Clippers cruise into semifinals with decisive win over Mountain Valley
PORTLAND—When the Yarmouth boys' basketball team is clicking on all cylinders, it isn't just fun to watch, it's close to unstoppable.
The Mountain Valley Falcons, a program with a long and storied tournament tradition, found that out the hard way Saturday afternoon in a Western Class B quarterfinal round contest at the Portland Exposition Building.
After a nip-and-tuck initial 12-or-so minutes, the fourth-ranked Clippers closed the first half on a 14-3 run to take control and showed no mercy in the second half, pulling away for a stunningly easy 77-52 victory.
Yarmouth featured the usual stellar performances of junior Josh Britten (a game-high 28 points) and senior human-highlight-reel Luke Pierce (14 points and much, much more), but on this afternoon, the Clippers also got great production off the bench from senior Aidan Sullivan and junior Sam Torres, who had a breakout game with 13 points.
Yarmouth improves to 15-4, ended No. 5 Mountain Valley's season at 16-3 and moves on to meet top-ranked Greely (17-2) in the Western B semifinals Thursday at 7:30 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
The good times roll on.
"It felt great," Britten said. "I love these big games, they're so much fun to play in."
"We kept our focus and kept playing hard and you'll get breaks when that happens," added Yarmouth coach Adam Smith. "The boys made the breaks and went on a run and it was tough to stem their tide. I was real pleased."
Yarmouth went 1-17 as recently as 2005-06, but has posted winning records and made the playoffs five years running, the program's best stretch in decades. After losing at home to Lake Region in last year's preliminary round, the Clippers put together a stellar campaign this winter, winning at Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and Greely and downing visiting Falmouth and York en route to a 14-win season, the third time in four years Yarmouth has won at least that many.
Mountain Valley went undefeated last year until running into Falmouth in the semifinals. The Falcons won their first 16 games this winter, but lost at home to Dirigo and at Telstar to close the season.
The Clippers and Mountain Valley don't play in the regular season and had no playoff history.
They have some now.
The first period featured a back-and-forth, anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better scoring frenzy and appropriately ended in a deadlock.
Britten broke the ice with a free throw 20 seconds in. At the other end, just six seconds later, the Falcons went up 3-1 when junior Zachary Radcliffe converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul and free throw). After Yarmouth senior Connor Ertz tied the score with a layup, the Falcons went ahead 6-3 on a 3-ball from senior Cam Kaubris. Clippers senior Matt Murphy tied the game with a three-point play, but Mountain Valley sophomore Jacob Theriault made a layup, was fouled and hit the free throw for a 9-6 advantage with less than two minutes elapsed in the contest.
Yarmouth roared back and went up 11-9 behind a free throw from junior Chris Knaub, a layup from Pierce and a leaner by Britten, but a 3 from Theriault put the Falcons back on top, 12-11. Torres came off the bench and made his presence felt with a layup, but sophomore Adam Volkernick answered for Mountain Valley with a layup. Britten tied the game with a free throw, but the Falcons retook the lead on a putback by junior Izaak Mills. In the final minute, Britten acrobatically tipped home a missed shot and the score was 16-16 after eight riveting minutes of action.
"Clearly, (the Falcons) were lights out in the first quarter," Pierce said. "They were hitting everything. It was a tie game, but we knew were playing well. We knew they'd come out firing. They have great competitors."
"Even coming off the floor in the first quarter tied at 16, I thought we'd played really well," Smith said. "(The Falcons) were shooting lights-out. I didn't think they'd sustain those types of shots."
They wouldn't and by halftime, the Clippers were in command.
Pierce heated up to start the second with a finger roll for two and a layup (off a pretty feed from Britten). After Mills made a foul shot, Yarmouth got three offensive rebounds before Britten finally scored to make it 22-17.
Mountain Valley came back to tie the score on a putback from junior Isaac Roberts and a 3-ball from Radcliffe. After Britten made a layup, the Falcons tied the game one final time at 24-24 when Kaubris sank a jumper with 3:48 remaining in the half.
Then, the Clippers got some breathing room.
With 3:33 to go in the half, Britten sank a 3 to give Yarmouth the lead for good. Sullivan scored on a putback and after a Pierce steal and feed, Torres went to the line and made both attempts for a 31-24 advantage. A 3-pointer from Kaubris stemmed the tide, but a leaner from Pierce, a Britten layup, Sullivan layup and Murphy free throw put the Clippers ahead, 38-27, at halftime.
"We played like we do every single game," said Torres. "We knew what we wanted to do. It's what we've done all season, play great defense, rebound the ball, push up the floor."
As expected, Mountain Valley would make a run in the third period, but Yarmouth fought it off.
Britten started the second half with a 3-ball and a layup to make it 43-27. After Mills made a 3, Britten scored on a layup, but Mills hit another 3 and Kaubris, after a steal, pulled up and drained a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 45-36 with 5:01 to go in the stanza.
The Clippers would right the ship behind Torres, who made consecutive layups to stretch the lead back to 13. Falcons sophomore Ryan Nicols made a free throw, but Yarmouth got a foul shot from Knaub, a layup from Pierce and a free throw from Torres to take a 53-37 advantage to the fourth.
There, the Clippers ran away and hid and iced just their second quarterfinal round win since 1974.
Britten and Pierce began the fourth with layups to push the lead to 20, 57-37. Radcliffe made a layup for Mountain Valley, but Torres countered with one of his own. Kaubris made a layup, but Murphy sank a 3 to make it 62-41 with 4:35 to go.
After Mills made a 3-ball, Britten made consecutive layups and it was a 66-44 contest with 4:01 to go.
After Radcliffe made a layup, Murphy made a free throw, Knaub buried two and Torres made a layup for a 71-46 lead. After a foul shot from Volkernick, Pierce made two free throws and that was it for the starters.
Senior Campbell Belisle-Haley's two foul shots and a layup from sophomore Adam Wriggins ended Yarmouth's scoring and the Clippers slammed the door on the 77-52 triumph.
"We had a week to practice and we practiced really hard," said Pierce. "No letdown. We practiced how we play, so you have to give a lot of credit to our coach. He pushes us every night. It came down to defense, whether it's forcing a bad shot or forcing a turnover. We crashed the boards. We knew we had height on them. We went quarter by quarter. It was all about small increments."
Britten went off for 28 points and added six steals and three rebounds.
"Our defense has been our bread and butter," Britten said. "It works for us every game. We get steals and run the floor."
Pierce (whose heroics included ripping the ball away from a Falcon on an inbounds play and a breathtaking save while flying out of bounds, but not contrary to some reports leaping tall buildings in a single bound) had 14 points, nine boards, three steals and a block.
"Those guys spearhead our effort," said Smith, of his stars. "They do it every game. You know what you'll get from them."
Torres was the unexpected contributor and he stole the show, scoring 13 points, running the point and playing stellar defense.
"We were relentless," Torres said. "That was the key for us down the stretch."
"Sam was unbelievable today," Pierce said. "He was flying down the wing and making fast break layups. Our game plan was putting Sam on their number one scorer, Kaubris. Sam typically takes care of the No. 1 scorer. He locked him down, which was great."
"Defensively, Sam has been a bulldog for us," Smith added. "It's nice having him come off the bench and shut somebody down. For him to get in on the offensive action, the guys felt great for him. I was pleased to see him handle the point and attack the rim like he did. He's gotten a lot of confidence. It stems from his defense."
Murphy had eight points (along with nine rebounds and a steal), Knaub (seven rebounds and a steal) and Sullivan (five rebounds) each had four points.
"Aidan has gotten better and better all year," said Smith. "He hasn't played in high school. This is his first year, as a senior. For him to come into the tournament and do what he did, was great. I told him to stay with it and things would fall for him. He'll be big the rest of the tournament."
Belisle-Haley, Ertz (who had three boards and a steal) and Wriggins all had two points. The Clippers turned the ball over 18 times, but counter to a season-long trend, shot well from the foul line, making 15 of 22 tries.
Mountain Valley was paced by 13 points from Kaubris, 12 from Mills, 10 from Radcliffe, six from Theriault, three apiece from Carter, Nicols and Volkernick and two from Roberts (who had five rebounds). The Falcons committed 21 turnovers and shot 8 of 12 from the free throw stripe.
Yarmouth moves on to the semifinals for the second time in four seasons and has a daunting task against a top-seeded Greely squad which shot the lights out in its quarterfinal round win, 78-56, over No. 8 Gray-New Gloucester.
The teams split the regular season meetings, each winning on the road (Greely, 61-53, on Dec. 13, and Yarmouth, 50-48, Feb. 4).
The Clippers and Rangers have met three prior times in the playoffs. In the 1970 quarterfinals, Greely eked out a 58-57 decision. Yarmouth's lone win came in the 1973 regional final (50-46). Four years ago, in the quarterfinals, the Rangers rolled, 67-53.
The Clippers are flying high, but know they'll face a stern test as they try to make history Thursday.
"Things change a lot, especially with high school boys," Smith said. "This is a totally different team from three years ago. There are a few guys who were on that team and remember that time, but this team is going to make their own way. I don't think a team like this will be as in awe of the (Civic Center) floor. I think we'll fare better earlier on. If we keep it close and can get on our roll, I think the guys can do that."
The players are confident.
"It feels great to come this far, but we're definitely not done," Britten said. "We'll keep it going as long as we can."
"It'll be exactly what we've doing, playing the same way," said Torres. "We'll practice hard and get ready for them. I'm sure we'll come out and play hard like we have all season."
"We're not done," Pierce added. "We believe we can beat anybody in the state regardless of class. That's what it takes, that drive. Everyone's playing for each other. When you have that going for you, a lot of good things can happen."
Looking ahead, the Western B Final is Saturday at 3:45 p.m., at the Civic Center. The Class B state final is Friday, March 4 at 8 p.m., at the Civic Center.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @foresports