PORTLAND—The Falmouth girls’ basketball team had Christmas come early Thursday evening.
Trailing plucky host Waynflete by six points with just over a minute to go, the Yachtsmen turned up the defensive intensity, forced three successive turnovers which led to two layups and a 3-pointer from junior Jackie Doyle, which banked home with 13 seconds to go.
As time wound down, Flyers senior Lydia Stegemann had a great look at a potential game winning shot in the lane, but it was short and Falmouth escaped with a 42-41 victory in an entertaining interclass battle.
The Yachtsmen improved to 3-0 under new coach Mari Warner, while Waynflete suffered its first loss in three outings.
“We made the plays when we had to,” Warner said.
Teams to watch
Falmouth was a Western B quarterfinalist a year ago, finishing 11-9 after falling, 40-20, to eventual state champion York. Warner, a one-time player at Thornton Academy and a longtime high school and college coach in New York state, took over the program this season and has been impressed with the Yachtsmen’s willingness to embrace her system. Falmouth enjoyed opening wins over Gray-New Gloucester (41-28) and Freeport (61-31).
Waynflete has been to the Western C Finals two years running. They went 15-4 a year ago, falling, 37-23, to Madison. Despite losing standout Morgan Woodhouse to graduation, the Flyers once again appear to be a top contender in their region, handling North Yarmouth Academy (65-49) and Fryeburg Academy (53-30) in their first two contests.
Thursday, the teams squared off for the fourth straight year (Falmouth took two of the previous three, including a narrow 47-44 decision last winter) and this one would be tight for 32 minutes.
Sophomore sharpshooter Martha Veroneau got the hosts off to a good start by sinking a 3-pointer 59 seconds in. The Yachtsmen answered as junior Laney Evers converted a layup and senior captain Caitlin Costello scored on a putback, but Veroneau buried another 3 for a 6-4 advantage.
After Evers tied the score with a jump shot, Stegemann stole a pass and raced in for a layup to put the Flyers back on top. Costello answered with a jumper and a layup, but with 3 seconds to go, Stegemann made a layup to make it a 10-10 game after one.
When Stegemann made a bank shot and followed with a jumper early in the second stanza, Waynflete appeared to have some breathing room, but the Flyers would go cold for the next five minutes, allowing the visitors to take control.
A layup followed by a putback followed by two foul shots from junior Jenna Serunian put Falmouth on top, 16-14. Senior Jess DiPhillippo made a leaner, Doyle scored on a putback, Serunian made one of two free throws, then Serunian capped a 13-0 run with a layup with 1:20 to go before halftime, making it 23-14 Yachtsmen.
Finally, with 46 seconds left in the half, Veroneau canned a 3-ball to end a 5:03 scoreless stretch, allowing Waynflete to pull within six, 23-17, at the break.
Flyers coach Brandon Salway wasn’t happy with his team’s play in the first 16 minutes (returning to bench for the third quarter after a group of Waynflete fifth and sixth graders scrimmaged during halftime, the coach said of the youngsters, “They’re playing a lot better than we are!”), but Waynflete would turn it up a notch in the second half and almost pull off the upset.
For most of the third period, the teams traded baskets. First, Stegemann hit a short jumper, but DiPhillippo answered with a layup. After senior Liz Lewis made a layup for the hosts, DiPhillippo responded with a turnaround. Lewis made another layup, but again DiPhillippo answered, this time with a bank shot, to make it 29-23.
The Flyers then closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to take the lead.
After Stegemann sank a 3-pointer, sophomore Rhiannan Jackson, who had a quiet first half, scored on a layup after a turnover. Twenty seconds later, she did it again and it was 30-29 Waynflete with eight minutes to play.
A Jackson 3 early in the fourth pushed the Flyers’ lead to four. After Costello made a free throw, Veroneau made her fourth 3-pointer of the game with 6:18 to go and Waynflete was up 36-30.
With 4:27 showing, Warner sent Serunian (who was battling foul trouble in the second half) back into the contest, hoping it would provide a spark. It did as DiPhillippo made a 3-pointer with 3:25 remaining, but after Evers missed two free throw opportunities to bring her team closer, Veroneau fed Stegemann for a layup with 2:37 to play and Waynflete had a 38-33 lead.
At the other end, Serunian made a layup, but with 2:04 left, Jackson calmly sank a 3 and the Flyers appeared to be in command, up 41-35.
“Rhiannan had open looks in the first half, but looked to pass,” Salway said. “I told her at halftime to look to score. We know what she’s capable of, but I don’t think others do. She should feel good about the game she played.”
After the Yachtsmen failed to convert at the other end, Waynflete attempted to run some clock, but with 1:03 left, Doyle stole the ball and raced in for a layup to make it 41-37.
The Flyers turned the ball over again and with 38 seconds to go, DiPhillippo scored on a layup and suddenly it was 41-39.
Waynflete had another chance to run clock and perhaps get to the line to salt away the victory, but it couldn’t hold on to the ball. With 30 seconds remaining, Falmouth stole the ball again and after working it around to Doyle was rewarded when the junior’s 3-point attempt, which appeared off-target, instead kissed the glass and bounced home.
With 13 seconds left, the Yachtsmen had their first lead of the quarter, 42-41.
The game was not over, however.
Eschewing a timeout, the Flyers came downcourt looking for the winner and got the ball to Stegemann alone in the lane. Her shot with 4 seconds to go was on target, but wound up just short. Falmouth snared the rebound and time expired on its scintillating 42-41 come-from-behind triumph.
“We haven’t even practiced special situations,” Warner said. “That was just the kids learning on the fly. They have the potential to do that, which is huge. We had key steals, Jackie and Jess. We’ll take the luck.”
The hosts were left shellshocked.
“It’s really tough,” Salway lamented, about a potential Heal Points-rich victory slipping away. “We had a six-point lead with the ball and didn’t even get to shoot foul shots. In hindsight, there were a couple timeouts I could have called there. We pulled (the ball out to stall) and I didn’t think it was too early. They made good defensive plays. Hopefully we learn from it. Next time we’re in this situation, hopefully we pull it out. It was a great second half which makes it even more disappointing.”
DiPhillippo led the Yachtsmen with 13 points. Serunian added 11, Costello and Doyle seven each and Evers had four.
While Falmouth is 3-0, Warner knows this team has a long way to go.
“I told the kids we can’t just be happy with just a ‘W’ anymore for our program,” she said. “We have to play better basketball. Our game plan worked really well in the first half. I have to credit Waynflete, their role players really stepped up and hit critical 3s and forced us out of our game plan. They got us into a frenzy. We’re working on fundamentals as we add more layering. Each game we do one thing better than the game before.”
The Yachtsmen have some stern tests upcoming. They visit rival Greely Saturday at 4:30 p.m. and host perennial contender Lake Region Wednesday evening.
“I personally don’t know about rivals,” Warner said. “I’ll find out quick.”
Waynflete got a game-high 15 points from Stegemann. Veroneau added 12 points, Jackson had 10 and Lewis finished with four.
“We created a lot of chances in the second half,” Salway said. “At halftime, it didn’t look good. If we kept playing like that, we would have lost by 15 or 20. We made shots and put pressure on. I told them I was proud of our second half, but we have to learn to close games out. I don’t want to say we gave it away, but everything was in our favor.”
The Flyers go to Old Orchard Beach Saturday and close the 2010 portion of their schedule Tuesday at Sacopee.
Waynflete should only get stronger going forward.
“I feel great,” said Salway. “I like my team. We’re scrappy. I think we’re gaining confidence. We’re young still and have young kids in key positions. Sophomores out there trying to compete against seniors and that can be the difference. We’ll try to bounce back.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com