FALMOUTH—The Falmouth Yachtsmen win as a team and lose as a team.
This season, it’s quite apparent that they don’t want to lose.
The No. 1 and undefeated Yachtsmen hosted the fifth-ranked York Wildcats on Senior Night and what an epic overtime thriller it was. There was a tense and emotional playoff atmosphere throughout the entire game, which was witnessed by Falmouth’s biggest crowd of the year.
Senior guard Matt Packard and senior center Jack Cooleen, along with a handful of others, rose to the occasion in the second half and overtime to earn a hard fought 57-52 victory to improve to 17-0, dropping York to 13-4 in the process.
Packard had just seven points in the first half, but put the team on his back down the stretch and finished with 26. His heroics and range of skills were nothing short of amazing. Clutch fourth quarter 3-pointers from seniors Ryan MacDonald and Alex Cattell were also instrumental in a rally that swung the momentum which carried into overtime.
The game started out back-and-forth with six ties in the first quarter which ended with a 14-12 York lead. The Wildcats’ center, six-foot-seven Aaron Todd, had eight points in the quarter, while Falmouth had six players score two points apiece.
The second quarter was tight as well, but York pulled ahead to a 24-19 lead with under two minutes remaining in the half. Packard nailed a 3-pointer to make it 24-22 and Todd answered back down low to make it 26-22 in favor of York at the break.
Falmouth looked to be in serious trouble early in the second half as Cooleen picked up his third foul and went to the bench with 5:47 left. Cooleen hasn’t been in foul trouble much at all this season, so with the gigantic Todd down low for York, things could have gotten out of hand. However, the Yachtsmen buckled down as a team and held the Wildcats to just nine points in the quarter. Packard and senior Matt Kingry made nice defensive plays while junior Charlie Fay did an exceptional job being the lone post player in the game for Falmouth. Todd had just four points in the third quarter, but finished with a team high 18.
“Everybody was focused on the court tonight,” said Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. “It was a matter of matching (York’s) intensity. I asked the seniors (at halftime), ‘How bad do you want it?’ I thought they came out and showed it in the second half. They stepped up and kicked it into a different gear.”
Packard began to elevate his game in the second half. York built a 33-24 lead moments after Cooleen came out, but Packard responded with a nifty flip layup to make it 33-26. Todd made a reverse layup to make it 35-26 with 3:35 left. Falmouth needed some type of spark or big time play to keep the game manageable with Cooleen on the bench. Packard answered quickly with a nice baseline jumper to cut it to 35-28 with 3:22 left. There was then a 3:21 span of zero offense for both squads. Then, just before the buzzer, Falmouth got that spark.
With 3.4 seconds left in the third, Packard received a baseline inbounds pass, hastily dribbled across midcourt to the 3-point line, spun, and fired up a shot while being fouled, and sunk it. The crowd went bonkers, as it should have. He swished the foul shot to make it 35-32 at the end of the quarter. While some luck was definitely involved, if anybody makes those types of shots, it’s Packard. He plays in control, is exponentially more ambidextrous than most other guards in the league, can shift and turn on a dime, and is an elite scorer from outside as well as inside.
“He’s a senior captain,” said Halligan, of Packard. “Big time players step up and make big time plays. He’s the heart and soul of our team. All of our guys feed off of him.”
Packard is as humble as they come, though.
“I happened to get lucky and felt it a bit,” said Packard. “I shot a lot of shots and they happened to go in. Once I realized I could make cuts, I could do other things to get the ball and I just got free.”
The momentum certainly had begun to swing back to Falmouth, especially with Cooleen returning at the start of the fourth quarter. The playoff atmosphere was in full effect with two marquee teams dueling.
Here’s how it all went down, because you’re definitely going to want to know every play of the impressive rally.
York’s Zack Leal made a layup to make it 37-32 with 7:15 remaining in the game, but on the ensuing possession, Cooleen battled in the paint for a bucket, 37-34. Todd then showed off his versatility by knocking down a deep jump shot to make it 39-34 with 5:40 left. The back-and-forth scoring just kept on going, except Falmouth looked to capitalize beyond the arc.
After Packard and Cooleen collected clutch offensive rebounds to keep a possession alive, Ryan MacDonald found himself open for 3 and drained it. Normally not a go-to scorer this season due to injuries, MacDonald picked the right time to step up, cutting the deficit to 39-37 with 4:10 remaining. York’s star guard Liam Langaas instantly answered with a long two-pointer with 3:55 on the clock which prompted his coach, Randy Small, to call a timeout with the score at 41-37.
Shortly after the timeout, Packard got open on a sideline inbounds pass and didn’t hesitate to take the open 3-pointer, which, of course, he made, 41-40 with 3:33 left. The Yachtsmen were feeding off adrenaline, the crowd, and the drive to stay undefeated. They just would not be denied. The Wildcats were also rising to the occasion, as Zeal slashed through the lane just moments later for a layup, making it a three point game again, 43-40 with 3:18 left.
On Falmouth’s next possession, Alex Cattell got a decent look from beyond the arc and he also sunk it with ice in his veins, tying the score at 43-43 with 2:55 remaining. Falmouth can get buckets from many different players, which makes it tough to defend. Putting too much defensive emphasis on Cooleen and Packard leaves multiple other options open. Everybody in the crowd knew by the flow of the game in the second half that it was going to come down to the wire, win or lose.
Langaas quickly broke the tie with a layup with 2:32 left. However, that was plenty of time for Falmouth to keep its rally going. A Kyle Robinson free throw extended York’s lead to 46-43 with 1:47 left. Falmouth answered right back with another three-pointer, this time of the old-fashioned variety. Packard had the ball at the top of the key and made a strong drive to the left side, got the layup to fall, and picked up the foul and free throw to tie the game 46-46 with 1:31 left. Robinson committed his fifth foul on the play to boot.
With just under a minute left in regulation, Falmouth had the ball and planned to hold on for the last shot. With eight seconds left, Falmouth called a full timeout to set up a play, presumably for Packard. The ball was inbounded, but Packard was unable to get open, leaving the ball in the hands of Kingry with mere seconds on the clock. Kingry, who hadn’t scored all game, momentarily had everybody screaming in excitement, as his running mid-range layup was good. But the referee blew the whistle for a travel, sending the game to overtime.
It was definitely the right call, the Yachtsmen said after the game, but wouldn’t that have been sweet for the home team? With the momentum still definitely with the Yachtsmen, it was on them to keep the magic rolling in overtime.
Charlie Fay got open in the paint on an inbounds play for an easy two, making it 48-46 Falmouth with 3:36 to go in the extra session, its first lead since the middle of the first quarter. Packard then drove to the left baseline and made a difficult close range jumper with Langaas in his face for a 50-46 advantage with 2:20 left. Todd answered right back with another long shot, cutting it to 50-48 with 1:56 on the clock. On Falmouth next possession, Cattell passed the ball between a York defender’s legs (the five-hole in hockey terms) on a two-on-one break for an easy Cooleen layup and it was 52-48 with 1:31 remaining. Another Zeal layup made it 52-50 with just 39 seconds left.
A single free throw from Packard (one-and-one bonus) made it 53-50 with 25 seconds left, but there was still plenty of time for York to get the ball to Langaas for a game tying 3-point attempt. With 12 seconds on the clock, Langaas got a quality shot off, but it rimmed out and Fay controlled the rebound and quickly dished it off to Packard who was instantly fouled.
One free throw essentially sealed the game (Packard had two attempts because of double bonus). Packard drained them both to make it 55-50 with 10 seconds left. Zeal rushed down for yet another layup to make it 55-52 with 2.3 seconds remaining, but Falmouth successfully inbounded the ball to Cooleen who was fouled and made both free throws, capping the game at 57-52.
“We’re going to take it into practice tomorrow and get ready for our next opponent. It’s as simple as that,” said York coach Randy Small. “I love this team. I love everything about these kids. They played their guts out tonight.”
At the buzzer, a few dozen Falmouth students rushed the court and over towards the bench to celebrate with their undefeated classmates. The game certainly had that epic postseason feel to it. The storming of the court, although far from the crazy NCAA fans’ mobs, was unexpected, but definitely appreciated by the players. Your team is 17-0, that is worth celebrating in some type of way.
The Yachtsmen win and lose as a team. Their eight seniors have been together since third grade and have played several years on the same AAU teams. Apparently they enjoy winning a lot more than losing. Every game, somebody steps up. Whether it’s Packard, Cooleen, Cattell, Kingry, Fay, or a balanced combination of them all, they all want to get the victory.
Coach Halligan praised his team’s chemistry.
“They really care about each other. They want each other to do well and they play for each other,” said Halligan. “They help each other on offense and they help each other on defense. They’re a very unselfish team.”
With so many close games this season, the Yachtsmen don’t come off as the most dominant undefeated team to ever play the sport of basketball. But what matters most is how they always figure out a way to close out the fourth quarter or overtime. They don’t care what people think, though, they let their game speak for themselves.
“People still don’t believe that we’re the best team, I think we’re the only people that know that (we’re the best),” said Packard.
Cooleen finished with 13 points, Fay had six, and Cattell had five.
York’s scoring came primarily from Todd (18 points), Zeal (14) and Langaas (12).
Falmouth, looking to cap its first ever undefeated regular season, travels to third-ranked, 14-3 rival Yarmouth in the regular season finale Friday, for another tough matchup.
“Its’ great to play good teams at the end of the season because you’re not getting into slumps or picking up bad habits heading into the tournament,” said Cooleen. “I think we’ll be prepared when we start tournament play.”