GRAY–Despite leading by a big chunk partway through the first half – and even leading by a few at the break – the Patriots couldn’t hold on against a determined Freeport squad on Thursday night, Feb. 7. The Falcons surged in the third on big Toby Holt and Gabe Wagner contributions to ultimately prevail 63-52.

Freeport’s fiery third represented something of a turnaround for the team. “The third quarter has been our our downfall for the season,” Falcons head coach Bill Ridge said. “We’ve had a tough time coming out at half; we come out just flat, a lot of times.”

G-NG head coach Ryan Deschenes applauded the opposition. “That’s a really good team,” Deschenes said of Freeport. “They’re as good as anyone in B.”

Wagner led all scorers with 20 total on the night, while Holt trailed him closely with 19. Fellow Falcon Charlie Ngoal finished with eight, while Kaleb Barrett had seven, Eriksen Shea five, and Shea Wagner and Elias Thomas two apiece.

Defensively, Freeport did an excellent job holding in check Patriots standout John Martin (who recently joined the Thousand-Point Club): Martin finished with just eight, and he wasn’t G-NG’s top scorer – he isn’t, always, since the Patriots are offensively diverse with numerous talented shooters, but to hold him in the single digits is a respectable feat for any opponent to accomplish.

“Caleb and Toby and Gabe all took turns on Martin,” Ridge said of the Falcons’ defense. “They all did a really nice job; they stepped up – they exceeded our expectations, actually, of what we thought we could do, containing him. Challenging every dribble he made. Just made him work a little bit extra on every possession – which isn’t comfortable for any player, even someone as great as he is.”

Nick Pelletier actually put up G-NG’s best number, 12 all told; meanwhile, Zach Pomerleau and Hunter Colby hashed 11 each. Wyatt Edwards and Matt Johnson hit a three apiece, while Nick Kariotis and Ryan Lachance added a two per player.

Deschenes took a moment to applaud his boys. “We’re a team that obviously has a really good player in Martin, but we have a lot of really good players around him. We proved that at Cape Tuesday, shorthanded, once he got hurt. Other guys stepped up and we almost had them.”

G-NG opened strong, with Martin grabbing a defensive rebound that soon enough resulted in Colby knocking down the first of the team’s four threes in the quarter. Lachance then grabbed another d-reb that led to a Pomerleau drive for two and 5-0.

So the Patriots were rebounding well and had a lead – a good sign for the home team and their fan contingent. Gabe Wagner turned in a steal, though, on G-NG’s next defensive rebound – an Edwards d-reb – then added the Falcons’ first points of the evening. 5-2.

The sides continued to tussle as the opening eight minutes elapsed: Edwards and Martin added threes for the Patriots as they managed to mostly stay ahead of Freeport, for whom Gabe Wagner hit a three and Toby Holt hit a trio of twos. Pelletier, Colby and Matt Johnson kept up G-NG’s strong work snatching rebounds and the team closed the stretch on a high note: Martin began a drive up the lane, but finding himself thwarted midway, halted and shoveled the ball way out to one side, where Pelletier collected it and lofted it up for a successful three.

18-12 at after one, and Matt Johnson began the second with another Patriots three to ramp their advantage up to 21-12. It looked like G-NG might run away with the outing, but Freeport begged to differ, and Eriksen Shea momentarily pickpocketed Pelletier, then completed a three-point-play.

The Falcons went on a eight-point run, Gabe Wagner, Thomas and Ngoal combining to tie the score at 23-all as the clock wound down. Martin, though, closed the quarter with a drive the length of the floor and a three-point play; the court cleared for the break with G-NG holding a slight upper-hand, 26-23.

“Freeport’s the type of team that, when they make a run, they can make a legit run,” Deschenes said. “They’re athletic, they’re aggressive, they can smell when to really pounce on you. And they did a great job of that.”

“Today, halftime it was all the same,” Ridge said. “We knew we were going to be playing them man-to-man. We talked about doing the little things: setting a good screen, using a good screen on offense, getting out in transition. But most importantly we talked – a lot in the last couple of weeks, and then at halftime – about, we’ve got to finish possession with a box-out. And we did that. We did that really well. We got guys on our back, and we got rebounds and we got out in transition. When we rebound well, we’ve got four or five guys on the court that can just put it on the ground and go, right from a rebound. And that’s tough to stop. So that that kind of sparked us.”

Sparked them, indeed: The Falcons zoomed onto the court for the third quarter, immediately seized the lead and never faltered again. Freeport opened with 15 straight points from Holt, Gabe Wagner and others. For their part, G-NG seemed to have lost their laser-sighted shooting: Whereas they couldn’t seem to miss at the start of the contest, even from downtown, they couldn’t seem to hit, now. In particular, multiple three-point attempts bounced out – very much a problem for a squad that sometimes luxuriates in its three-point abilities.

Ridge remarked on Freeport’s strategy when they got behind. “Really we were banking on [G-NG] not continuing to shoot 70 percent from three-point land,” he said, chuckling. “That’s what got us down early. That’s what they do: They can get really hot at times.”

“That was constant on the bench,” Ridge went on; “we’re talking at timeouts, at halftime, we just said, ‘They’re shooting the hell out of it. It can’t continue at this pace. It can’t. We’re going to continue to close out. Toby had a close-out on Martin from about 25, 26 feet away – there’s nothing but the bottom the net. I don’t know what else you do in that situation. So we just had to bank on, ‘They can’t keep that pace up. Assume they’re not going to keep that up and continue to box out; be ready for that defensive rebound.’”

In fact, the Patriots hadn’t even intended to rely on their three-point shooting. “The second half, we want to go inside better, more frequently,” Deschenes said. “But they did a really nice job of pressuring the ball and making our entry passes off. When you make the entry passes off, we’re not catching as close to the basket as we want to catch. We’re catching 10 feet away instead of five.”

By the time G-NG tallied their first points of the third – at 3:10 on a Colby two, to be precise – they were behind by double-digits. Holt eventually ended the quarter with a two to keep them that way, too: 44-32 heading into the fourth.

“Then first half we played really well,” Deschenes said, “and we kind of let them hang around a lot of second-chance points – that’s what they’re really good at, is crashing the boards really hard, and they got a lot of second-chance points on us.

“Third quarter, [Freeport] kind of upped the tempo, they got some good looks in transition and they tightened up their half-court D – that’s the best I’ve seen them play half-court defense, that second half. Usually they’re good pressing team.”

The Patriots actually outpaced their guests in the homeward stretch – just not by nearly enough. The team picked up 20 in those waning minutes, Pomerleau hitting two twos and a three, Pelletier a two and a three, Colby a pair of twos, etc. But the Falcons picked up 19 of their own in the same time, 10 of them from the foul line. 63-52 the final.

Ridge nodded at a couple of his boys in particular: “Gabe defensively, Toby defensively: Those two were difference-makers. They got us out in transition. Both of them are obviously very important to our offense too, and when they play unselfish like they did tonight, a lot of guys get opportunities. Charlie underneath. He did a nice job defensively – he always does a nice job defensively. He does a nice job on the boards and brings a subtle calmness to the post, which is really huge for us.”

“They’re disappointed the third quarter and wish that we certainly played that freely and confidently, like we did in the first half,” Deschenes said of his boys. “But we tightened up and Freeport took advantage. And then we made a little run, but it just wasn’t enough.”

The bout closed both teams’ regular seasons, and both teams move to 12-6. The Patriots currently rank fourth in B South, just back from Cape Elizabeth; Freeport ranks sixth, with Spruce Mountain wedged in between at No. 5. Mountain Valley occupies first at 16-2, with Maranacook in second, also at 16-2. 

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

Toby Holt puts up a free-throw.

Gabe Wagner presses forward for the Falcons.

Eriksen Shea dishes on the attack for Freeport.

Gabe Wagner drives for the Falcons.

Kaleb Barrett drives on the attack for Freeport.

Shea Wagner fires of an inside attempt.

Charlie Ngoal drives inward for the Falcons.

Freeporter Kaleb Barrett takes a swipe at G-NGer Zach Pomerleau, on his way to the net.

Zach Pomerleau of G-NG denies Toby Holt of Freeport.