PORTLAND—The Falmouth boys’ basketball team did just enough to advance Saturday afternoon, riding clutch play from its seniors down the stretch.
Coming off their only loss of the season, the second-ranked Yachtsmen had to scratch and claw to get rid of pesky No. 7 York in the Western Class B quarterfinals at the Portland Exposition Building, but pulled away in the final moments en route to a 59-49 victory, which allowed them to advance to Thursday’s semifinals against No. 3 Mountain Valley.
Senior Stefano Mancini had 24 points, including nine in the fourth period, and classmates Sam Horning and Ryan Rogers both added 13 as Falmouth improved to 18-1 on the season.
“We’ve played games in the preseason and Christmas tournament to know how to handle these situations,” said Mancini. “We’ve been challenged a lot of times this year. I think our experience helped us out a lot.”
“Give them credit,” added Falmouth coach Dave Halligan, of York. “They played well. They had 30 points in the first half. We tightened up the defense and got a little bit of separation in the second half.”
Too many weapons
Falmouth, the preseason favorite, lived up to billing from the get-go, riding the sharpshooting of seniors Mancini and Rogers, the inside dominance of senior John Roberts and sophomore Jack Cooleen and the all-around skills of Horning and senior Jahrel Registe to a 17-game winning streak. The Yachtsmen, in what perhaps was a blessing in disguise, lost by three points at home to rival Cape Elizabeth in the regular season finale Feb. 5.
“No one likes to lose, but a loss at a good time is good for you,” Rogers said. “It deflated our egos a little bit and made us realize we’re beatable and made us hungry to come in here. We don’t want to lose again.”
York lost its opener, then won five in a row. The Wildcats wound up 11-7 and along the way put scares into Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth, while beating the likes of Greely and Yarmouth.
The Yachtsmen beat the Wildcats, 79-43, at home back on Jan. 14, then held on for a 60-56 win at York on Feb. 2. The teams have no prior playoff history.
Falmouth had all of its weapons on display in the first period, but couldn’t shake York.
Just 15 seconds in, Rogers fed Registe for a layup. The next trip down, Roberts collected a rebound and put it home for a 4-0 lead. After the Wildcats got on the board on senior Jared Prugar’s layup, Mancini answered with one of his own. With 6:03 left in the quarter, senior Jason Gorman, in a sign of his dominance to come, made a layup for the Wildcats, but Mancini hit two free throws and Rogers fed Horning for a layup and a 10-4 lead.
York came right back with a three-point play from Gorman and a layup after a steal by senior Sam Leal. Mancini answered with a 3-ball, Rogers made a layup and Mancini sank one free throw for a 16-9 advantage before Prugar ended the run with a layup. After Mancini made a layup, Leal hit a 3 and Prugar made a leaner to make it 18-16. Rogers made a layup after a steal, but Gorman answered with a spinner. With 38.1 seconds left, Roberts scored on a hook shot and the Yachtsmen took a 22-18 lead into the second period.
There, York scored the first six points to take its only lead.
A layup from sophomore Ilija Lukic got things started. After sophomore Liam Langaas sank a jump shot, Gorman made a transition layup to put the Wildcats up, 24-22.
The lead lasted all of seven seconds as Roberts got free for a dunk at the other end. A minute later, Mancini’s 3 put Falmouth ahead to stay. After Gorman answered with a layup, Roberts made a free throw. After a steal and a miss, Horning scored on a putback. With 3:27 to go in the half, Gorman made a short baseline jumper to pull York back within two, 30-28, but Mancini canned a floater. After Gorman made two free throws with 49.6 seconds remaining, the Yachtsmen ran out the clock before turning the ball over and the underdog Wildcats happily went to the locker room down by only a pair, 32-30.
Early in the third, it appeared Falmouth was about to get separation, but again York hung tough.
A Rogers transition layup was answered by a pair of Gorman free throws before Rogers hit a 3 and Horning made a layup after a steal for a 39-32 lead. Prugar hit a foul shot before a Rogers floater put the Yachtsmen up eight, 41-33. The Wildcats then got back to within two, thanks to three foul shots from Gorman, two from Leal and one from sophomore Michael King, and it was anyone’s game entering the fourth.
York didn’t make a field goal in the third.
York had a chance to tie or go ahead to begin the final stanza, but turned the ball over. At the other end, a Rogers left-handed layup ended a 4 minute, 33 second drought and made it 43-39. Mancini then ended his second half slumber by hitting two foul shots. With 6:25 to go, Langaas sank a 3 for the Wildcats’ first field goal of the half. They had a chance to get even closer, but turned the ball over on their next possession and Mancini made them pay by hitting a clutch 3. With 4:53 to play, Langaas made one of two free throws and York was back within five, but with 4:25 to go , Mancini hit yet another 3 for a 51-43 lead.
“I tried to stay patient in the third quarter when I took just one shot,” Mancini said. “I waited for the guys to find me at the right time. I knocked them down.”
Gorman answered with a bank shot. After a Falmouth miss, the Wildcats looked to get closer, but again suffered an untimely turnover. Then, with 1:39 left, after running more than a minute off the clock, Falmouth pushed its lead to eight, 53-45, on two Horning free throws.
After another crucial York turnover, Mancini had a chance to make it a double-digit game when he was fouled, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one and at the other end, Prugar made a layup to pull the Wildcats within 53-47 with 51 seconds to go. Horning was immediately fouled and missed the front end of his one-and-one, but a York lane violation gave him a second chance. He then calmly sank two free throws. After a Wildcats miss, Mancini hit one of two foul shots and it was 56-47 with 41.7 seconds to go.
With 33.4 seconds left, Prugar got the rebound of a missed 3 from Gorman and put it home, but it was too little, too late. Horning made two foul shots with 31.5 ticks left, then drained one more with 15 seconds to go and the Yachtsmen held on and advanced, 59-49.
“Every time we made a run, we got too comfortable and they made a run and got back into it,” said Rogers. “It was a game of runs. We did a good job in the fourth quarter of actually putting them away.”
“York’s a terrific team that played strong at the end of the season, so we knew it was going to be tough,” added Halligan. “We hung tough and I think the seniors came through for us at the end. Some kids who haven’t played a lot for us also came through. We tell kids to be prepared because you never know. (Junior) Michael Lafond and (sophomore) Michael Ryan came in and did a tremendous job. I’m proud of them.
“The Cape game refocused us. When York made a run, they didn’t get over the hump. We got refocused right away and solved the situation.”
Mancini led all scorers. Rogers had three assists, in addition to his 13 points. Roberts finished with seven points (and seven rebounds, including three offensive) and Registe added two. The Yachtsmen shot 14-of-19 from the line and turned the ball over 12 times.
York (11-8) was paced by Gorman, who bowed out with a sensational 22.
“He’s a difference-maker,” Halligan said, of Gorman.
Prugar added 11, Leal had seven, Langaas six, Lukic two and King one. The Wildcats shot 12-of-16 from the charity stripe, but couldn’t overcome 22 turnovers.
The win sets up a semifinal round showdown against 19-0 Mountain Valley Thursday at 9 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Falmouth didn’t play the Falcons in the regular year. The teams’ lone prior playoff meeting came in the 2006 regional final (a 47-40 win for the Falcons).
“It might be a stereotype, but teams from up there are always disciplined, played good defense and run their stuff,” Mancini said. We’ll be prepared.”
“They’re unbeaten for a reason, so obviously they’re good,” Rogers said. “We don’t really know much about them. Coach will prepare us and we’ll be ready to go.”
“Mountain Valley’s always good,” Halligan added. “They’re tough kids. We better not take them lightly. We have a lot of respect for that program. We’ll prepare for their aggressiveness. They’ll shoot the ball and play great defense. We have to match their intensity and play a good game.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com