Unbeaten no more, Falmouth boys eye state title; Greely, Yarmouth also in the hunt
(Ed. Note: For the Yarmouth-Lake Region preliminary round playoff and Falmouth-Cape Elizabeth regular season-ending game stories, please visit theforecaster.net)
The Falmouth boys' basketball team is no longer perfect, but the Yachtsmen are ready for what they hope is a run for a first-ever Class B state championship.
Falmouth, which dropped to the No. 2 seed after Friday's season-ending 48-45 home loss to Cape Elizabeth, will meet No. 7 York in Saturday's quarterfinal round.
The Yachtsmen aren't the only local team likely to make noise at the tournament. Greely goes in as the No. 4 seed. The Rangers will meet No. 5 Maranacook (which came out of Eastern B and won the 2008 class title before being reclassified) in their quarterfinal. No. 8 Yarmouth hosted No. 9 Lake Region in a preliminary round contest Tuesday with the winner drawing the Capers in the quarterfinals.
Freeport (4-14) and North Yarmouth Academy (4-12) did not qualify for the playoffs this year.
Since Day One this winter, Falmouth has been considered the team to beat and the Yachtsmen have lived up to the billing and handled the pressure, winning their first 17 contests, capped by a 60-56 come-from-behind win at York last Tuesday (behind 25 points from senior standout Stefano Mancini).
Friday, however, in front of the biggest crowd in memory, Falmouth stumbled against a visiting Cape Elizabeth squad that has given it fits in recent seasons. Last year, the Yachtsmen lost to the Capers in the regional final. Back on Jan. 5, with assistant Jamie Hilton filling in as coach, Falmouth won, 62-55, at Cape Elizabeth.
This time, the Capers stretched an 18-17 halftime lead to as many as 14, 42-28, midway through the third quarter. The Yachtsmen slowly fought back and when Mancini made a finger roll with 9.2 seconds to go, they were within a point, 46-45, but Cape Elizabeth senior Andrew Dickey calmly made two free throws and a last-second 35-foot Mancini 3-point prayer drew back iron and Falmouth finished the regular year 17-1 after the 48-45 setback.
"You never like to lose, but we try to teach lessons every day," said longtime Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan. "We got down by 14 and made a nice comeback. I was pleased with that. I was glad to see them fight back. We had key guys not have their best game tonight. It's the biggest crowd we've had. It was a great atmosphere. Being undefeated weighs a lot on high school kids. We don't like the result, but I can't fault the effort."
Falmouth tied its best record Class B. The last time the Yachtsmen went 17-1, they went into the tournament ranked first and were upset by No. 8 Cape Elizabeth in the 2004 quarterfinals. This time around, Falmouth will battle No. 7 York (11-7) in the quarterfinals at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Expo. The Yachtsmen beat the Wildcats, 79-43, at home back on Jan. 14, then held on for the win at York. The teams have no prior playoff history.
"We have a very good team with a lot of expectations and I think we'll be fine," Halligan said. "York's a tough team. They're playing well right now. Every team in the tournament will be tough."
A win Saturday would set up a semifinal round showdown against No. 3 Mountain Valley (18-0) or No. 6 Lincoln Academy (11-7) next Thursday at 9 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Falmouth didn't play either team this year, but has seen its fill of both squads in recent postseasons.
Just last year, the Yachtsmen beat Lincoln, 68-42, in the quarterfinals. The most recent meeting with Mountain Valley came in the 2006 regional final (a 47-40 win for the Falcons).
Greely closed the season on a four-game win streak to wind up 13-5. Last week, the Rangers held off host Gray-New Gloucester, 59-50 (senior Trevor Tierney had 18 points and classmate Sam Johnston added 16), then edged visiting Lake Region, 34-32, on Senior Night, thanks to senior Matt Dunn's late shot. Dunn finished with 11 points.
"We seem to be playing better right now," said coach Ken Marks. "The ball is going where it is supposed to be and we are turning it over less."
Next up for Greely is a quarterfinal round tilt with No. 5 Maranacook (14-4), Saturday at 3:15 p.m., at the Expo. The Rangers don't face the Black Bears in the regular year. This will be the teams' first countable meeting.
"We played them in the preseason, they have a 6-foot-8 center, a pretty good player with a so-so cast around him," Marks said. "They won 14 games, so they are pretty good. I guess I like our bracket. Our conference is tougher than it has been in many years. All the teams are quality opponents on a given night. It's still Falmouth's to lose, but stranger things have happened in the past. It's really tough to shoot in an open arena."
If Greely advances, it will get No. 1 Cape Elizabeth (17-1), No. 8 Yarmouth (11-7) or No. 9 Lake Region (11-7) in next Thursday's semifinal round.
After graduating sharpshooter Johnny Murphy, Yarmouth was expected in some quarters to struggle this winter, but the Clippers were once again competitive, giving teams like Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and Greely scares, while beating almost everyone else. Last Tuesday, at the Capers, Yarmouth lost by only a point, 52-51, in a game it had a great chance to win. Junior Luke Pierce had 14 points in defeat. Friday, the Clippers earned their 11th win, 54-45, over visiting Gray-New Gloucester. Senior Evan Henry went off for 28 points on Senior Night.
Yarmouth finished with double-digit victories for the fourth year in a row, something which hadn't happened for the program since the 1970s.
"I thought a really good season would get us the number of wins we had," said coach Adam Smith. "Playing Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and Greely twice is a daunting task. To get to double figures in wins, you have to be almost perfect in the other games. It was a very good season with wins and losses, but I'm more pleased with the effort from the start of the season to the end. We played very well as a team."
For the second time in four years, the Clippers will host Lake Region in the preliminary round. Back in 2007, Yarmouth routed the Lakers, 75-47. In 2008, in the quarterfinals, Yarmouth beat Lake Region, 64-41. This year's Lakers squad can be dangerous behind senior Matt Langadas.
"We've played Lake Region in three of the past four years in the playoffs and it's never an enjoyable outing against them," Smith said. "They're very good defensively. They have one of the best players on the floor. Fortunately, we're at home."
If the Clippers were able to advance, they'd meet the top-ranked, two-time defending regional champion Capers in the quarterfinals Saturday at 4:45 p.m., at the Expo. In addition to last week's one-point loss, Yarmouth fell, 64-56, at home to Cape Elizabeth back on Dec. 17. Last year, in the quarterfinals, the Capers eliminated the Clippers, 66-58.
"All the teams are very good," Smith said. "There will be no easy games. We had an even better shot at beating Cape than we did Falmouth. Those losses hurt, but we're playing well."
The Freeport boys lost, 46-34, at home to Poland last Tuesday, then gave first-year coach Nick Jewett a season-ending win, 53-51, at Wells to equal last year's record. Senior Tom Dorsey bowed out with 16 points. Sophomore Josh Weirich also had 16.
NYA dropped its final two contests, 48-42, to visiting Traip and, 56-40, to visiting Poland. Andrew Esancy had 21 points against the Rangers. Toey LeBlanc finished with 16 versus the Knights. The Panthers fell short of the postseason for the first time since 1997.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com