February hoops madness tips off–Northern edition

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The city of Portland will be a hoops hotbed over the next couple of weeks and there will be plenty of excitement in the capital city of Augusta as well.

The annual basketball tournament kicked off with the preliminary round Tuesday and Wednesday, while the Western B quarterfinals will be held Saturday and Tuesday at the Portland Exposition Building. The Western C quarterfinals will be contested Tuesday at the Augusta Civic Center.

Eight of 10 local squads made the cut and all have Gold Ball dreams. Here’s a look.

Perfect so far

After winning its first Class B state championship in 2009-10, Falmouth’s boys’ team struggled a year ago, losing several close contests and finishing 8-10, out of the postseason for the first time in 27 years.

This season, the Yachtsmen returned to form in record setting fashion. Falmouth, which has six Gold Balls in its trophy case, had never gone undefeated. Until now. Last week, the Yachtsmen passed two overtime tests to conclude the season 18-0 and wrap up the top spot in the Western B Heal Points standings. Last Tuesday, Falmouth rallied past visiting York in overtime, 57-52, thanks to 26 points from senior Matt Packard. Friday, at Yarmouth, the Yachtsmen were down seven points in the first half, came back to lead by six in the fourth quarter, but had to rely on a defensive stand as time expired in regulation to force overtime. There, senior Jack Cooleen’s layup and junior Grant Burfeind’s foul shot gave Falmouth a 46-43 triumph. Senior Alex Cattell had a game-high 10 points.

“The boys have played awfully hard and awfully well together,” said longtime Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan. “We had a lot of adversity out there tonight, but they had each other’s back. That’s what we’ve done all year. They’re good kids. They worked hard. (Going 18-0) wasn’t even close to what I thought would happen. We’re 18-0, but we could have gone 12-6, 13-5. (The guys) found a way. It’s been a different person each time.”

Falmouth found out Tuesday night whether it would meet No. 8 Mountain Valley (11-7) or No. 9 Poland (10-8) in the quarterfinal round Saturday at 4:45 p.m. The Yachtsmen didn’t face the Falcons this year, but they have met twice prior in the playoffs (a Mountain Valley win in the 2006 regional final and a Falmouth victory in the semifinals two years ago). The Yachtsmen beat Poland twice this year, 61-58, at home Dec. 17 and 64-39 at Poland Jan. 27. The teams have never met in the postseason.

“We could be 1 or we could be 10, it doesn’t make a difference,” Halligan said. “It’ll be tough. Whoever wins will have to put three good games together.”

Yarmouth went 14-4 this winter, its four losses coming by a total of nine points. Prior to the close loss to Falmouth (where senior Josh Britten had 18 points, but was hampered by a leg injury and couldn’t get off a potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation), the Clippers avenged last year’s playoff loss with a 58-52 home victory over reigning regional champion Cape Elizabeth (Britten had 24 in that one).

“Every game this year, the four losses especially, we’ve given ourselves a chance to win,” Yarmouth coach Adam Smith said. “The guys keep their composure and don’t panic. When you look at our season in its entirety, we couldn’t have asked for anything better than going 14-4 and finishing third, but it hurts when you look in the mirror after (the Falmouth loss). Hopefully it will make us better going into next weekend’s game.”

The Clippers wound up third, but will likely have a tough test in the quarterfinals versus Greely Saturday at 11 a.m.

Speaking of which, Greely wound up 13-5 and earned the No. 6 seed after closing on a 9-1 run, which included a season-ending seven-game win streak. Last week, the Rangers downed visiting Gray-New Gloucester (45-27) and won at Cape Elizabeth (56-46). Senior Nick Clark had 14 points versus the Patriots. Classmate Liam Maker scored 24 points in the win over the Capers. Suddenly, despite its seed, Greely has become very dangerous.

“I think experience and kids getting used to their roles turned it around,” said longtime Rangers coach Ken Marks. “We’ve only had 14 kids twice all year. Other than that, it’s been pieces of a team. The kids are playing together and are feeling confident. We’ve won seven in a row, but they haven’t been pretty.”

Before a potential revenge showdown with a Yarmouth squad that eliminated them in last year’s semifinals, the Rangers had to get past No. 11 Lincoln Academy (8-10) Tuesday night in the preliminary round. The teams don’t play in the regular season. Greely last played (and beat) the Eagles in the 1994 quarterfinals.

“I think if we take care of business we should be OK,” said Marks. “They don’t have much to match up with (sophomore) Michael (McDevitt) inside. Play-in games are nervewracking. It’s only our fourth since I started coaching.”

The Rangers and Clippers split in the regular season, each winning by a point (Yarmouth, 53-52; Greely 58-57) on their home floor. They’ve also split the four prior playoff meetings.

“We’re really glad that we’re in third,” Smith said. “The only thing you can hang your hat on going into the playoffs is that we’ve been in every game. We can go to the Expo and have an opportunity to win and get to the semifinals. It will be a tremendous task for us. Both (Greely and us) will be healthy by then. As it should be.”

“I’m totally looking forward to (playing Yarmouth again),” said Marks. “We were both undermanned last time. We haven’t forgotten last year. It’s turned into a great rivalry. Britten’s a great player and competitor. We have to step up and beat a team like that.”

The Western B semifinals are Thursday of next week as action moves to the Cumberland County Civic Center. The Civic Center also hosts the Western B Final Saturday, Feb. 25. The Class B state final is Friday, March 2 at the Bangor Auditorium.

Freeport made nice strides this year, but fell short of the playoffs with a 4-14 record (the Falcons were 14th in the standings, but only 12 teams qualified). Freeport lost at Poland (66-58) and downed visiting Old Orchard Beach (60-51) to wrap up the regular season last week. Senior Mitch Loeman had 25 points in the loss and 24 in the victory. Sophomore Chandler Birmingham added 22 points versus the Seagulls.

In Western C, North Yarmouth Academy finished 3-14 and 14th in the standings (the top 11 teams qualified). The Panthers closed with losses at Old Orchard Beach (57-40) and Traip (56-44). Senior Asad Dahia had 20 points against the Seagulls.

Five in

Just about every girls’ team has done better than expected this winter and all will be tough outs in the tournament.

The only local squad with a bye into the quarterfinals is Greely, which really came together as the season progressed (boasting win streaks of five-, four- and six-games) and wound up with the No. 3 seed in Western B. The Rangers finished 15-3 after victories at Gray-New Gloucester (44-33) and at home over Cape Elizabeth (41-26) last week. Senior Caroline Hamilton scored a team-high nine points in the win over the Patriots, while the dynamic Storey sister combination paved the way to beat the Capers. Junior Jackie Storey finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while impressive freshman Ashley Storey added 12 points.

“This season has been an incredible journey,” said Greely first-year coach Kim Hilbrich. “With two returning starters and two other players who saw a lot of court time in 2010-11, there was a lot of varsity experience helping to lead the team. This team has worked hard, not only to become better players, but to also learn a new system. They have stepped up to challenges, become very resilient and will play hard to the final buzzer. I’ve been very impressed with the effort that each and every one of the girls has put in this year and I feel that they are helping to continue the long history of great competitiveness that is here at Greely.”

 The Rangers won’t have a cakewalk in the quarterfinals, when they meet either No. 6 Wells (13-5) or No. 11 Freeport (9-9) at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Greely lost at Wells way back on Dec. 9 in season opener, 49-43. The Rangers defeated the host Falcons, 53-38, Jan. 12. Greely and Freeport have no playoff history. The last time the Rangers met the Warriors in the postseason was 10 years ago in the quarterfinals (a 49-37 Wells upset win).

“There are so many talented teams in the Western Maine Conference,” Hilbrich said. “We have a lot of respect for both Freeport and Wells and the seasons they have put together, in spite of injuries. Both teams are well coached and we expect pressure defense, good spot shooting and a lot of hustle from either of them.

“We are looking forward to the tournament and the challenges it brings. Any opponent gives the team a chance to learn and grow, not only as basketball players, but also in dealing with adversity. For me, watching these student-athletes respond to what is thrown at them on the court and watching them grow in their responses during a game or over the course of a season has been a great reminder as to why I wanted to coach in the first place.”

Freeport, which was 6-12 in 2010-11 and hadn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2004-05, had an up and down regular season, due largely to the absence of junior sparkplug Aubrey Pennell, who missed 13 games with two tears in discs in her lower back. The Falcons, who turned heads with a 5-3 start, including their first win over Falmouth in ages, then lost six straight, but wound up 9-9 after wins last week over visiting Poland (50-22) and Old Orchard Beach (49-31). Junior Leigh Wyman was on fire versus the Knights, burying five 3’s in the first period alone and seven for the game in a 23-point effort. Sophomore Nina Davenport (who was part of McAuley’s Class A championship team last winter) had 16 points and senior Alexandra Mitch added 13 versus the Seagulls.

“I think our team started the year off strong, then we lost three in a row,” said Freeport coach Jen Chon. “Over Christmas break, we gained some confidence winning four out of five games and we went into January with huge wins over Yarmouth, Falmouth, and Fryeburg. Then, our team had that week off for mid-terms and we struggled offensively as a team and lost six in a row, but we fought back and found some rhythm and won the last four.

“A huge factor to our wins was getting Aubrey back from what was going to be a season-ending injury. Once Aubrey was cleared to play an entire game. our team offense has completely changed and her intensity has brought our team to a different level. Leigh has stepped up offensively and has caught a rhythm from behind the arc and instead of our team always pushing the ball to Davenport, who teams try to stop, we have other girls who have stepped up. We got past our stretch of struggling offensively and we are coming together as a team on the defensive end. We have truly come together at the perfect time.

“As of right now, our team is excited that they have achieved their goal to make it to the playoffs and they are determined to show others what this team has to offer. Our girls are focused, have more heart than ever and are looking forward to Wednesday night.”

Freeport suffered two frustrating regular season losses to Wells, letting a 14-point lead slip away in a 45-44 road setback Dec. 20 and falling, 48-38, at home to the Warriors, Jan. 20. The teams had no playoff history.

“(The first game) we were young and didn’t have the experience,” said Chon. “Our second game we were only down by two points at halftime and we were only 15-of-60 from the field. Wyman shot 1-for-15. We both matchup size-wise and both of us have quick guards. I think this is a great matchup for us and we hope to prove to ourselves that we can pull off an upset. I’m hopeful that Nina’s tournament experience from last year will help lead this team and we will be mentally prepared with playing in such a big game on the road. We are pumped.”

Yarmouth won just once last winter and that was by a mere point in the season opener. The Clippers welcomed new coach Jay Lowery this season and have turned things around quickly, thanks in large part to the return of senior Morgan Cahill (who was at Cheverus last winter). Cahill eclipsed the 1,000 point mark for her career and helped Yarmouth win the regular season finale Friday, 55-43, at Falmouth with a 31-point, 20-rebound performance. That victory ended a five-game losing streak to the Yachtsmen and erased the bad taste of a 52-33 loss at Cape Elizabeth three days prior. The Clippers finished 8-10 and by virtue of Friday’s win, leapfrogged Falmouth into the No. 8 position.

“I can’t say enough about this group of girls,” Lowery said. “We’re a team that didn’t have a summer program. I asked the girls to be patient and look where we are now. We developed through the year. We defined ourselves with defense and running the floor. We’ve done a very good job against the press. I think the girls are in a good position with confidence. I think it’s been a very successful year.

“We have two freshmen, Shannon Fallon and Lane Simsarian, who are great athletes. (Junior) Grace O’Donnell is the only returning player who saw a lot of time last year. (Sophomore) Sean Cahill has seen a lot of time this year. Morgan’s a great player. She’s been a big part of this. She’s playing a different role, passing and creating. (Senior) Jeanna Lowery played fabulous against Falmouth. She’s had problems with shin splints, but she’s coming around. Maybe just in time. She’s great on defense and has done a good job handling the ball.”

Finishing eighth allowed Yarmouth to host the No. 9 Yachtsmen in the preliminary round Wednesday night (see the forecaster.net for game story). Falmouth did win in Yarmouth earlier this season, 33-27, on Dec. 20. The teams have met just once in the postseason, a 42-30 Clippers victory in the 2001 second round.

“We wanted to be in the 8 spot,” Lowery said. “It’ll be interesting. There will be a lot of people in the crowd. We talk about coming prepared mentally. I think I have the girls convinced that anyone’s beatable in this tournament.”

Falmouth, which missed the playoffs last year at 9-9, had the same record this winter and qualified. The Yachtsmen enjoyed a 33-32 upset win at York last Tuesday (senior Laney Evers had nine points, classmate Jackie Doyle added eight) before falling at home to Yarmouth (despite junior Anna Hickey’s 13 points).

“We can be very proud of our regular season,” said Falmouth coach Mari Warner. “Although we have the same record as last season, we were in many more games. Sickness hit our team the last two weeks of the season and it was important to overcome that and beat York at York.”

The Yachtsmen were eager to get another shot at Yarmouth.

“Our senior class is leading this team into playoffs and it is exciting for our program,” Warner said. “We look forward to playing Yarmouth again. Obviously we need to contain Morgan Cahill and execute on both ends of the court.”

The winner advances to take on top-ranked Lake Region (16-2) in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 9 p.m. Yarmouth suffered its worst loss of the season at the hands of the Lakers (67-25 on the road in the second game of the season, Dec. 13). Falmouth lost both meetings with the Lakers (51-46 in overtime at home Jan. 17 and 56-34 in Naples two weeks later).

Both squads have previous playoff history with Lake Region. Yarmouth beat the Lakers in the 2002 quarterfinals, 2004 quarterfinals and in the 2005 regional final. Lake Region beat the Clippers in the 2006 quarterfinals. Falmouth was ousted by the Lakers in the 2003 preliminary round, 2005 quarterfinals and the 2007 and 2008 regional finals.

The Western B semifinals are Thursday of next week. The Western B Final is Saturday, Feb. 25. Both rounds will be contested at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The Class B state final is Friday, March 2, at the Bangor Auditorium.

In Western C, NYA qualified for the second year in a row, earning the No. 11 seed after a 9-9 campaign. The Panthers closed with a 45-31 home loss to Old Orchard Beach and a 54-19 setback at Traip. Senior Morgan Scully had 16 points and sophomore Charlotte Esancy added 14 against the Seagulls. Scully had eight points against the Rangers.

“This season we’ve had many ups and downs, but ultimately we won the games we needed to win and met our goal of making it to the playoffs,” said Panthers coach Liz Smith.

NYA went to No. 6 Mt. Abram (10-8) for a prelim Tuesday. The teams don’t meet in the regular season and had no prior postseason history.

“We played Mt. Abram in a tournament over winter break, so we are familiar with them,” Smith said. “They are strong and physical and we’re a small team, so we’re going to have to work hard inside. We’ve been battling illness over the past week-and-a-half so we’re hoping to have everyone back to 100 percent. We’ll have to come into the game with a lot more energy than we have the past few games If we can control the boards and limit our turnovers, then I think we definitely have a shot.”

If the Panthers managed to spring an upset, they’d face No. 3 Boothbay (12-6) in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., in Augusta. NYA has never faced Boothbay.

The Western C semifinals are Thursday of next week. The regional final is Feb. 25. The state championship game is Saturday, March 3. All rounds will be contested at the Augusta Civic Center.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Sidebar Elements

Senior Matt Kingry and his Falmouth teammates enter the postseason undefeated, but several foes, including the Josh Britten-led Yarmouth Clippers, stand in the Yachstmen’s way.

After closing the regular season with a win over senior Nicole Rogers and Falmouth, Yarmouth’s girls (featuring freshman Shannon Fallon) host the Yachtsmen in a preliminary round playoff game Wednesday night.

Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.