FREEPORT—Regardless the sport, season or venue, Yarmouth athletes know that they’re always going to get pushed to the brink by rival Freeport.

And the Clippers always push back.

Tuesday evening, Yarmouth’s basketball team found itself in a 32-minute struggle and while the host Falcons made a point of limiting the damage of Clippers senior sharpshooter Stevie Walsh, Yarmouth had enough talent in reserve to continue its winning ways.

Ten days after downing the visiting Falcons behind a career-high 40 points from Walsh, the Clippers held a 12-10 lead after one quarter and clung to a 21-20 advantage at the half, as Freeport largely held Walsh in check, but junior Evan Hamm came up big with 10 points and junior point guard Matt Gautreau added six.

Late in the third quarter, the Falcons took a momentary one-point lead after a hook shot from imposing junior JT Pound, but a Gautreau 3-pointer made it 28-26 Yarmouth heading to the final stanza.

There, Hamm, Gautreau and unheralded senior captain Nate Hagedorn all made clutch shots and the Clippers went on to a 45-39 victory.

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Hamm had 16 points and Gautreau added 15 as Yarmouth won its third game in succession, improved to 7-4 on the year and in the process, dropped Freeport to 4-8, as the Falcons dropped their fourth game in a row.

“It’s a rivalry game and the intensity was high,” said Gautreau. “We play well through adversity. We have a lot of state champions on this team.”

Fight to the finish

Yarmouth started with a hard-fought 40-37 loss at York, then defeated visiting Mt. Ararat (49-31) and host Lake Region (57-54) before falling at Westbrook (57-42). The Clippers then knocked off visiting Wells (66-42) and host Fryeburg Academy (72-47), dropped consecutive games at Greely (58-48) and Leavitt (55-51, in overtime), then got back on track with a 62-49 home victory over Freeport before downing visiting Brunswick (68-53) in their last outing, last Tuesday.

Freeport opened with losses to visiting Gray-New Gloucester (70-50) and host Morse (70-56) and after downing visiting Brunswick (43-33), fell at Fryeburg Academy (71-46) and at home to Greely (72-41). The Falcons then got hot, downing visiting Lake Region (74-67), host Poland (78-69) and host Mt. Ararat (50-30) before losing at home to Wells (52-45), at Yarmouth (62-49) and last Wednesday at home to Cape Elizabeth (55-51), in overtime, in a game that the Capers rallied late in regulation.

In the teams’ first regular season meeting Jan. 14, Walsh dazzled with his career-best game, when he simply couldn’t miss.

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Tuesday, Freeport looked to beat Yarmouth for the first time since Feb. 1, 2020 (70-49 in Yarmouth), but instead, the Clippers made it six straight in the series, as a balanced attack proved to be too much to overcome.

Gautreau hinted at a big game to come when he opened the scoring with a 3-pointer.

The Falcons then got a long jumper from Pound and a Pound hook shot produced their lone lead of the first half.

Hamm then put on a show in transition, making a layup after a steal, then stealing the ball again, getting fouled and hitting a free throw.

Freeport drew even on two foul shots from junior Will Maneikis, but Hamm countered with a 3-ball.

After sophomore Conner Smith hit a jumper in the lane for the hosts, Gautreau hit his second 3 before a Pound putback made it 12-10 Yarmouth after eight minutes.

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There wasn’t much separation in the second period either.

Thirty-three seconds into the new quarter, Walsh made his lone 3 of the night. A putback from senior Aidan Heath and a hook shot from Pound pulled the Falcons within one, but Hamm stole the ball, drove and made a left-handed layup, then after a Walsh block, Hamm took a pass from Gautreau and made another layup for a 19-14 advantage.

Falcons coach Tyler Tracy called timeout, but it didn’t initially help, as Walsh made a floater in the lane.

Freeport then closed the half strong, as Smith sank a 3, then as time wound down, a 3-ball from junior Connor Slocum cut the Clippers’ advantage to 21-20.

Hamm had 10 first half points for Yarmouth, while Pound had eight points and five rebounds for the Falcons.

The Clippers got off to a strong start in the second half, as Gautreau drove through the trees and somehow made a layup in traffic, then Walsh stole the ball and drove for a layup of his own, but Pound scored on a putback, Pound made a hook shot in the lane, then with 2:31 to go in the third quarter, another Pound hook shot gave Freeport a 26-25 lead, its first since the score was 4-3.

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That would be as good as it got for the Falcons, however, as Gautreau countered with a clutch 3 and Yarmouth clung to a 28-26 lead going to the fourth period.

There, Walsh made a free throw, but a putback from Maneikis drew Freeport within a single point.

The Falcons couldn’t take the lead, however, as Walsh set up Hagedorn for a layup and after Smith was off-target with a potential game-tying 3, Hamm banked home a contested shot to make it 33-28 with 5:44 to go.

The Falcons drew within three on a baseline hook shot from Pound 35 seconds later, but Hagedorn countered with a short jumper.

With 3:39 left, a short jumper from Pound, after a Heath offensive rebound, again made it a one possession game, but Hamm put back a miss with 2:19 remaining, then after Smith missed a 3, Gautreau banked home a floater with 1:27 on the clock for a 39-32 Clippers’ advantage.

“I feel like my teammates set me up with good looks,” Gautreau said. “I was driving into the middle and got the defense to collapse and kick it out. I knew with Justin out, I felt like shoot or create opportunities for my teammates.”

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At the other end, Smith made two free throws, but another Hamm putback, with 34.3 seconds remaining, pushed the lead to seven again.

After Heath set up Pound for a layup, Gautreau sank two free throws, then Walsh made two more.

Smith sank a 3 as time expired, but Yarmouth was able to celebrate a 45-39 victory.

“(Freeport) came in with a good game plan,” senior captain Liam Hickey said. “We knew they’d try to take (Stevie) out of the game. We found away around that and found other guys to contribute. It took a team effort today.”

“It’s a good win and it was tough,” Mutombo said. “They adjusted to how we played the first time around. They did a good job on Stevie. Their game plan was amazing, but our guys kept pushing and defensively, we just committed to one stop at a time.”

Hamm paced the Clippers with 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots.

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“When it came time to step up, Evan did,” Mutombo said.

Gautreau came up huge with 15 points, four rebounds and two assists and didn’t turn the ball over in the crucible of the fourth quarter.

“Matt told the guys during a timeout, ‘Guys, calm down. We’ve got this,'” said Mutombo. “He’s a positive leader and he pushed everybody. He helped the team get the win.”

Walsh had a quiet 10 points, but he grabbed six rebounds and also had two assists, two blocks and two steals. Hagedorn finished with four points.

Hickey didn’t score, but he had three assists and played a huge role as a defender while helping fill the void of junior Justin Dawes, who was out sick.

“I knew Justin was one of the bigger guys on the team and he’d guard the big guy, so I knew I’d have to do that,” Hickey said. “(JT’s) pretty good and he hit some big hook shots. Sometimes, you have to tip your cap. I tried my best to guard him. That’s what Coach wanted me to do and that’s what I tried to do.”

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“Not having Justin changed everything,” said Mutombo. “Liam filled in and stepped up big as a senior captain. He didn’t score, but he did what he had to do. I love his heart and his passion for playing defense.”

Yarmouth only committed nine turnovers and hit 6-of-13 free throws.

Freeport was paced by Pound, who had a game-high 20 points and also grabbed nine rebounds. Smith added 10 points (and three steals), Maneikis had four points, five rebounds and three assists, Slocum finished with three points and five boards and Heath had two points, five rebounds and a pair of assists.

The Falcons had a 36-30 advantage on the glass, turned the ball over 15 times and drained 4-of-6 free throws.

“Will and (senior) Logan (Schulz) did a great job on Steve, but you have to give credit to (Yarmouth’s) secondary players,” Tracy said. “They had two big offensive rebounds they scored on. Gautreau had some drives late. That’s what good teams do. It’s not always about the best player. They had a couple transition buckets midway through the second quarter that was the difference in the first half. They finished their putbacks late, but we had opportunities early. We were all over the offensive board but couldn’t put the ball in the hole. Sometimes, that’s the difference.”

Brutal stretch

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Both teams have four games over the next week as Heal Points and playoff positioning become paramount.

Freeport (eighth in the Class A South standings) is at Cape Elizabeth Thursday, welcomes Spruce Mountain Saturday, goes to York for a makeup game Monday, then visits Gray-New Gloucester Tuesday of next week.

“I love this team,” Tracy said. “They’re grinding and getting tougher. They compete harder and harder every night. I keep telling them we’re due for a big (win). It’s tough to lose and it’s easy to get down when you do, but they fight when the ball goes up. Luckily, we have a handful of games left that are worth a lot of Heal Points. It’s a young group. They’re learning a lot. There’s a lot of teaching going on and they’re sponges.”

Yarmouth (fifth in Class B South) plays its next four games at home, welcoming Gray-New Gloucester Thursday, Greely Saturday, Spruce Mountain Monday and Cape Elizabeth Tuesday of next week.

“So far, we’re undefeated in home games,” Gautreau said. “We want to get higher in the standings.”

“We have to grinding in practice,” said Hickey. “We had a 4-4 start and that’s not what we were looking for, but we came together as a team and started fresh and we’ve won from there on out. Everyone believes in each other and knows their role. We just have to keep working hard.”

“We’re getting our identity,” added Mutombo. “We’re working toward finding out who we are and we’re jelling. You want to peak at the right time. If we do get in the playoffs, our guys are ready to compete at a high level. Home games will help us a lot. Our crowd is one of the best. We have a great opportunity and we’ll prepare. We just have to move the ball better and trust each other.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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