The past two seasons for Freedom High's boys basketball team have been filled with measures of a successful program on the rise.
The Falcons made the North Coast Section Division I semifinals each season and earned a berth in the California Interscholastic Federation tournament both years. After losing in the first round in 2012, Freedom even won a game in the Division I bracket last year, beating Bella Vista-Fair Oaks before falling to Bay Valley Athletic League rival Deer Valley in the second round.
However, there was also a feeling of coming up just short both seasons. Deer Valley won the BVAL title by one game over the Falcons each year. In the 2013 NCS Division I semifinals, Freedom lost to San Leandro, 55-53, on a buzzer-beater.
With an 11-4 nonleague record, the Falcons this season are looking to break through to the next level. Freedom is in search of the first league title in school history and the higher playoff seeding that would entail could help propel the Falcons into the NCS title game.
"That's what were hoping for," Freedom coach Drew Torres said. "We'd like to get home court advantage in NCS. We're just trying to get further than we've been."
With Monte Vista sitting at 14-0 entering East Bay Athletic League play, the Falcons may be hard-pressed to earn the No. 1 seed in the NCS Division I tournament. But they are in play for the second-seed, which would mean home court advantage through the semifinals, with the championship game to be played on a neutral court.
That, in turn, could lead to a higher seed in the state playoffs, where Freedom was seeded eighth and 10th, respectively, the last two seasons.
The Falcons faced the Mustangs in a nonleague game in December at Monte Vista, falling 71-54. Other nonleague losses came to Salesian, Serra-Gardena and Campolindo. A pair of wins over Montgomery-Santa Rosa were highlights for Freedom, according to Torres.
"We feel like were battle-tested," he said. "We're a little better than I thought, to be honest with you. I thought we'd be a pretty strong team this year but where we're at record-wise, I'm very happy."
With Deer Valley struggling through a 5-10 nonleague slate, the Falcons appear to have seized the mantle as BVAL favorites. Pittsburg (12-3) and Liberty (12-4) have also been successful in the opening months. Freedom will open BVAL play on Jan. 17 at Pittsburg.
Power forward Elliot Smith has been the team's leading scorer and rebounder. Six-foot-7 center Kendall McIntosh provides great backline defense and football standout Joe Mixon is the Falcons' best defender at the swing position.
"He's a tremendous athlete," Torres said. "He will be our defensive specialist. He can guard 1 through 5."
Point guard Rodney Pope is an underrated player, according to Torres.
"He can do it all," Torres said. "Handle the ball, create shots for others, shoot it and play really good defense."