CUMBERLAND—A year ago, the Falmouth boys’ basketball team lost seven games by 10 points or less as a young group received trial by fire.
This winter, the Yachtsmen have learned how to close out a victory and as a result, they’re off to a great start.
Thursday evening, Falmouth shook off a nine-point first half deficit and closed the game on a 20-8 run to shock the Greely Rangers, 55-48.
The Yachtsmen came to life in the second half, thanks in large part to the gritty play of Alex Cattell, who led all scorers, and junior Grant Burfeind, who came off the bench to continue to display the Midas Touch he’s wielded for more than a month.
Cattell gave his team the lead for good on a 3-ball midway through the final stanza and 90 seconds later, Burfeind sank a 3-pointer that pretty much salted the win away.
Falmouth is now 3-0 on the young season and dropped Greely to 1-2 in the process.
“We would have lost this game last year,” said longtime Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan. “It’s experience. We knew we’d take our knocks last year. We thought the experience would be beneficial and it was coming down the stretch. We didn’t fold in the second half. We battled back.”
Falmouth won the 2009-10 Class B championship in dramatic fashion, but graduated just about every key contributor. The Yachtsmen didn’t fade a year ago, but just couldn’t find a way to win close games and finished 8-10, barely missing the playoffs for the first time since 1983-84.
Falmouth came into this campaign looking to return to form and opened in grand style with a 60-37 home victory over defending regional champion Cape Elizabeth. The Yachtsmen followed with a 66-37 triumph at Fryeburg.
Greely, meanwhile, was the top seed in Western B last winter and got to the semifinals before being upset by Yarmouth to finish 17-3.
The Rangers lost to some top talent to graduation, but return several promising players and project to become a top contender.
Greely held off visiting Wells in its opener, 68-58, but Tuesday, the Rangers went to preseason favorite York and had the Wildcats on the ropes before letting a 13-point lead slip away in a 56-53 loss.
The rivals know each other well. Prior to Thursday, dating back to the 2001-02 season, Falmouth had won 10 of the 18 regular season meetings, while Greely took all three playoff encounters.
Last year, the Rangers won at home (45-36) and at Falmouth (49-48).
This time around, the Yachtsmen had what it took to prevail.
Both teams were sluggish in the first half, combining for only 41 points.
The hosts got things started on a 3-ball from senior Liam Maker and a layup from sophomore Michael McDevitt, but Falmouth responded as senior Matt Packard sank three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point shot and classmate Jeremy Lydick drained a 3 for a 6-5 advantage. Greely then scored the first quarter’s final six points as senior Nick Clark made a layup after a steal, senior Keegan Donnelly made a layup and senior Cooper Allen sank a floater for an 11-6 lead.
Early in the second period, Cattell made a layup to end a 5 minute, 41 second drought, but Maker answered with a putback. With 4:30 to go before halftime, Cattell kept a possession alive with an offensive rebound, was fouled and made one free throw. Seconds later, Packard sank a pair of foul shots and the Yachtsmen were within two.
The Rangers then roared back to life and took their biggest lead, 20-11, after sophomore Bailey Train made a 3, Donnell was credited for a tip-in after Cooleen inadvertently sent the ball into the Falmouth basket and Maker made a layup after a steal.
Falmouth stemmed the tide as Packard made two more free throws, but a Donnelly jumper made it 22-13.
Cattell then got his team back in the game, making a layup and sinking a 3-ball. In the waning seconds of the half, Allen hit one of two foul shots to give Greely a 23-18 advantage at the break.
Play picked up in the second half and Halligan unveiled his secret weapon, Burfeind, who made an immediate impact with his energy.
After Maker gave the hosts a seven-point lead with a putback, Packard hit a 3 and Cattell buried back-to-back 3-balls to give the Yachtsmen their first lead since 6-5, 27-25. McDevitt answered with a leaner, but senior Jack Cooleen scored his first points on a layup and Packard sank another 3 (Falmouth’s fourth in a 2:34 span) for a 32-27 lead.
Rangers longtime coach Ken Marks called timeout and it worked as Train got to the line and hit both free throws, Donnelly made a layup and Clark tipped home a missed ball to make it 33-32 Greely. After Cooleen tied the score with a foul shot, junior Jonah Normandeau made a layup to put the Rangers back on top. Again, the Yachtsmen drew even as Cooleen hit a floater, but with 19.8 seconds to go, a pair of free throws from Greely senior Jimmy Whitaker made it 37-35 in favor of the home team heading for the final quarter.
There, Train seemed to give the Rangers momentum with a 3-pointer just 16 seconds in, but Falmouth wasn’t about to buckle.
A Cattell free throw was followed by a Cooleen putback and with 4:40 remaining, senior Matt Kingry made a layup after a steal for his first points, which made it a 40-40 game. Just 29 seconds later, Cattell struck again from behind the 3-point stripe and the Yachtsmen were on top to stay.
“When you get hot, you’re not missing,” Cattell said.
With 3:30 to go, after three offensive rebounds kept possession alive, Burfeind was fouled and sank both attempts to make it 45-40. McDevitt scored on a putback 20 seconds later, but missed the and-one free throw. Then, with 2:42 to go, Burfeind sank a dagger of a 3 to push the lead to six.
“I wasn’t thinking (when I came in the game),” said Burfeind, who scored the winning goal in both the regional and state finals during Falmouth’s latest boys’ soccer championship run in the fall. “I just wanted to go in and play hard and try to make a difference in the game. It’s good to come to this after soccer. I was pretty confident. We have great seniors this year. I’m confident with this team.”
“(Grant) brings quickness and athleticism,” Halligan said. “He’s a competitor. He has some gifts. You can’t teach speed and quickness. We went into a different gear when he came in. It was a physical game and it wasn’t what we wanted. We decided to go quicker in the second half. We got more pressure. We wanted to make it a track meet.”
With 1:25 showing, McDevitt scored on a putback, but 11 seconds later, Burfeind was fouled and made the front end of a one-and-one for a 49-44 advantage. After a Greely miss, Packard was fouled and made both ends of his one-and-one opportunity.
Allen made a layup with 51.3 seconds to go, cutting the deficit to 51-46, but Cooleen got free for a short bank shot nine seconds later. McDevitt kept hope alive with a spinning layup, making it a 53-48 contest with 31.7 seconds remaining, but two final foul shots from Packard, giving him 11 in a row, and one final block from Cooleen, slammed the door and Falmouth hung on for the confidence-inspiring 55-48 triumph.
“It’s always good to beat Greely, especially here,” Burfeind said. “This is a big confidence booster, but we can’t let it go to our heads. We need to keep playing hard.”
“It’s senior leadership,” said Cattell. “Last year, we were rebuilding. This year, we know things better than we used to. We have depth. We have the deepest bench in the league. We keep subbing in. “
“This gives us confidence,” Halligan added. “These kids, most of them were on JVs two years ago. They took their knocks last year. There was some doubt. You could see the confidence build in the second half. We had good shots in the first half, but we shot not to miss instead of shooting to score. The second half was different. That’s confidence.”
Cattell led all scorers with 18 points, highlighted by four 3-pointers. Packard sank 11 free throws (in 13 tries) and also buried two 3s for 17 points. Cooleen didn’t score in the first half, but finished with nine points to go with his usual dominant play in the paint.
“In the second half, (Jack) stepped up like a captain should,” said Halligan. “I was pleased to see that.”
Burfeind added six points, Lydick three and Kingry two.
For Greely, McDevitt led the way with 10 points, Maker had nine before fouling out, Donnelly and Train each had eight, Allen five, Clark four and Normandeau and Whitaker two apiece.
For the Rangers, two tough losses in 48 hours were a tough pill to swallow.
“It’s making mistakes, losing composure, missing shots, taking poor shots, learning how to close a game,” Marks said. “These guys haven’t been together before. It’s a process. We talked about making mistakes today to improve tomorrow. We had great energy in the first half. We have to find some more. It’s very early.
“Going to York Tuesday and Falmouth Thursday is a challenge for anybody, especially a team that’s new. I’m not worried about it. I like that we’re playing hard, but we need to close a game. That’s what we’re looking for.”
The Rangers are back at it Saturday when they go to Fryeburg. They host Cape Elizabeth Tuesday and Poland Thursday of next week to wrap up the 2011 portion of the schedule.
“(Cape Elizabeth and Poland are) teams we know we can play with,” Marks said. “It’s a different stretch than playing York and Falmouth, who I think are the two best teams in the conference. We just have to play with them.”
The Yachtsmen (who are the very early leaders in the Western Class B Heal Points standings) return to action Saturday at 2:30 p.m., when they host dangerous Poland. Falmouth then visits rival Yarmouth Tuesday and finishes its 2011 slate next Thursday at home against Traip Academy. The first game out of the break is a trip to York.
The scary thing (for the rest of the league) is that the Yachtsmen will keep getting better and better.
“It’s early in the season and we haven’t had much practice time,” Halligan said. “The mistakes we’ve made, we’ll correct.”
F- 6 12 17 20- 55
G- 11 12 14 11- 48
F- Cattell 6-2-18, Packard 2-11-17, Cooleen 4-1-9, Burfeind 1-3-6, Lydick 1-0-3, Kingry 1-0-2
G- McDevitt 5-0-10, Maker 4-0-9, Donnelly 4-0-8, Train 2-2-8, Allen 2-1-5, N. Clark 2-0-4, Normandeau 1-0-2, Whitaker 1-0-2
3-pointers: F (8)- Cattell 4, Packard 2, Burfeind 1; G (3)- Train 2, Maker 1