Boys basketball: Freeport uses size to fend off Poland

Jan. 7—POLAND — Poland kept coming, but Freeport kept answering.

In the end, the Falcons' size advantage and timely playmaking were too much, and they escaped Poland Regional High School with a 78-69 Western Maine Conference boys basketball victory Saturday.

"But it was a good game. That was a lot of fun," Knights coach Bill Flynn said. "I was telling the guys, it's a really tough one to swallow, you know, because you play hard, we didn't really do too much wrong, and it's just the way it works in basketball."

Freeport grabbed an early lead and forced Poland to play from behind for most of the game.

The Knights fought back throughout the game and got within striking distance a few times — they even led once — but each time JT Pound and the Falcons staved off Poland's comeback bid.

"I think it was really just putting it behind us," Pound said, "and really just starting our plays up again and getting shots up."

The Knights were particularly dangerous from beyond the 3-point arc. Fourteen of their 24 made field goals were 3-pointers.

"They were hitting 3s, but we were hitting two or three twos to one of their 3s, and that just managed to keep the lead," said Falcons coach Tyler Tracy, who previously coached the Knights and was coaching at Poland for the first time since leaving in 2021.

Pound, Freeport's junior big man, scored in the post but also made three 3-pointers to finish with a team-high 29 points.

"That's his game. He's inside-out. He's pretty dynamic," Tracy said. "When he's hitting boards and scoring underneath, then he can step out and knock that down, it makes it tough to defend."

Two of Freeport's other tall players, Cody Wall and Will Maneikis, contributed 15 and 10 points, respectively, off the bench.

Poland sophomore John Patenaude led all scorers with 33 points. Senior Hayden Christner made six 3s and finished with 19 points.

The Falcons (3-3) set the tone by scoring the game's first seven points.

Patenaude came off the bench and scored the Knights' first points of the game, which spurred their first rally. Patenaude scored Poland's first 10 points and Christner ended the first quarter with a buzzer beating 3-pointer that cut Freeport's lead to 19-13.

The Knights (2-5) opened the second with a pair of 3s to tie the game at 19-19, and another 3 gave them their only lead of the game, 22-21. But their many fouls in the first quarter haunted them and Freeport's size advantage became daunting.

Free throws and Pound propelled the Falcons on a 14-0 run that turned their one-point deficit into a 36-22 advantage. Pound scored 11 in the quarter, and had 15 in the first half.

Pound said Freeport took advantage of the size difference by "using our plays and posting up, really sealing, and just making quick moves."

The lead grew to 40-25, but Poland finished the half with an 8-0 run to cut it down to 40-33.

Patenaude, who scored 17 in the first half, and freshman Damon Howze hit two 3s apiece in the second, and Christner and Gio Warren each made one.

"Once Johnny gets going in a rhythm," Flynn said, "he's slippery going to the basket, he can shoot from the outside really well, and once he gets going, he's really tough to slow down. And I also thought he opened the game up for Hayden, who's as good a shooter as anyone, particularly on the catch-and-shoot."

Treys by Christner and Shane Yorkey, and five points by Patenaude, put Poland within one point, 45-44, midway through the third quarter.

Pound spent most of the third on the bench after picking up his third foul, as did Connor Slocum, who picked up his fourth less than a minute after Pound was called for his third.

In Pound's absence, Wall scored six points and the Falcons took a 51-46 lead into the fourth quarter.

"Connor Slocum's been our most steady and consistent player, and he was in foul trouble. It was nice to see the team respond with him out (of the game), because he can be our emotional leader and kind of calms us down when things go a little chaotic," Tracy said.

Pound scored the first five points of the fourth and assisted on a bucket by Maneikis as the Falcons opened the final period with a 7-0 run.

Christner hit three 3s in the fourth, including a four-point play, and the Knights kept fighting, but the closest they got was within six points a few times. Max Maneikis helped Freeport seal the win with a late 3-pointer and a pair of free throws.

"Basketball's a funny sport, it comes down to two, three possessions," Flynn said. "I felt like we did the things right on our end to do what we needed to do, but they made three really nice buckets there at the end that kept us apart."

As he did in the second quarter, Pound scored 11 points in the fourth.

Slocum finished the game with nine points, bolstered by 7-of-11 shooting at the free throw line, while Max Maneikis scored seven.

Prior to the game, Poland shared a message of appreciation to Tracy over the public address system for his 11 seasons coaching the Knights. His tenure included guiding Poland to the Class B South final in 2014 and a pair of Maine McDonald's Class B South Coach of the Year honors, in 2012 and 2015. He left for Freeport, where he is a teacher, prior to the 2021-22 season.

"I'm a competitor, once the ball goes up, it's all the same to me," Tracy said. "But, obviously, there's a lot of people here that I care about and love, and a lot of those kids I've coached forever.

"It was tough at the end, seeing them and knowing that they battled, they were tough today, and they lost. I love 'em, you know, you don't like seeing people you love sad. That was the toughest part."