Crunch time is fast approaching in the high school basketball regular season.
This winter that means coping with a condensed schedule for the final two weeks of play, caused by frequent postponements due to COVID-19.
Twenty-four hours after an overtime loss to John Bapst of Bangor, the youthful Orono boys basketball team bounced back to edge visiting Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft 47-45 on Thursday night in a battle of two of the top three teams in Class B North.
“We just fought really hard,” said Javier Alicea-Santiago, whose two free throws with 1:15 remaining snapped a 45-45 tie.
The third-ranked Red Riots are now 11-3 while No. 2 Foxcroft falls to 9-3 after playing the first of its five games in the next seven days.
Sophomore guard Pierce Walston came off the bench to pace Orono with 18 points, including 10 of the Red Riots’ 13 fourth-quarter points. Alicea-Santiago added nine points and seven rebounds while sophomore guard Ben Francis scored seven points.
Junior forward Caden Crocker led Foxcroft with 14 points and seven rebounds while senior forward Filip Brkic, who scored 36 points during the Ponies’ 76-62 victory over Orono on Dec. 21 at Dover-Foxcroft, was limited to 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting from the field and a 6-of-12 effort from the free-throw line.
“If we played that same game again right now, maybe Filip hits one of those 3s that he’s been hitting and it would have still been a great game,” Orono coach Ed Kohtala said. “He struggled a bit with his shot tonight, which usually doesn’t happen because he’s one of the most skilled kids in the state.”
Both teams employed multiple defenses to prevent each other from establishing consistent offensive rhythm, with Orono shooting 36 percent (16 of 45) from the field while Foxcroft shot 29 percent (13 of 45).
Orono also held a slight edge at the free-throw line, making 68 percent (13 of 19) compared to 55 percent (12 of 22) for Foxcroft.
“Every team at this point of the year is going to have injuries, COVID problems, whatever it might be, and we’re experiencing that right now with a couple of our guys,” Foxcroft coach Toby Nelson said. “Our guys gutted it out, but obviously we struggled from the foul line tonight. That hasn’t really been an issue for us, but we’ve got to tighten some of those things up.”
Foxcroft took a 22-20 lead into the second half and quickly extended the margin to five points on a 3-pointer by Crocker from the left corner.
Orono countered with six straight points on a drive by Caden Gray and layups by Lucas Allen and Francis to take a 26-25 edge — the first of five lead changes and eight ties after intermission.
The teams were tied at 34-34 entering the fourth quarter, and though Walston opened the final eight minutes with a driving basket and a steal he turned into a pullup jumper for a 38-34 Orono lead, the Red Riots couldn’t pull away.
Foxcroft never led during the final quarter but tied the game at 38-38, 42-42 and 43-43 before senior guard Austin Seavey evened the score for the final time at 45-all by making two free throws with 1:39 left.
Walston missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1:17 remaining, then Alicea-Santiago was fouled after rebounding the miss of Walston’s second free throw and buried both of his attempts for what turned out to be the winning points.
“I know my team has faith in me to perform,” he said. “I know they have my back.”
Foxcroft had a chance to tie when Brkic went to the free-throw line with 6 seconds left. He missed the first attempt, then missed the second on purpose. Crocker tracked down the offensive rebound in the left corner but had one foot out of bounds with 2 seconds remaining.
A successful inbounding pass by Orono ended the game.