FALMOUTH—The Falmouth boys’ basketball team’s tour of the top Western Class B contenders continued Saturday afternoon and as they have all winter, the Yachtsmen passed another test.
Hosting up-and-coming Poland, Falmouth led virtually the whole way, but saw a seemingly safe nine-point advantage dwindle to one in the waning seconds.
Senior Matt Packard then stepped up and sank two clutch free throws and the Yachtsmen defense forced Poland senior standout Tyler Littlefield into a desperation 3 as time expired.
It didn’t even come close and Falmouth held on for a 61-58 victory. The Yachtsmen improved to 4-0 on the year, dropping Poland to 2-2.
“Poland really fights hard,” Packard said. “A lot of people underestimate them. We knew what was coming because of last year. We knew it would be close at the end. Especially if we let them get confidence and that’s exactly what happened.”
Falmouth is showing signs of returning to the championship form it displayed in the 2009-10 season when it brought home the Class B Gold Ball. Last year’s squad just missed the playoffs with an 8-10 record, but this winter, the Yachtsmen are passing every test.
After opening with a 60-37 home win over defending regional champion Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth had its way at Fryeburg, 66-37, then rallied past host Greely, 55-48.
Poland is a program on the rise. Led by Littlefield, the Knights opened with wins at Lake Region (67-48) and Wells (64-53) before falling at home to preseason favorite York, 64-52.
Last year, in Falmouth, Poland sprung the upset over the Yachtsmen, 51-50.
Saturday’s game mirrored last year’s game until the very end when this time, the Yachtsmen held on.
The pace was back and forth from the get-go and it appeared as if Falmouth was in command after one quarter.
After Poland got the jump on two free throws from Drew Peterson (giving the Knights their lone lead), the Yachtsmen drew even on a layup by senior Jack Cooleen and went on top, 4-2, when senior Matt Kingry drained a jump shot. The Knights tied it up on a layup from Logan Nichols, but a Cooleen layup with 4:50 left in the opening stanza put Falmouth ahead to stay.
Packard followed with a leaner and after Ricky Bryant made two foul shots for the visitors, Cooleen got free on an inbounds pass and scored on an easy layup and senior Alex Cattell took a pass that went through a defender’s legs from junior Grant Burfeind, made a layup, was fouled and completed the old-fashioned three-point play with a free throw for a 13-6 advantage.
After Bryant made a layup, Burfeind sank a 3, Cattell scored on a layup and senior Ryan MacDonald made a layup after a steal for a commanding 20-8 lead. In the final minute, Littlefield finally got in the scoring column with a layup after a steal, but in the waning seconds, Burfeind made a jump shot that made it 22-10 Yachtsmen after eight minutes of play.
The Knights got their offense going in the second quarter, but Falmouth kept the pressure on.
Littlefield started the quarter with a 3-ball, but Packard answered with one of his own. After Littlefield sank a jump shot, Cattell made a 3 to give the Yachtsmen their biggest lead, 28-15.
Nate Rybeck made a 3, Littlefield followed with a layup and Nichols’ bank shot cut the deficit to 28-22, but junior Charlie Fay answered with a layup and Burfeind hit another 3 to make it a 33-22 contest.
“(Making 3s is) a big part of our game,” said Packard. “When we can get guys open, we feel like anyone can hit them. We need to get the ball inside first.
After Nichols made a 3 and Bryant hit two foul shots to cut the deficit to 33-27, Packard stemmed the tide by banking home a tough angle leaner. Nichols made two free throws, but Burfeind countered with a jumper. A bank shot from Littlefield was followed by a possession where twice the Knights had a look at layup, but missed.
At the other end, Cattell hit a 3 to push the lead to nine, but in the waning seconds, Peterson made a free throw, then Littlefield stole the ball and raced in for a dunk that made it a 40-34 game at the half.
Despite his slow start, Littlefield led all scorers with 14 points at the break. Nichols’ nine and Bryant’s eight helped keep Poland close, while Cattell’s 11 and Burfeind’s 10 helped Falmouth retain the lead.
The game would remain tight for the whole second half.
Burfeind started the second half with a bank shot, but Peterson countered with a layup. A Cooleen jumper was answered by a layup from C.J. Martin. Cooleen scored on a hook shot, but Peterson made a layup and Bryant did the same to cut the deficit to 46-42.
With 4:21 to go in the third, Packard hit a 3-ball, but Littlefield answered with a jumper, then a 3 to make it a 49-47 contest.
After longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan called a timeout, Kingry hit a jump shot and Fay made a layup, but Littlefield answered with another 3 and entering the final quarter, the Yachtsmen were only ahead by three, 53-50.
Poland appeared doomed early in the fourth when a 4 minute, 57 second scoring drought put it on the ropes. Falmouth got 3s from Packard and Kingry to go up 59-50 with under four minutes to go before the Knights once again roared back.
Littlefield got the rally started with a leaner with 3:26 to play. A Littlefield layup with 1:47 to go made it 59-54.
Kingry went to the line for a one-and-one 23 seconds later, but missed the front end. Nichols was fouled at the other end and made one free throw to cut the deficit to four with a minute to play.
Kingry had another opportunity at the line with 43.6 seconds remaining, but again missed the front end of a one-and-one. After a Martin miss, the Knights kept possession and Littlefield made things very interesting by canning a 3 with 19.5 seconds showing.
Suddenly, Poland had crawled within a single point, 59-58.
After getting the ball across halfcourt, Falmouth got it in the hands of Packard, who was fouled with 10.5 seconds to play.
Packard went to the line with the game still hanging in the balance and calmly hit the front end of the one-and-one, then added a second free throw to push the lead to 61-58.
“I was thinking I had to make them,” said Packard. “There was no other option because they’d hit any shot. They were on a surge. I pictured them going in and I made them. I’d rather be there than anybody else.”
The Knights would have a final chance to tie and to no one’s surprise, the ball came to Littlefield who attempted a contested 3 over a pair of defenders.
The shot wasn’t even close, clanging high off the backboard and the Yachtsmen had survived, 61-58.
“It was shades of last year,” Halligan said. “There’s no quit in that team. They work and work and work. If you don’t take care of business, they’ll hang around until the end. We knew they needed a 3. We’d trade a two in that situation so we overplayed the 3. It’s huge for us to have a game like this.”
Packard led Falmouth with 15 points, helping the Yachtsmen earn another large dose of confidence.
“Against (Poland) most of all, memories come back from last year and after one small thing we put our heads down,” Packard said. “Coach talked to us about that. We realize it’s our time to be leaders as seniors. Now we’re experienced.”
Burfeind (who was again a big spark off the bench) added 12 points, Cattell 11, Cooleen 10, Kingry seven, Fay four and MacDonald two.
The Yachtsmen drained eight 3-pointers and only shot five free throws, making three.
Littlefield led all scorers with 23 points. Bryant and Nichols each added 10, Peterson seven, Martin five and Rybeck three. The Knights hit six 3-balls and wound up 10-of-12 from the charity stripe.
Poland is back in action Thursday when it hosts Greely in the 2011 finale.
Falmouth continues its challenging stretch when it hosts Yarmouth Tuesday night. The Yachtsmen finish the 2011 portion of their schedule Thursday at home against Traip Academy.
“Yarmouth’s always a test,” said Packard.
“The Western Maine Conference is a tough league,” said Halligan. “It gets you battle tested by tournament time. We get a little bit better each day. We still have a long way to go. The older kids will hold the fort until the younger kids come along in the middle or end of the season.”
P- 10 24 16 8- 58
F- 22 18 13 8- 61
P- Littlefield 10-0-23, Nichols 3-3-10, Bryant 3-4-10, Peterson 2-3-7, Martin 2-0-5, Rybeck 1-0-3
F- Packard 5-2-15, Burfeind 5-0-12, Cattell 4-1-11, Cooleen 5-0-10, Kingry 3-0-7, Fay 2-0-4, MacDonald 1-0-2
P (6)- Littlefield 3, Martin, Nichols, Rybeck 1
F (8)- Packard 3, Burfeind, Cattell 2, Kingry