NEWPORT — The resurgence of the Nokomis boys basketball program — from four wins during the last four years combined to six wins already this season — is one of the feel-good stories of the regular season to date.
But it’s a resurgence not without heartbreak, as was the case Tuesday night when Jordan Hersom scored on a baseline drive with nine seconds left to lift Leavitt of Turner Center to a 59-57 victory over the Warriors.
Hersom’s basket capped off the Hornets’ rally from an eight-point deficit early in the fourth quarter and improved their record to 9-1, good for first place in Western Maine Class B.
“Coming down for the last shot coach said to spread out and take our time because we didn’t want to give them another shot on offense,” said Hersom, a junior forward. “I just went to the baseline and my teammate found me open and I just put it up and in.”
Nokomis star Chris Braley then missed a long 3-point shot as time expired, leaving the Warriors to ponder what perhaps should have been after leading for 26 of the game’s 32 minutes.
“I think probably we may have gotten a little tired,” said Nokomis coach Carl Parker, whose seniorless squad had won five of its previous six games. “That’s part of life, you’ve just got to keep plugging and keep competing.
“We’re making progress. We’re getting closer. They’re a quality team, but it’s one we should have won, I still think.”
Leavitt’s resurgence within the contest stemmed largely from a 49-35 rebounding advantage that generated 24 second-chance points. Hersom was instrumental in that effort, finishing with game-high totals of 21 points and 17 rebounds, while Tyler Allen added nine points and eight rebounds.
“We felt like we could wear them down inside, but No. 30 (Nokomis freshman Devin Chambers) played tough inside for them and we had a harder time than we thought we would, to be honest,” said Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway. “They did a good job of defending the paint and our shot selection wasn’t that good at times, but I thought in the fourth quarter when we made our run we did a better job of moving the ball.”
Braley led Nokomis with 18 points, but just six came during the final three quarters as Leavitt tightened its defense against the junior swingman after he made four 3-pointers to fuel a 22-2 first-quarter run that staked the Warriors to a 22-8 lead. Braley also had 11 rebounds and six assists.
“He’s one of the premier players in the state, and we knew we weren’t going to completely stop him,” said Hersom. “He was going to get his shots, we just wanted to make sure he didn’t go off for a really, really big night.”
Drew Wing added 15 points for Nokomis, while Ethan Pearl scored 14 and Chambers came off the bench to contribute seven points and eight rebounds.
Leavitt scored the game’s first six points, but that momentum was undone by a Nokomis blitzkreig from long distance, as the Warriors shot 6 of 9 from beyond the 3-point arc during the game’s first eight minutes.
Nokomis (6-4) then took its largest lead at 25-10 early in the second quarter on a thunderous dunk by Braley off a Leavitt turnover.
Leavitt responded with 11 straight points to close within 25-21, but two baskets by Pearl and a three-point play by Chambers helped restore Nokomis to a 34-26 halftime lead.
Leavitt used a 9-2 run over the final four minutes of the third quarter to draw within 43-41, but Chambers and Braley each scored on follow-up shots and Pearl added a fast-break layup to give Nokomis a 49-41 lead with 6:03 left in the game.
But the Hornets kept attacking the offensive glass, until finally a 3-pointer by Matt Janosco off a Hersom rebound tied the game at 55-55 with 1:26 left and Hersom grabbed another rebound on Leavitt’s next possession and made two free throws to give his team a two-point lead with 48 seconds left.
Braley made two free throws with 26.5 seconds left to re-tie the game before Leavitt worked the ball around the perimeter until spotting Hersom open along the right baseline for the game-winner.
“When you’re on the road you have to play great defense and we really didn’t do that the whole game,” said Hersom. “We hung around long enough to give ourselves a chance to win the game at the end, but playing better defense is something we need to do.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Nokomis. They played really hard, they outplayed us pretty much the whole game. We were just fortunate to come up with the win.”