CAPE ELIZABETH—There were plenty of reasons for the Falmouth boys’ basketball team to buckle Tuesday evening.
The Yachtsmen were facing a red-hot, undefeated Cape Elizabeth squad, the team which eliminated them from last year’s playoffs, on the Capers’ floor no less, and had to go into battle without their head coach.
But even after an 18-point second half lead was whittled to three, Falmouth showed the form, heart and skill it hopes will result in a Gold Ball late next month by holding on to win 62-55, improving to 8-0 in the process.
The Yachtsmen got clutch shooting, key senior leadership, had four players finish in double figures and rode a strong game-long defensive effort to their most impressive win of the 2009-10 campaign.
“It’s really big,” said senior Ryan Rogers, who led all scorers with 20 points. “We knew this was the biggest game so far. We wanted to take them out after they knocked us out last year. We circled it on the schedule. We were ready for them.”
Fight to the finish
A year ago, Cape Elizabeth downed Falmouth 58-48 in the Western B Final before losing to Camden in the state game.
So far this winter, both teams have excelled.
The Yachtsmen, the preseason favorite, downed Gray-New Gloucester, Freeport, Waynflete, Greely, Lake Region, Yarmouth and Poland by an average of 23 points, then went 1-2 in non-countable holiday tournament action against Western A foes (downing Scarborough and losing to Deering and South Portland). Against the Red Riots, coach Dave Halligan received two technical fouls and was ejected and by rule, wasn’t available to join his team at Cape Elizabeth, propelling longtime assistant Jamie Hilton into the hot seat.
The Capers have also won decisively and have certainly surprised those who thought they wouldn’t be as formidable this season. Cape Elizabeth enjoyed victories over Wells (62-26), Poland (68-46), Lake Region (60-41), Fryeburg (81-38), Yarmouth (64-56), Greely (66-55) and Gray-New Gloucester (73-53) before beating South Portland and Susan Wagner, N.Y., and losing to Cheverus in holiday play.
Tuesday night, a large and raucous crowd witnessed a contest that started slowly, but evolved into the type of showdown everyone expected.
A putback from Falmouth senior Jahrel Registe 1 minute, 18 seconds in put the visitors on top, but the Capers answered with a pair of free throws from senior Andrew Dickey and a jumper from junior Cam Brown for a 4-2 advantage. After the Yachtsmen drew even on a runner from Rogers, junior Theo Bowe gave the hosts a 5-4 lead with a free throw.
Cape Elizabeth wouldn’t lead again.
A 3-ball from Rogers with 3:11 left in the opening stanza put Falmouth ahead to stay, 7-5. Senior standout Stefano Mancini followed with a runner. After Brown scored on a leaner, the Yachtsmen’s big men strutted their stuff as senior John Roberts made two foul shots and sophomore Jack Cooleen converted a layup for a 13-7 advantage. A baseline jumper from Brown got the hosts back within 13-9 after one.
In the second period, Falmouth’s defense continued to pose problems for the Capers and the Yachtsmen expanded their lead.
A Rogers 3 was answered by a putback from Dickey (ending a 6 minute, 12 second drought by the hosts), but Rogers made a layup, Mancini sank two free throws and Cooleen made a layup for a 22-11 advantage with 2:26 left in the half.
Cape Elizabeth responded on a layup from senior Conor Moloney and a jumper from Bowe, but Mancini canned a 3-ball to make it 25-15.
The Capers then got a dose of momentum and confidence when they scored twice in the waning seconds, on a layup by senior Tanner Garrity and a tip in by junior Joey Doane to make it 25-19. The hosts almost drew closer when Doane sank a shot at the buzzer, but since he caught the ball with 0.3 seconds left, the basket was waved off (only a tip-in counts with that little time remaining).
Falmouth’s defense had been the difference in the first 16 minutes.
“We made them take some 3s that weren’t good shots,” Roberts said. “We kept them out of the paint and rebounded really well, especially in the first half.”
“We had all these defensive schemes in practice, but we just went with man-to-man and it really changed the game,” Hilton added. “It was close at the beginning. We went to straight man and it gave us a little cushion.”
Any Cape Elizabeth momentum was quickly erased in the third period when the Yachstmen appeared ready to run away and hide.
Another Rogers 3 got the quarter started. After Moloney made two free throws, senior Sam Horning canned a 3 for a 31-21 Falmouth lead. Moloney answered with a jump shot, but Mancini scored on a floater to push the advantage back to 10, 33-23. Moloney continued to impress with a 3-ball, but Roberts made a layup, was fouled and sank the free throw, Rogers buried another 3 and Roberts scored on a putback for a 41-26 lead with 4:51 left in the period, forcing the hosts to call timeout.
Moloney momentarily stemmed the tide with a foul shot, but Roberts fed Cooleen for a layup and Rogers made a layup to give the Yachtsmen their biggest lead, 45-27.
The Capers got back within 14 on a fadeaway from senior Will Pierce and a Dickey layup, but a pullup jumper from Mancini and a layup by Rogers restored the 18-point bulge, 49-31.
Cape Elizabeth then closed the third period on a 6-0 run to keep hope alive as senior Ben Brewster made a layup, Doane did the same and Dickey followed a steal with a layup to make it 49-37 with eight minutes to go.
The Capers continued their comeback in the early moments of the fourth as Bowe made two free throws, senior Matt Donovan hit a bank shot, then buried a 3 to make it 49-44, forcing Hilton to call timeout.
With 5:44 left, Brown stole the ball and fed Bowe for a layup and suddenly, Cape Elizabeth made it a one-possession game.
Undaunted, Falmouth stayed calm and turned momentum back in its favor with 5:29 to go when Cooleen got to the line. He missed both shots, but Horning came up with a huge board and after Horning missed a shot, Roberts tipped the ball home to end the 15-0 run and 4 minute, 11 second drought.
“It was huge,” said Roberts. “That possession was demoralizing for Cape. It was a big turnaround. It got momentum on our side.”
Cooleen followed with a layup, Roberts sank a free throw, Mancini hit a leaner and Roberts made a hook shot and just like that, with 3:21 remaining, the Yachtsmen’s lead was back to a dozen, 58-46.
“We told (the kids) before the game that it’s a marathon not a sprint,” said Hilton. “We’d make runs, they’d make runs. Fortunately we built a big enough lead. We were able to sustain their run.”
Still, the Capers didn’t fold. A Dickey putback was answered by one from Cooleen, but Bowe sank a 3 and Dickey scored after an offensive board to make it 60-53 with 1:18 still to play.
Falmouth wouldn’t let the hosts get any closer.
After Moloney missed a 3-point opportunity to cut the deficit to four, Horning made two free throws with 22.2 seconds to go and a Moloney putback with 8.7 seconds left accounted for the 62-55 final score.
The Yachtsmen had held on.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” admitted Hilton. “It’s probably the 12th time I’ve done this for Dave. Whenever he’s away, it’s always interesting to see how the kids react. I couldn’t be prouder of them. They reacted well. I think the seniors led us. We bent, but we didn’t break.
“I’ve coached these kids for four years. I’m comfortable with them. We practice together, JV and varsity, every day. At the beginning of the season, you circle Greely and you circle Cape. To have both teams come in 7-0, be without our coach, at their place, really shows the intensity of these guys. They stepped up. They did it. They played hard and executed the game plan we put in.”
In addition to Rogers’ 20 points, Mancini had 13 (along with seven assists), Roberts 12 (and 14 rebounds), Cooleen 10, Horning five and Registe two.
“It means so much,” said Roberts. “We’ve had a couple games where we kind of ran over teams. It wasn’t the best thing for developing our team. I think we rallied and we held them. It meant a lot to us to show we had the stamina to keep going. It’s a big win. Down the stretch, we realized the lead was gone and that we had to work. It started on the defensive end. We did that toward the end.”
For Cape Elizabeth, Dickey and Moloney both finished with 12, Bowe had 10, Brown six, Donovan five, Doane four and Brewster, Garrity and Pierce two apiece.
“(Falmouth’s) a very good team,” said Capers coach Jim Ray. “It’s the first time this season I think we showed a sign of tentativeness. That was in the first half. We weren’t as confident across the board as we’ve been. We talked about it at halftime and the second half was better. We were more patient with the offense. We had a couple runs. The kids never quit. I love them for their effort. It’s something to work on and build from.
“(Falmouth) made the plays. We had a couple opportunities too. We just didn’t get a couple breaks. We’re two very good teams working hard in a midseason game. We saw how we stack up. We’ll try to figure each other out.”
Heavy lifting to come
Both teams will eagerly await the rematch in the regular season finale, Feb. 5 in Falmouth, but both have plenty to concern themselves with in the days to come.
The Capers go to Freeport Saturday and York Tuesday of next week.
“We want to get to the tournament and that’s when it’s win or go home,” Ray said.
The Yachtsmen play host to Fryeburg Friday and Wells Tuesday.
“I think we got a little too comfortable and you can’t do that against a team like Cape, but we closed them out and won the game,” Rogers said. “We had a tough stretch over Christmas. We didn’t play up to our level. We wanted to make this the game where we went out and got back on track and I think we did that.”
“If we keep playing like tonight, we’re well on our way,” Roberts added. “Even when things weren’t going our way, we stayed strong and kept the lead and didn’t give up. That’s what we need to be successful.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
Cape Elizabeth senior Will Pierce went up for a shot over a Falmouth defender. The Capers rallied in the second half, but it was too little, too late.
Falmouth senior Jahrel Registe drove on a defender in the paint during Tuesday’s action. The Yachtsmen improved to 8-0 with the victory.
Falmouth senior Stefano Mancini eluded a Cape Elizabeth defender during Tuesday night’s showdown won by the Yachtsmen, 62-55.