Boys Basketball: Patriots edge Lakers in prelims tug-of-war

The Patriots rush the floor after triumphing over Lake Region.

NAPLES – John Martin may have hit the difference-maker on Tuesday night – the shot that put Gray-New Gloucester atop Lake Region for the last time, fired up his boys and kicked off an all-important run – but in a tug-of-war bout between evenly matched teams, every shot matters.  Every shot, every pass, every rebound and every assist – they all matter in the end.

So Martin’s 11 timely points – nine of which came from beyond the perimeter; Josiah Rottari’s 12, four of them late-game free-throws; John Henry Villanueva’s 11 (not to mention his senior leadership); and Hunter Colby’s six power post-ups – all of it, it was all key to the 57-54 Patriots victory.

Which is why Villanueva, Patriots senior co-Captain, stressed the outcome was a collective effort: “It was just a great team win, first of all,” he said. “We had guys scoring all around. We had the post going, which led to open threes; people got driving to the hoop; and it all just circled around. Our defense really helped out too.”

“We have great players all-around,” Villanueva said. “We have Josiah, John, Hunter…our bench is even strong; we’ve got everyone going there.”

G-NG head coach Ryan Deschenes emphasized the Patriots’ awareness, coming in, of their need to play consistently top-shelf ball. “It was a great game,” Deschenes said. “We survived a game here last month; last time we came, we played a really good second half. We knew we had to play a really good 32 minutes.”

“Their second-chance points and their points in the paint; that was the big difference, I think,” said Lakers head coach John Mayo. “We did a pretty good job against their three-point shooters; they had seven last time against us, so those big three shooters for them, that’s what we were focused on. And they didn’t hit shots against us inside last time because they were hitting the outside, but they’re multifaceted, so they went inside, and that hurt us.”

Of course, Lake Region served up the other half of the back-and-forth, and it was Tyler Walker, the team’s most experienced veteran and one of the league’s top point guards, who tallied the game-high, an impressive 16. The Lakers’ performance was likewise a team effort and Tristan Chaine also broke double-digits, adding 11.

Martin opened the scoring, draining an early three to set his bench – as well as the Patriots’ fan section – alight with excitement. Laker Doug Mayo soon answered with a three for his boys, however, and it quickly became obvious this wouldn’t be a runaway win for either side. Villanueva put the Patriots up 4-3 from the line, Lake Region’s True Meyers responded for 5-4, and the tussle was underway. Walker knocked down his lone three of the game during that opening stretch, as did Villanueva; Martin contributed two more, as well as a precision pass to Jake Kackmeister inside for two. 14-13 Lake Region after one.

The second also see-sawed: Rottari began those eight minutes with a three, putting G-NG out front again at 16-14; a Lakers steal, however, promptly led to a Walker two and another tie score. Kackmeister bucketed, then Walker – then Chaine, giving Lake Region the advantage at 20-18; but Colby, the Patriots’ key big, answered from underneath for 20-20. Doug Mayo next dropped in his second three of the evening – he looks so zen when he shoots, even when he shoots from way downtown – but Colby again answered, this time completing a three-point play to make it 23-23.

A battery more baskets ensued, with Patriot Tanner Mann pulling down the last d-reb of the half and feeding to Villanueva, who capitalized for two and a 32-30 G-NG upper-hand at the break.

After 17 lead changes in the first half, the latter quarters featured only three. That’s not to say the contest morphed into some kind of runaway; as already mentioned, it did not. Walker kicked off the third with a pair of frees, and Chaine followed him with a three to grab the lead for Lake Region at 35-32; Chaine added an o-reb and two after that to open up the biggest gap the game had yet seen, a mere five points at 37-32. 

Villanueva commented on a big Patriots adjustment: “Tyler Walker got going a little bit in the first half, so we had to shut him down a little bit in the second half, and that kind of led to our offense.”

“[Tyler] still had some looks,” Villanueva said, asked how the Patriots managed to shut Walker down. “But faceguarding helped [us] out, stopping him. His pull-up game’s pretty strong, so just hedging, going over screens, stuff like that, helped.”

G-NG’s adjustment to Walker’s first-half fight did, in fact, allow them to quiet him significantly in the later going: Whereas he scored 11 in the uphill minutes, he managed just five in the downhill.

“The biggest thing was keeping them out of the paint,” Deschenes said. “We didn’t do a great job of that, but we did a good enough job – especially second half. We did a better job on Walker; we had to faceguard him, make sure he didn’t get catches. He got catches too deep, in the second half. We went two-three zone a little bit; that kept them out of the paint for a little while.”

Martin, who hadn’t quite found a consistent groove yet, finally found one, and just at the right time, too. He turned back-to-back mirror-image drives up-court – one up the right-center and one up the left-center – into huge assists, dishing the first time across/underneath to Ryan Lachance for two and the second time backwards/outside to Rottari for a spectacular three and 37-37. Rottari next converted on a steal and thus stole the advantage, 39-37, but Walker rejoined with two more of his own for 39-all. 

Deschenes applauded not just Walker’s attack, but also his defense. “Credit to Tyler, he’s the best defender in our conference…and John Martin had trouble getting going. But John Henry got going in the second quarter, and that made the mismatches happen. We were lucky enough to get guys going at certain times.”

Which is when Martin – still hot – knocked down a three, and then – after Doug Mayo lost his footing on the attack for the Lakers and coughed up the ball for Martin to take – another three. Now the Patriots held the largest lead of the evening, six points, at 45-39.

They would never trail again. The Lakers hounded them indeed, pulling within one at 47-46 on a Mark Mayo buzzer-beater to close the third, then pulling within one again on a pair of Tyler Breton frees at 49-48, then pulling within one yet again on a Meyers deuce at 53-52, then pulling within one a last time on two Mark Mayo frees at 55-54. But they couldn’t overtake the Patriots.

“Sharing the ball definitely helped,” Villanueva said, asked what allowed the Patriots to hold onto the lead, once they’d snatched it up for the last time. “They have some great defenders, so going to our stronger matchups kind led to our offense becoming more powerful.” 

“We tried to exploit some mismatches,” Deschenes said. “We did a nice job of that tonight. Hunter Colby got going, Jake Kackmesiter got going, John Henry got going, then our lead scorer, John Martin, got going.”

Still down, however, and with less than a minute remaining, Lake Region commenced fouling in hopes of regaining possession. The strategy worked for them more than once – their shots simply wouldn’t fall. With 17 seconds left, Rottari went to the line and hashed two more for G-NG, putting them out front by three. The Lakers then rattled off a pair of downtown attempts, one by Walker and one by Chaine, but neither found the inside of the hoop; nor did their final, last-ditch attempt, by Walker with roughly a second to play. 

57-54, and the Patriots rushed the floor.

“They got a big offensive rebound on us; we might’ve missed a few boxouts, there,” Villanueva said of the Lakers’ final push. “And then a travel, here, that hurt, too; three big three-pointers they could’ve had. Anything could’ve happened.”

“We wanted to switch everything,” Deschenes said of the waning moments. “Make sure we defended the three-point line; if we gave up penetration, not to help; we didn’t want to concede a two there, but at the same time, we couldn’t help off a three-point shooter. We got the ball out of Walker’s hands, forced some tough shots. They got three looks, but they were three tough looks.”

Rounding out the Patriots’ scoring: Colby finished with 13 (beyond his six buckets from underneath, he had a free as well), Kackmeister with six, and Mann and Ryan Lachance with two apiece.

Over on the Lakers’ side: Doug Mayo finished with nine (on three picturesque threes), True Meyers and Mark Mayo with eight each (Mark Mayo having gone six-for-six from the line) and Tyler Breton with two.

Lake Region, who entered the tournament ranked eighth, retires for the year at 9-10 – a very respectable record for a team that, in June, took a serious hit when graduation claimed 11 of its seniors and all of its regular starters. The only returner to the lineup this year who’d previously seen any significant court time was Walker, who exuded leadership and confidence this season, even as he remained relatively quiet while actually playing.

Coach Mayo nodded to Walker’s contributions at the helm, as well as his demeanor: 

“Tyler’s been here before; he knows what it takes,” Mayo said. “He was part of that group last year. He doesn’t like to lose. He’s gotten us this far, and he’s going to step up every night. He gives everything. He more leads by example than he does by his voice; he’s not a real loud kid, but he’s strong, tough-as-nails, wants to win all the time. He brings it every day to practices and it shows with the rest of them. They go hard as well.”

Five Lakers seniors, including Walker, close the books on their high school careers with Tuesday night’s result. Elijah Grizzard Brown, Luke Newal, Luke Porter and Doug Mayo also hang up their jerseys.

No. 9 G-NG advances 10-9, and secures a spot in the quarterfinals, where they will face off with No. 1 Yarmouth. That game is slated for Saturday the 18th at 4 p.m. at the Portland Expo. The Patriots met the Clippers in earlier December and in late January, both times falling short by double-digit margins. 

Adam Birt can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME

The Patriots rush the floor after triumphing over Lake Region.

Patriot Tanner Mann (left) commits just a little foul on Laker Tyler Walker.

Patriot senior Co-Captain John Henry Villanueva shoulders past Lakers defender Tyler Breton.

John Martin lofts up an inside jumper; True Meyers defends.

Hunter Colby had a big night for the Patriots, tallying 13.