GRAY — Poland still believes it will find a way into the Western Class B boys' basketball tournament. Gray-New Gloucester has ample reasons to think playoffs in the next year or two.
Tuesday night was pretty good practice.
Playing before a bipartisan full house, Gray-NG whittled a 16-point deficit in the final minute of the third quarter to three before Poland escaped with a 62-57 victory.
C.J. Martin, the lone returning starter from Poland's 2012 playoff team, led the Knights with 20 points, including five of six free throws in the final 47 seconds to ice the win.
"We started to gain composure. We didn't do such a good job the first few minutes of the fourth quarter," Martin said. "It's always an emotional game, anyway. A rivalry game."
Poland (4-11) swept the season series with its neighbor from the other side of Shaker Hill and is one spot out of a return trip to the playoffs with three games remaining.
Junior guard Tyler Michaud supplied 18 points for the Knights, matching Martin with seven in the fourth quarter. Alan Young added 11 points and eight rebounds.
"It was a game of runs. We were up 16 and got a little high on our horse and had some bad possessions when we should have settled down and separated more," Poland coach Tyler Tracy said. "They took advantage. They didn't roll over."
Will Shafer erupted for 11 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter, fueling the comeback bid by the Patriots (3-12).
Andreas Kariotis added 10 points and nine rebounds for Gray-NG. Kevin Cavallaro, Gray-NG's lone senior, chalked up seven of his nine points in the final period and had four steals.
Gray-NG was undone by 29 percent proficiency from the field.
"We played pretty well for 32 minutes. Unfortunately Poland had a big run," Gray-NG coach Ryan Deschenes said "They're well-coached, well-schooled, and they knew when to make a run and take advantage. We never quit."
Although the Patriots had the last run in a topsy-turvy game, the Knights enjoyed the longest one.
Poland answered Gray-NG's 11-2 charge early in the second quarter with an 18-3 push to the half. Martin and Michaud combined for a dozen points in the period, and the Knights opened a 33-23 halftime margin.
Five unanswered points from Martin and Michaud's 18-foot fade-away made it 46-30 in the final minute of the third quarter. Tyler Credit's two free throws cut the deficit to 14 with eight minutes remaining.
"C.J. has given us big offense all year," Tracy said. "Tyler, we struggled to finish in the paint tonight, but he got it done for us in the second half."
The Patriots weren't done. Shafer opened the fourth with a pair of free throws, then fed Cavallaro for a 3-pointer that cut it to single digits.
Six straight missed free throws cost Poland a chance to pull away, and a coast-to-coast drive by Sam Johnson and two Shafer buckets continued the Gray-NG charge.
Shafer's leaning jumper pulled the Patriots within three, 57-54, at the 49-second mark.
"They beat us both times this year, but we feel we're pretty even with them," Deschenes said. "It's a game that means a lot to both schools."
The Patriots promptly fouled Martin, who began his barrage from the stripe.