NEWPORT, Maine — Ethan Pearl lived through the low expectations of his first two years as a basketball player at Nokomis Regional High School.
Now a senior, life is much different on the hardwood for the 6-foot-2 forward.
“As a freshman and a sophomore, other teams would think, ‘we have to go to Nokomis’ and we’d be worth one Heal point because we weren’t winning,” said Ethan Pearl. “Now it’s ‘we have to go to Nokomis and that’s a tough place to play.’ I like playing here.”
Mount View of Thorndike came to town Wednesday night thinking about all the Heal points to be gained from an upset of the recently revitalized Warriors, but Pearl’s driving basket with five seconds remaining dashed those hopes and lifted Nokomis to a 57-55 victory in their Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B clash.
The win was the fourth straight for Nokomis, now 4-1 this season after returning to tournament play at the Bangor Auditorium last winter for the first time since 2003.
Nokomis inbounded the ball with 14 seconds remaining after Mount View (2-3) was whistled for a backcourt violation, and senior point guard Ruel Libby soon passed to Pearl at the right of the key.
Pearl found himself with an only slightly contested lane to the basket and banked in the go-ahead layup.
“Initially, I was going to look for a jump shot, but when I caught the ball they were back and they were really confused on who they were guarding,” said Pearl. “I hesitated and both of them stepped toward Ruel, and that’s when I saw the lane, so I took advantage of it and got to the rim and it went in.”
Mount View was unable to get off a shot in the final seconds.
Pearl finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds, while Libby and junior guard Drew Wing combined for 17 points — all in the second half.
“Ethan has decided that guess what, he’s a good player, this is going to be his team and he’s going to lead this team by the way he plays and through his work ethic,” said Nokomis coach Carl Parker. “I think he’s one of the best players in our conference.”
Ryan St. Clair led Mount View with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Bobby Porter scored 11 points, Chris Montminy had nine points and Craig Nealley pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds.
Nokomis trailed 29-18 after a first half during which it shot just 18 percent (6 of 31) from the field and was outrebounded 27-17 by a Mount View front line featuring seniors St. Clair, Nealley and Taylor Reynolds.
“They just played real hard in the first half,” said Pearl. “They played good defense and came out and outworked us, plain and simple.”
But the Warriors displayed more offensive patience after intermission that not only produced better shots but enabled Nokomis to apply full-court pressure after it scored — which served to speed up the Mount View offense to a pace faster than it wanted.
“Anytime you play up and down the court, the hope is that you wear someone else out,” said Parker. “Sometimes you don’t get much out of it early, but later on when the legs get tired the shots are a little shorter and you can force a couple of mistakes to get you on that run you need, and that’s pretty much what happened in the third quarter.”
After Montminy made two free throws to give Mount View a 31-18 lead 23 seconds into the second half, Nokomis rallied behind the perimeter play of Pearl, Libby and Wing, who combined for 20 of the Warriors’ 26 points in the third quarter.
A four-point play by Nokomis, with Libby scoring on a drive and Pearl adding two free throws after Mount View was issued a technical foul, tied the game at 42-42 with 2:06 left in the third period, but follow-up baskets by Nealley and St. Clair enabled the Mustangs to take a 47-44 lead into the fourth quarter.
Nokomis then ran off nine consecutive points to grab a 53-47 lead, as Andrew Cartwright scored on a fast break, Libby drove the lane for a 3-point play and Pearl scored on a backdoor cut and then made two free throws to give the Warriors a six-point cushion with 5:01 left.
But Mount View refused to go away.
Two baskets by St. Clair around two Nealley free throws tied the game at 53-53 with 2:25 remaining, and an exchange of baskets by Spencer Hartsgrove of Nokomis and St. Clair left the teams locked in a 55-55 stalemate with 1:36 to play.