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FALMOUTH—The Falmouth boys’ basketball team is no longer undefeated and it’s not going to be the No. 1 seed for the upcoming Western Class B tournament.
That’s because Friday night in front of an overflowing crowd, the two-time defending regional champion Cape Elizabeth Capers raced to a 14-point third period lead and held on for dear life down the stretch to beat the Yachtsmen, who, behind red-hot shooting from senior standout Stefano Mancini, got as close as one, but two late free throws from Capers senior Andrew Dickey pushed the lead back to three and a last-second 35-foot 3-point bid from Mancini drew the back of the iron, giving Cape Elizabeth a 48-45 triumph, leaving both teams 17-1 on the year.
“It was a nice environment with the crowd,” Capers coach Jim Ray said. “We still have a lot to learn, especially clock management. The kids did an amazing job with their assignments, especially the first three quarters.”
Ray and Falmouth coach Dave Halligan have been at it for a long, long time and regardless of who’s favored when they go head-to-head, their teams always produce memorable affairs. Cape Elizabeth downed the Yachtsmen in last year’s regional final, but Falmouth got a small measure of revenge back on Jan. 5 with a 62-55 win at the Capers.
That was Cape Elizabeth’s only loss entering Friday’s contest, while the preseason favorite Yachtsmen had been tested, but not beaten.
That was about to change.
Neither team could get in an offensive flow in a first half that ended with the Capers on top, 18-17. Late in the third period there wasn’t much separation between the squads, but Cape Elizabeth closed the quarter on an 9-2 run (senior Conor Moloney had a 3 and a layup in the spurt) to lead 35-26 entering the fourth.
The hosts got a layup from sophomore Jack Cooleen 41 seconds into the final stanza, but junior Joey Doane sank a 3, Dickey made a layup and after a Falmouth timeout went for naught, Dickey scored on a reverse layup with 5:18 to go for a seemingly solid 42-28 advantage.
Of course, when Mancini’s on the floor, especially a Mancini who was due to hit some shots, no lead is ever safe.
With 5:04 to play, Mancini converted an old-fashioned three-point play. Mancini then fed senior Sam Horning for a layup and with 3:05 to go, Mancini canned a long 3-pointer, his specialty, to make it 42-36.
With 2:40 left, Cape Elizabeth senior Will Pierce made two foul shots, ending an 8-0 Yachtsmen run, but 13 seconds later, Mancini was fouled while shooting a 3 and made all three free throws to cut the deficit to five, 44-39. A free throw from senior Tanner Garrity with 1:32 to go made it 45-39 Capers, but Mancini made a leaner and the Capers turned the ball over, but Cooleen couldn’t convert in close.
With 33.5 seconds to play, Moloney missed the front end of a one-and-one. After a Mancini 3 fell short, but went out of bounds off a Cape Elizabeth player, Cooleen made a bank shot with 20.9 seconds left to pull Falmouth within two, 45-43.
With 17.3 seconds left, Garrity was fouled and made the front end of a one-and-one, but he missed the second and the hosts raced down and got a finger roll from Mancini to get within a point, 46-45, with 9.2 seconds left.
After a timeout, the Capers were able to get the ball inbounds to Dickey, last year’s tournament hero, who was fouled and made both free throws for a 48-45 lead with 5.5 seconds left.
That left the Yachtsmen with one final chance and to no one’s surprise, Mancini raced up court and as time expired, pulled up from way, way downtown.
His bid was right on target and it appeared as if overtime might be imminent, but the ball ricocheted off the back of the rim and Falmouth had its first loss.
“You never like to lose, but we try to teach lessons everyday,” Halligan said. “We got down by 14 and made a nice comeback. I was pleased with that. I was glad to see them fight back. We had key guys not have their best game tonight. It’s the biggest crowd we’ve had. It was a great atmosphere. Being undefeated weighs a lot on high school kids. We don’t like the result, but I can’t fault the effort.”
“It was tough to get comfortable on offense the way the game was going, possession by possession,” Ray said. “We weren’t very fluid. Their defense gave us a lot of problems. Our defense was good enough to keep us where we needed to be until we were able to get some offense. It allowed us to hold on against the ‘Mancini Show.'”
Cape Elizabeth finished the regular season with a 17-1 mark, its best since the 1993-94 squad finished 18-0.
“The kids have done an amazing job,” Ray said. “I think we’re on everyone’s radar now. I know how hard our kids work. I questioned their desire early on to do what kids in the past have done, but they did a lot. Hopefully they can carry it through. There’s very little margin with this squad. We’re not blessed with a lot of squad. Hopefully we can hold up. We do have experience.”
The Capers will meet either No. 8 Yarmouth (11-7) or No. 9 Lake Region (11-7) in the quarterfinals Saturday, Feb. 13 at 4:45 p.m., at the Portland Expo. The Clippers and Lakers meet in a preliminary round contest Wednesday. Cape Elizabeth swept Yarmouth this winter, winning 64-56 at the Clippers Dec. 17 and 52-51 at home Tuesday. The Capers also swept the Lakers, winning 60-41 at Lake Region on Dec. 12 and 70-53 at home Jan. 16.
Just last winter, Cape Elizabeth held off Yarmouth 66-58 in the quarterfinal round. The Capers last playoff meeting with the Lakers came in the 2004 semifinals (a 84-65 loss in the semis).
“There’s tough matchups this year,” Ray said. “We’ll face a good team we struggled against. We know an 8-seed can beat a 1. It’s a mindset. We have to play good basketball a week from tomorrow and go one game at a time. It should be fun.”
Falmouth (17-1) tied its best record Class B. The last time the Yachtsmen went 17-1, they went into the tournament ranked first and were upset by No. 8 Cape Elizabeth in the 2004 quarterfinals. This time around, Falmouth will battle No. 7 York (11-7) in the quarterfinals at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Expo. The Yachtsmen beat the Wildcats 79-43 at home back on Jan. 14, then held on for a 60-56 win at York on Tuesday. The teams have no prior playoff history.
“We have a very good team with a lot of expectations and I think we’ll be fine,” Halligan said. “York’s a tough team. They’re playing well right now. Every team in the tournament will be tough.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]