good moments, passing the ball and sharing it. Anthony Thomas gave us some good minutes. My son Matthew came in and rebounded and battled in there. Jacob Arey, he gave me a couple of minutes when there was some foul trouble with Langadas…The Holland kid came off in the second half and did a little bit for us too.”

“That’s pretty much everyone that got into the game. No one hurt us out there.”

Lake Region, 0-1 to kick things off, hosts Sacopee Valley on Tuesday the 11th, and Wells the following Friday.

G-NG, 1-0, travels to York on Tuesday, Dec. 11, then Freeport two days later. They host Cape Elizabeth on the 18th.

“We’re 1-0,” Deschenes said. “Obviously we’ve got to continue to get better…But at the end of the day, we got it done, our veterans got it done.”

Adam Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.

Matt Mayo drives toward the net for the Lakers.

Laker Evan Willey – just a sophomore – turned in the game-high score, 18.

Mark Mayo lays up an early attempt for the Lakers.

Ryan Walker lofts up an off-kilter ball for the Lakers, overshadowed by G-NG defender Zack Pomerleau.

Nick Pelletier wheels around a Lakers opponent.

Matt Johnson had some key points for the Patriots in their win.

G-NG standout John Martin finished with 15.

Zack Pomerleau scored on this contorted layup to push the Patriots out front for the last time.

Patriot Wyatt Edwards guards Laker Derek Langadas, on the move with the ball.