The Falcons stumbled out of the starting block against the Lions (2-12, 0-4), failing to get back on transition defense, allowing Liberty layups and uncontested jumpers throughout most of the first half. However, after falling 15 points behind in the second quarter, the Falcons tightened up their defense and picked up their level of play, controlling the game the rest of the way.
"Liberty jumped out in front in the first half because we weren't getting back on transition defense and they were getting a lot of easy buckets against us," explained Falcons head coach Steve Larson. "Finally, we stopped giving up those transition buckets and stepped up our defensive intensity. We came out in the second half and gave up only one fast break bucket the rest of the game."
The Falcons overtook Liberty in the third quarter, scoring a season-high 24 points and turned a five-point deficit to begin the quarter into a three-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The impressive third-quarter run was sparked by the strong play of point guard Scott Hayano and swingmen Eddie Rettagliata and Marc Miranda, who combined to score 16 in the frame.
Hayano, a 5-foot-9-inch senior, played an exceptional game for Freedom, scoring 12 points and dishing out 11 assists. Hayano's great defensive play in the second half led to a number of Liberty turnovers and was a major factor in the Falcon comeback.
Rettagliata, whom Larson exuberantly refers to as "a tremendous outside shooter," scored 30 points for the Falcons, including a quartet of three-pointers and an eight-of-nine shooting performance at the charity stripe.
Miranda, a junior, scored 18 points, and sophomore Cameron Gupton added eight points to his strong defensive effort.
The Falcons traveled to Pittsburg (10-5, 4-1) the very next night to take on a tough Pirates team, which was still riding a high from knocking off favored Antioch by an 11-point margin on the road Thursday night.
Despite their best effort, the Falcons simply didn't have enough wind left in them to get up and down the court with the quick, athletic Pittsburg team, which extended its lead in every quarter on its way to a 64-31 win.
Freshman guard Erik Dargan led Pittsburg with a game-high 10 points. Jeremy Knowles added nine points for the Pirates, and Jayson Knowles and DaMarcus Frost added eight apiece.
Rettagliata and Miranda scored seven points each in the loss.
"We're definitely playing better than we were at the beginning of the year," Larson said. "At the beginning of the year we were struggling against teams that weren't very good. Now that my players have had a chance to play together - we had only two returning players from last year's team - we're improving. A realistic goal for this team is to finish .500, right in the middle of the pack in the BVAL. We have two home games this week and they're both winnable."
Freedom (2-12, 1-3) hosts Deer Valley (4-10, 1-4) tonight at 7:15 p.m.