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Waynflete boys' run ends in semifinals

Basketball Tournament

Waynflete boys' run ends in semifinals

Waynflete's most successful boys' basketball season in a decade has come to a close, but not before the Flyers shocked the pundits and took their dazzled followers on a magical ride.

One season after missing the playoffs entirely, Waynflete won 11 regular season games, earned the No. 4 seed for the playoffs, then held off Wiscasset, 50-48, in an instant classic double-overtime thriller in the Western Class B quarterfinals.

The title dream came to an end Thursday night at the Augusta Civic Center after a 55-37 loss to top-ranked Dirigo in the Flyers' first trip to the semifinals since 2001.

Waynflete finishes 12-6 in a campaign that was nothing short of a stunning success.

"It’s always sad when a season ends, but as I told the team, there’s only one team in each class that ends the season on a happy note and I think the team was able to accomplish a great deal," said Flyers coach Rich Henry.

Strong start and finish

After winning only seven games last season, Waynflete got off to a hot start in 2010-11 with a 41-40 home victory over North Yarmouth Academy, in a contest that came down to the final horn. The Flyers were just a .500 team (4-4) midway through, then hit their stride, winning seven of their final eight regular season contests.

A 43-40 upset win at Old Orchard Beach Jan. 13 got things started. After home victories over Sacopee and Traip, Waynflete gained confidence by playing perennial Western B power Cape Elizabeth close for 32 minutes in a 43-34 setback on the road. The Flyers then secured their fourth seed by beating NYA and A.R. Gould (in overtime) on the road and Western B playoff participant Wells and Gould Academy at home.

Through it all, Waynflete rode the determination and talent of senior Joe Veroneau, who would make the most of his time on the big stage in the capital city. Veroneau didn't always light up the scoreboard, but in the biggest games, he was at his best.

Fellow senior Alex Hadiaris, juniors Chris Burke and Mitch Newlin and sophomores Max Belleau, Jack Cutler, Abshir Horo and Paul Runyambo were also key contributors.

Monday night, the Flyers met up with a Wiscasset squad they'd never seen. Waynflete was undaunted by playing in Augusta and raced to a 19-10 lead after one quarter. Veroneau got things started with a turnaround jumper and scored eight more points before period's end. Five different players scored in the first eight minutes.

In the second period, Wiscasset hung around and got back to 27-21 at the break as Veroneau was held to two points. Burke, Hadiaris, Newlin and Runyambo helped pick up the slack.

In the third quarter, Wiscasset senior Ashton Benn heated up and the Flyers' lead was cut to 38-35 heading for the fourth. There, a basket from senior Mason Brewer and a 3 from Benn put Waynflete behind for the first time, 40-38.

Veroneau tied things up, then scored on a putback, but two free throws from Wiscasset senior Tyler Sonia made it a 42-42 contest. Wiscasset had a chance to win it after holding for a last shot at the end of regulation, but Sonia missed and it was to overtime.

There, two Veroneau foul shots put the Flyers on top, 44-42, but late in the four-minute OT session, after milking the clock, they gave the ball away and that set the stage for Wiscasset to pull even with 5.2 seconds to go when Daniel Murphy scored, forcing overtime number two.

Veroneau put Waynflete ahead with a layup and Belleau had a putback to make it 48-44, but junior Jordan Jones made consecutive baskets for Wiscasset and the game was deadlocked again, 48-48.

Finally, with just over a minute to play in the second OT, Veroneau made a shot (hist game-high 25th and 26th points) to put the Flyers up, 50-48. Wiscasset again would make things precarious at the end, but this time, couldn't convert as Sonia's 3 at the horn was no good and Waynflete was able to advance.

"The double-overtime game versus Wiscasset was one of those games you hear people talk about where no team deserved to lose," Henry said. "After we got out to a good start, Wiscasset battled back and if not for a couple of breaks that went our way towards the end of the second overtime, we wouldn’t have won."

In addition to Veroneau's 26 points, Burke had nine, Hadiaris eight, Newlin three and Belleau and Runyambo two apiece. Wiscasset (13-6) was paced by 15 from Benn.

Waynflete met Dirigo Thursday night. The perennial powerhouse Cougars, regional champs each of the past two seasons, won 16 of 18 regular season games before eliminating No. 8 Livermore Falls in their quarterfinal. The Flyers don't face Dirigo in the regular season, but the teams did square off in the quarterfinals two seasons ago, a 66-38 triumph for the Cougars, in the only other playoff meeting.

This time, Waynflete wouldn't take it to the wire, but again the Flyers got off to a great start, racing to a 13-6 lead. Things changed dramatically in the second quarter, however, as Dirigo started to heat up, Waynflete turned the ball over and Veroneau picked up his third foul. By halftime, the Cougars were up, 19-17.

In the third, the top seed got some breathing room as it went up by 14 before a Belleau 3 made it 37-26 with eight minutes to go. Burke picked up his third foul in the period and that only put the Flyers further behind the eight ball.

Dirigo would gradually pull away in the fourth and despite a spirited attempt, Waynflete's season ended with a 55-37 setback. Belleau led the Flyers with eight points. Burke and Veroneau both had six, Runyambo added five.

"The playoff games were quite an experience," said Henry. "The game against Dirigo, to me, was an opportunity to get some more experience playing in Augusta against a very solid team and for the first half, I think we acquitted ourselves rather well. Our Achilles' Heel has been ballhandling, and when Dirigo put pressure on us, we didn’t handle it as well as we would have liked. After the game, my message to the team was to try to reflect on the season that we had and the things they achieved. It’s okay for the loss to hurt. For the returning players, use it for motivation for next year, but to really savor the time we spent together.

"In thinking about the season, it’s useful to put it in the context of the youth of the team and the amount of development that needed to occur over the course of the winter. We graduated six seniors last year and the big question heading into this season centered on how the players were going to step up to make increased contributions and that pertained to the seniors as well as the underclassmen. I have to say, each year I learn something, or have a belief strengthened. This year it was the power of team chemistry. It was good from the beginning and seemed to get stronger from mid-December on. That’s a testament to Joe and Alex, but all of the other players had to buy into what we were doing and make contributions to it, and by and large, they did."

Waynflete will have a tough time replacing Hadiaris and Veroneau, but this year's experience should bode well for the Flyers when they return in 2011-12.

"Joe Veroneau and Alex Hadiaris have both been in unofficial leadership roles for a couple of years at least. As underclassmen, they both were what I like to call low maintenance players. They show up early to practice, always prepared and just work on getting better. Thrust into formal leadership roles, they both flourished, but each took a slightly different path. Alex was much more of a quiet source of advice or mentoring to the younger players. Joe was a little more demonstrative and you heard him more in practice and during games. They’re both such hard workers, it makes a coach’s job that much easier when the kids that don’t have to prove anything are still the hardest workers on the court. I can’t say enough good things about those two. They’re the type players that any coach would love to have on their team.

"You never know what may happen over the course of the offseason, but I’m optimistic about the returning players. As I mentioned before, it takes awhile to get used to playing at a venue like Augusta, so to get that experience as a sophomore bodes well for the future. I think we’ll have a pretty talented group to work with next year, but the key will be how much they work on individual skills in the offseason. After the Dirigo game, as the players will milling around the gym, Mitch Newlin, a captain for next year, gathered them around and starting talking about open gym and some underclassmen tournaments coming up. I thought it was fitting and promising to see these guys, unprompted by me, already planning for next year, standing on the Civic Center court."

Information from the Sun Journal was used in preparing this story

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net and followed on Twitter @foresports