PORTLAND—It’s deja vu all over again for the Falmouth boys’ basketball team.
For the second year in a row, the Yachtsmen find themselves one win away from the state championship game, but once again, Falmouth will have to go through its nemesis, Cape Elizabeth.
That’s because Thursday night in the semifinals at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the second-ranked Yachtsmen blew past No. 3 Mountain Valley, 67-37, behind 28 points from senior standout Stefano Mancini and a second period 3-point shooting exhibition.
Saturday at 3:45 p.m., at the Civic Center, Falmouth (19-1) and Cape Elizabeth (19-1), after splitting their two regular season meetings, will do battle with a trip to the state final on the line.
“I think we did a good job keeping the pedal down,” Mancini said. “We went on that stretch in the second quarter and we knew they’d make a push, but we kept it up.”
On the brink
Falmouth entered the 2009-10 campaign as the favorite and did nothing to disappoint. Mancini got a lot of the headlines, but classmates Sam Horning, Jahrel Registe, John Roberts and Ryan Rogers also proved almost impossible to beat. The Yachtsmen did stumble in the season finale, at home to Cape Elizabeth, to wind up 17-1 and drop to the No. 2 seed, but still entered the tournament the team to beat in the minds of many. Falmouth got a test from No. 7 York in the quarterfinals, but pulled away in the fourth period to win, 59-49.
Mountain Valley, meanwhile, quietly put together another stellar season, winning all 18 of its regular season contests. The Falcons then dominated No. 6 Lincoln Academy, 64-33, in the quarterfinals.
The teams don’t play in the regular season. The last postseason meeting came in the 2006 regional final (a 47-40 Mountain Valley victory).
Falmouth struggled early, turning the ball over and shooting poorly.
A jumper from junior Cam Kaubris gave the Falcons the game’s first points. After Horning buried a 3 to get the Yachtsmen on the board, a Kaubris jumper in the lane put Mountain Valley back on top. Senior Adam Bedard added a runner before Mancini was fouled on a 3 and got in the scoring column with two makes. After senior Ryan Laubauskas made a foul shot for the Falcons, Mancini drained a 3 with 42.1 seconds left to put Falmouth on top for good, 8-7. With time winding down, Mancini hit a contested leaner and the Yachtsmen were up 10-7 after one.
Falmouth then erupted in the second to take control, draining three 3s in a 51-second span.
First, Rogers got involved, hitting a shot behind the stripe. Horning followed suit and with 6:45 to go in the half, Rogers buried another one for a 19-7 advantage.
The Yachtsmen then turned conventional, getting a floater off the glass from Mancini and a layup from Registe (assisted by Horning). With 4:56 left in the half, a Kaubris jumper ended the 18-0 run and a 4 minute, 42 second drought, but Mancini answered with a deep 3 for a 26-9 lead midway through the second.
With 3:47 to go, it was Rogers’ turn again, as he made another 3. After a steal and a layup from Kaubris, Roberts made a layup and sophomore Jack Cooleen, after an offensive rebound, fed Mancini for his third 3 of the half and a 34-11 advantage.
“Everyone makes excuses about the (shooting) backdrop and things like that, but in the second quarter we did a good job settling in,” Mancini said. “We pick each other up. We’ve played together for a long time. What’s so tough about us is that it’s not just one guy. There’s always four or five guys on the court who can score and Mountain Valley found that out tonight.”
A layup from senior Jon Benjamin and a jumper from senior Jacob Arsenault got Mountain Valley back within 19, 34-15. In the final minute, Mancini hit a jumper and Arsenault answered with a leaner to make it a 36-17 game at the break.
Eight 3-pointers gave the Yachtsmen an insurmountable lead.
Early in the third, to their credit, the Falcons made things interesting.
A hook shot from senior Brady Fergola, a putback by Benjamin and a layup by Kaubris cut the deficit to 36-23 and forced Falmouth to call timeout, but with 6:18 left in the third, Mancini stepped up and buried a 3.
Arsenault hit a 3 for Mountain Valley with 5:04 to go in the quarter, but Roberts responded with a short jumper in the lane, Horning hit a leaner and Mancini made two foul shots for a 45-26 lead with 2:39 to go.
A Kaubris leaner was answered by a Mancini floater. With 2.7 second left, Mancini made one free throw to push the lead to an even 20, 48-28, entering the fourth.
There, Mancini hit a leaner and Roberts made a layup before Arsenault made two foul shots. A Rogers layup was answered by a Fergola jumper, but Cooleen and Roberts both made layups before Roberts hit a free throw for a 59-32 advantage. The Falcons never got any closer than 25 points the rest of the way and the Yachtsmen went on to their 67-37 victory.
“We had some jitters at the beginning,” said Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. “We were quick and rushed things. Once we settled down and got our legs under us and got our confidence, I thought we played great. Our defense was great tonight. Especially Sam Horning and Stefano. You can talk about his offense, but he did a terrific job on Arsenault tonight. It’s nice to have a senior leader like that. Special teams have a special player like that.”
Mancini had four 3s, five two-point field goals and six foul shots for his 28 points.
Rogers added 11, Roberts had nine, Horning eight, Cooleen four, Registe, senior Neil Axelsen and junior Brendan McDonnell two points each and senior Mitch Beaulieu finished with one.
“Even the reserves that came in did their job, which was nice to see,” Halligan said. “Everybody’s focused on the job at hand. They believe in each other, which is nice to see. That’s a big thing with this team.”
For Mountain Valley, which finished 19-1, Kaubris led the way with 12 points. Arsenault had nine.
Title, history on the line
Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth have played three previous times in the postseason. The Capers pulled a stunning 44-42 quarterfinal round upset as a No. 8 seed in 2004. Two years later, the Yachtsmen won, 60-45, in the semis. Last year, Cape Elizabeth held on for a 58-48 victory.
This winter, each team won on the other’s homecourt. On Jan. 5, Falmouth claimed a 62-55 victory. On Feb. 5, the Capers returned the favor, 48-45.
Act Three promises to be memorable.
“It feels only right for us to go through (Cape),” said Mancini. “They’ve won the league the last two years and beat us last season. They’re really well coached. They prepare well. We’ll have to prepare and match their intensity from the start.”
“It has to be this way,” Halligan added. “I don’t think anything will be different. We’re bruised and bloodied and so are they. We’ll go at it and it’ll be a heck of a basketball game.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com