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FALMOUTH—The recipe for winning a postseason game doesn’t usually include 30 turnovers and a 5-for-17 performance from the free throw line, but the Falmouth girls’ basketball team was able to overcome and persevere Wednesday evening.
A game that was anything but pretty to start wound up turning into a thriller down the stretch as the Yachtsmen rallied from an early 10-point deficit and seemed home free up eight midway through the fourth quarter, but the Cape Elizabeth Capers, seeking their first trip to the quarterfinals since 1996, scored eight straight to force overtime, then, down six with a minute to go in the extra session, rallied again behind a pair of 3-pointers to necessitate a second OT. There, Falmouth finally slammed the door thanks to the clutch play of senior Anna Keeler and junior Jess DiPhillippo as it held on for a 46-41 victory.
With the win, the Yachtsmen secured a quarterfinal round date with undefeated, top-ranked and defending regional champion York Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., at the Portland Expo.
“It took us awhile to get into it,” Keeler said. “Cape came in fired up and played a great game. In the end, we got pumped up. We have our pride and heart and realized we could do it. We just wanted it. We’ve gotten this far. We didn’t want to lose in double overtime.”
Too close to call
While Cape Elizabeth has been at one end of the postseason spectrum in recent years, Falmouth has enjoyed its share of success, reaching the regional final in 2007 and 2008 and making it to the semifinals a year ago. The Yachtsmen were hit hard by graduation and weren’t expected to be a top contender this winter, but they won enough games to qualify for the playoffs and Friday night’s 45-41 home win over the Capers allowed them to move into the No. 8 spot and host Cape Elizabeth, which finished 9-9 (its best regular season record since 1996), in a prelim.
The teams had no prior playoff history, but certainly made some Wednesday.
The Capers looked like the postseason veteran in the early going. Just 10 seconds in, senior Morgan Pillsbury, hinting at a huge night to come, scored on a bank shot. Thirteen seconds later, Pillsbury was fouled after the Yachtsmen’s second turnover and made both free throws for a quick 4-0 lead.
The hosts got on the board when DiPhillippo hit a long jump shot, but Pillsbury picked off another pass and fed senior Alicen Johnson for a layup. After Keeler scored on a putback, Pillsbury drained a jumper, sophomore Kayla Raftice scored on a putback and Pillsbury made a layup after yet another steal to make it 12-4 and force Falmouth coach Kristi Ouellette to call timeout.
The Yachtsmen responded when Keeler made a layup, sophomore Jackie Doyle scored on a putback and Keeler hit a foul shot, but with 53.8 seconds left, Johnson hit a jump shot and the Capers had a 14-9 lead after one quarter.
In the first eight minutes, Falmouth turned the ball over seven times.
Things didn’t improve much for the hosts in the second period.
After a Pillsbury runner pushed Cape Elizabeth’s lead to seven, Keeler took a pass from DiPhillippo and made a layup, ending a 4 minute, 24 second drought and a 7-0 run. Pillsbury answered with a putback, then buried a 3 with 4:11 to go in the half, making it 21-11, but the Capers wouldn’t score again before the break.
Falmouth got a layup from sophomore Laney Evers and a Evers free throw to pull within 21-14 at halftime, but 14 turnovers created a pretty steep hole.
The Yachtsmen were a vastly different team at the start of the third period and quickly got right back in the game.
Just 20 seconds in, freshman Kylie Libby fed sophomore Jenna Serunian for a layup. Keeler then made a layup to make it a 21-18 game, forcing Cape Elizabeth coach Chris Roberts to call timeout.
“Toward the end of the second quarter, we were getting into the game,” Keeler said. “We had a good halftime talk.”
“Going into it, we knew there would be postseason jitters,” added Ouellette. “We came back. I wasn’t sure at halftime how we’d respond. We’ve had games where we turned it up and we did tonight. We got quick points off the press and that gave us confidence.”
With 4:38 to go in the third, Pillsbury made the second of two free throws to end a 7-0 run and a 7 minute, 33 second drought, putting the Capers up by four, 22-18. Evers answered with a leaner and with 2:10 left in the quarter, Libby fed Serunian for another layup, creating the first tie of the game, 22-22. With 1:17 to go, Johnson scored on a putback (her shot went around and around and around before finally falling through), ending a 10 minute, 54 second field goal drought.
“Defense hasn’t been a struggle all year, for the most part, but putting points on the board can be a struggle,” said Roberts. “We’re not cursed, but we’re unlucky. We’re trying to put the ball in the basket, but we can’t make it go in. It’s been our nemesis all year.”
In the final minute of the quarter, DiPhillippo made a layup and Evers sank a jumper, giving the hosts their first lead, 26-24. A 3 by Pillsbury at the horn was waved off due to an offensive foul and the Yachtsmen took plenty of momentum into the fourth.
A Keeler layup started the fourth period scoring. After junior Emily Donovan made a free throw for Cape Elizabeth, DiPhillippo made a layup, then hit a 3 to make it 33-25. Capers senior Gabe Donahue finally got in the scoring column with a runner, but with 4:50 to go, Doyle made a jumper, ending a 24-6 surge and giving Falmouth a 35-27 lead.
But the Yachtsmen wouldn’t score again in regulation and Cape Elizabeth embarked on its first comeback.
First, Donahue hit a short jump shot. Johnson followed with a bank shot and with 2:07 to go, Johnson was fouled after a steal and made both free throws to make it a one-possession contest, 35-33. With 1:38 left, Donahue scored on a spinner while being fouled. She missed the free throw, but the game was tied, 35-35.
After a Falmouth turnover, the Capers ran down the clock and held for the final attempt, but with four seconds left, Pillsbury missed an off-balance shot. DiPhillippo attempted a halfcourt prayer to win it, but it well off the mark and it was on to overtime.
Cape Elizabeth won the tip to start the OT and Donahue attemped to put her team up with a 3-pointer, but it was blocked by DiPhillippo. Donahue then attempted a spin shot that was off target, but the Capers got the ball right back after a turnover.
With 2:53 left in the four-minute extra session, Donovan went to the line for a one-and-one, but missed the front end. After an offensive rebound, Donovan missed a jumper and with 1:59 to go, a jumper from Keeler put Falmouth up, 37-35.
With 1:35 remaining, DiPhillippo fed Keeler for a layup and 11 seconds later, Libby made a layup to seemingly put it away.
Still, Cape Elizabeth wouldn’t buckle.
After Donahue missed a 3 and Johnson was off on a follow, Donovan had a look at a 3 and buried it with 1 minute to go. The Yachtsmen turned the ball over, but Donahue missed another 3. Libby got the rebound and was fouled, but she missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Capers had another chance. With just 10.6 seconds left, Pillsbury got a good look and her shot was true. Falmouth couldn’t get another shot off and the second overtime was necessary with the score deadlocked, 41-41.
After the teams traded missed shots in the second OT, the Yachtsmen finally took the lead for good when DiPhillippo made two free throws. Doyle stole the ensuing inbounds pass and fed Keeler for a layup, making it 45-41.
After the teams traded turnovers, Raftice went to the line, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Falmouth turned the ball over for a 30th time, but Pillsbury missed a shot, then Donahue was off on the follow.
With just 35.8 seconds remaining, DiPhillippo went to the line, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. At the other end, Pillsbury missed a runner and Serunian grabbed the board. She fed DiPhillippo, who was fouled with 9.9 seconds left. DiPhillippo canned the first free throw, which iced it and the Yachtsmen survived, finally, 46-41.
“They pulled out some great shots from great players and fought back every time we got the lead,” Ouellette said. “I give them a lot of credit, but I also give us credit for not hanging our heads going into the two overtimes. We battled back and fought with what we had. We had intensity and wanted to win. It was a very good team effort. I’m very proud of them. They’ve shown me they can play as a team and hang together, no matter what happens.”
Cape Elizabeth just couldn’t quite complete the dramatic comeback.
“A couple times when I looked up, I didn’t think it was over, but I think everyone else thought it was over,” Roberts said. “It said everything about the girls. We never give up. Despite the fact we might not play well and we might make stupid decisions, we never gave up. We did it twice. At the end, we just ran out of gas. It was a battle of attrition. To (Falmouth’s) credit, they made baskets when they had to. We had chances to win it. We didn’t get it done. I think for us, it’s having an opportunity. Unfortunately, the ball didn’t go in the basket, but as a coach, that’s all you can ask for. Sometimes you’ll come out on the winning end, but tonight we didn’t. We just couldn’t get it when we needed it.”
Keeler wound up with a sensational stat line of 17 points and nine rebounds.
“Anna’s leadership tonight was outstanding,” said Ouellette. “She kept going at it.”
DiPhillippo wound up with 12 points (and four assists). Evers added seven, Doyle and Serunian (13 boards) each had four and Libby finished with two (and five assists).
For the Capers, Pillsbury had a team (and game) high 19 points. Johnson bowed out with 10, Donahue had six, Donovan four and Raftice two.
“It was a great game to watch,” said Roberts. “Surprisingly, I feel OK about it. I’m disappointed, but the hardest part is saying goodbye to (Alicen, Gabe, Morgan and Devon Bottomley). They’ve done the heavy lifting. The underclassmen don’t understand how much they’ve done. They’ve done more than any group I’ve ever seen or heard of as a coach or a player, in high school or college. They’ve turned a program around. We were suffering 53-point losses two years ago and suddenly we’re competing with top teams in the league. For the seniors, it’s a self-esteem boost. They can walk out of here with their heads held high. They helped direct us for what’s to come. They’ve set the bar. There will be big shoes to fill when they leave.”
Cape Elizabeth will have to wait at least another year to play in the Expo, but this program has become viable once again.
“You never know,” Roberts said. “I think kids surprise you. You don’t know if it’s incoming freshmen or kids who were sitting on the bench. You get a bug. Everything Gabe did came from a bug. She was tired of the program being terrible. I don’t know who will get the bug. It’s exciting. The opportunities for playing time and leadership are there. We’ll see who wants to step up. I think only positive things will come.”
Falmouth will meet a York team which won the two regular season meetings easily (55-30 in York Jan. 14 and 61-37 at home Feb. 2). The Wildcats also eliminated the Yachtsmen from the playoffs a year ago in the semifinals, 47-37. Despite being huge underdogs, Falmouth will show up Tuesday night and battle for 32 minutes.
“It means a lot to get back to the Expo,” Keeler said. “Last year, we had a really strong senior class. This year, we surprised ourselves with how good we are. We proved to ourselves that we can do it. We have nothing to lose. We’ll go out and give it our all.”
“We know there’s a lot of work to do against York, but the privilege of getting back to the Expo is important,” Ouellette added. “They’re very, very deep. We have to find a way to try and stop them. It has to come from the defense first, then finding a way to score.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]