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Falmouth junior Michael Simonds drives to the basket during the Yachtsmen’s 55-41 win over Brunswick in Saturday’s Class A South quarterfinal. Simonds had a game-high 21 points.
Eric Maxim / Times Record photos.
More photos below.
B- 9 13 4 5- 31
F- 17 4 13 11- 45
B- F. Mitchell 7-0-15, Sharpe 5-1-11, Kilfoil 2-0-4, A. Mitchell 0-1-1
F- Simonds 7-4-21, Hester 6-2-14, Manganello 2-0-4, Williams 1-1-3, Pitre 0-2-2, Gravier 0-1-1
B (1) F. Mitchell 1
F (3) Simonds 3
PORTLAND—Last winter, Michael Simonds had to watch the high school basketball tournament from the bench.
And while he had a great vantage point, spending that much time next to coach Dave Halligan and feeling helpless while Falmouth survived York in double-overtime of the quarterfinals before dropping a heartbreaker to eventual repeat state champion Greely in the semifinals, was far from ideal.
Saturday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, Simonds finally got to take the floor again in a playoff game and he more than made up for lost time, helping the third-ranked Yachtsmen fight off valiant No. 6 Brunswick in a Class A South quarterfinal.
Simonds drained a pair of early 3s and had 11 points and two assists in a first quarter that ended 17-9 Falmouth.
The Dragons then stunned those on hand by controlling the second period and an 11-2 run, capped by a floater from senior Finn Mitchell, spelled a surprising 22-21 halftime lead.
The Yachtsmen regrouped in the locker room and began feeding senior big man Nik Hester, who made a layup with 5:57 remaining in the third quarter to put Falmouth ahead to stay and the Yachtsmen closed the frame on a 6-0 run, with all of the points coming from Simonds, to lead, 34-26.
Falmouth’s defense, which allowed just nine Brunswick second half points, never let the Dragons entertain a comeback, and the Yachtsmen gradually pulled away and prevailed, 45-31.
Simonds had a game-high 21 points, Hester added 14 and Falmouth improved to 14-5, ended Brunswick’s season at 9-10 and in the process, advanced to meet second-seeded York (16-3) in the Class A South semifinals Thursday at 6 p.m., at the Cross Insurance Arena.
“It’s just awesome to play,” Simonds said. “Last year was so hard to watch, especially the playoffs. Being a part of it this year is so much fun.”
Falmouth won six of its first seven games and 11 of its first 13 this winter, but the Yachtsmen struggled down the stretch, going just 2-3. Falmouth was still able to garner the No. 3 seed in the region and was able to avoid Greely’s bracket, meaning the rivals wouldn’t square off until the regional final, if both advance.
Brunswick, meanwhile, was 9-9 in the regular season and finished sixth in the region.
Way back on Dec. 14, the host Yachtsmen handled the Dragons, 64-36, as Hester had 21 points.
Falmouth won the only prior playoff meeting, 58-44, in the 2016 Class A South Final en route to the program’s most recent state title.
Saturday, the Yachtsmen took care of business, but the win didn’t come as easily as some expected.
Simonds first made his presence felt with a 3-pointer 73 seconds in.
After the Dragons got a layup from senior Mitchell, Simonds sank another 3, then took a pass from senior Doug Cooke and made a layup for an 8-2 advantage.
Sophomore Evan Kilfoil hit a jumper for Brunswick, but Simonds set up Hester for a layup.
After Mitchell drove for a layup, Simonds stole the ball and passed to Hester for a layup and with 2:35 on the clock, a Simonds 3 put the Yachtsmen up, 15-6.
“We were all pretty amped up before the game,” Simonds said. “We were ready to go.”
“It’s much better having (Michael) back,” Halligan said. “He’s a gamer and he’s a player. He was fired up for this one.”
The Dragons ended the run when senior Sam Sharpe made a layup, but senior Sam Manganello countered with a layup for Falmouth before Sharpe’s free throw pulled Brunswick within 17-9 after eight minutes.
The Dragons roared in the second quarter and came all the way back to take the lead.
Sharpe opened the period with a putback and after Simonds answered with two foul shots, Brunswick closed the half strong.
Sharpe got the comeback started by putting home a missed shot in reverse layup fashion. Mitchell then made a layup and after Hester set up Manganello for a layup and Falmouth’s final points with 5:17 remaining in the half, Sharpe knocked down a jumper over the outstretched arm of Hester, Mitchell sank a 3 and with 1:40 left, Mitchell’s floater gave the Dragons a surprising 22-21 halftime edge.
“We knew we had to match up against Hester and Simonds, two good players,” Sharpe said. “We had to close out on Simonds and go get Hester. We played a 2-3 (zone), a 1-3-1, a halfcourt 1-3-1.”
“We started the game in zone,” Brunswick coach Todd Hanson said. “We obviously knew they had some great shooters and we wanted to slow the pace down a little bit. Unfortunately, they had the hot hand early and we were forced to go man (to-man) and that worked to our advantage. We had a lot of good bounce and energy, but Falmouth’s a heck of a team with a heck of a coach.”
Mitchell paced Brunswick with 11 points and Sharpe added nine in the first half, while Simonds led all scorers with 13.
“We didn’t look for the open guy and took early shots in the second quarter,” Simonds said. “We allowed them to get back in the game.”
The Yachtsmen started to go inside in the third quarter and regained control.
A Hester layup started the second half, but Mitchell countered with a floater for the Dragons’ final lead.
After Hester took a feed from Simonds and made a layup, Hester hit a free throw and sophomore Nicco Pitre drained a pair to make it 28-24.
Mitchell countered with a runner off the glass, but Simonds returned to life, driving for a layup, driving for a scoop shot, then, as time expired, floating and hitting a shot for a 34-26 Falmouth lead.
The Yachtsmen then put it away in the fourth period.
After junior Macklin Williams made a free throw for Falmouth, senior Aidan Mitchell countered with one for Brunswick with 6:11 on the clock, ending a 5-minute, 10-second drought, but Williams drove for a layup and Simonds set up Hester for a layup and a 39-27 advantage with 3:46 remaining.
Kilfoil answered with a steal and layup, but Simonds made two free throws.
Sharpe then scored the Dragons’ final points, on a layup with 1:12 to play, before Hester took the ensuing inbounds pass and brought the house down with a slam dunk.
“I figured I might as well go long and get the dunk,” said Hester. “I thought I might get a technical on it, but they let me go.
In the final minute, Hester and junior Will Gravier each made a free throw and that closed out the Yachtsmen’s 45-31 victory.
“It was all about defense,” Hester said. “I started guarding their inside guy and that made a big difference how we defended near the rim.”
“The effort by the players and the veterans being in control, doing what they had to do, made the difference,” Halligan said. “We were impatient in the second quarter, taking the first available shot. In the second half, we came out and passed the ball, seven, eight, nine times and getting much better looks. And we found the big guy underneath.
“They surprised us, but I’m not surprised because a Todd Hanson-coached team will always do something. They played us man the first time. We were prepared for zone, then they switched it up and we were slow in reacting. Once we got organized, we were better. The first game is always the hardest. A little adversity in the tournament, sometimes you can go one way or another, but this was a coming of age for us.”
Simonds not only led all scorers with 21 points, he also had five rebounds and four assists.
Hester added 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
“We really missed (Simonds) last year,” Hester said. “We didn’t have a point guard who could score. Having him back makes a huge difference.”
Falmouth also got four points from Manganello, three from Williams, two from Pitre (who also had six rebounds) and one from Gravier.
The Yachtsmen enjoyed a 25-19 rebounding advantage, only turned the ball over 10 times and made 10 of 14 free throws.
Brunswick was paced by Finn Mitchell’s 15 points and six rebounds.
Sharpe added 11 points and five boards.
“We got the shots we wanted, but we just didn’t make them (in the second half),” said Sharpe. “We’re a gritty team. We have a lot of players who play hard. The seniors wanted another game.
Kilfoil had four points and Aidan Mitchell tallied one.
The Dragons committed nine turnovers and made 2 of 4 foul shots.
“We knew we couldn’t run up and down with them, that we had to ride out possessions,” Hanson said. “The first half was textbook. The second half, I think the kids got tired. We got good looks, but we just didn’t make them.
“These kids have a lot of fight in them. Every game has been a grind for us. We almost have to be perfect to compete. I told the kids in the locker room, we lost five senior starters last year, so I tip my cap to them to fight through and get back here and put on a pretty good showing. When we look back, we’ll be really proud of the way we finished the 2019 season.”
Falmouth and York are no strangers when it comes to tournament time.
The Yachtsmen won the regular season meeting, 58-49, Dec. 29 in a game played at the Expo.
Falmouth has won all four prior playoff encounters, with a memorable 62-56, double-overtime triumph in last year’s quarterfinal round the most recent.
The Wildcats had no trouble with N0. 7 Fryeburg Academy in their quarterfinal Saturday, rolling, 53-35, to advance.
The Yachtsmen know they’ll have their hands full Thursday in the first of two games (top-ranked Greely and No. 4 Kennebunk square off in the nightcap), but they’re looking forward to the challenge.
“Playing at the Civic Center, there’s nothing like it,” Simonds said. “It’s an awesome stage.”
“(Success) will come from the defense again,” Hester said. “If we start strong on defense, it will lead to scoring.”
“I like to think of the Civic Center as a home-away-from-home,” Halligan added. “They’re all good teams left. It was a double-overtime game last year. It will come down to every possession being important. We’ll have to make the most of our possessions. If you’re a basketball fan, it’ll be a good night to watch.”
Brunswick senior Tony Cilea drives on Falmouth sophomore Nicco Pitre.
Brunswick senior Finn Mitchell sends Falmouth junior Will Gravier flying.
2016 Class A South Final
Falmouth 58 Brunswick 44