Forecaster Country hoops teams primed for tournament glory

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Four boys’ and girls’ basketball teams from Forecaster Country hope to make their presence felt at the Portland Expo, Cumberland County Civic Center and Augusta Civic Center in the days to come.

North Yarmouth Academy’s girls’ team, fresh off a late season surge, started the festivities Tuesday night with a Western Class C preliminary round contest at No. 7 St. Dom’s. If victorious, the 10th-ranked Panthers would face No. 2 Waynflete in the quarterfinals in Augusta next Tuesday at 4 p.m.

The Western B boys’ quarterfinals are Saturday at the Portland Expo. Fourth-ranked Yarmouth will meet No. 5 Mountain Valley at 3:15 p.m. Top-seeded Greely does battle with either No. 8 Gray-New Gloucester or No. 9 Maranacook (those teams had a prelim Tuesday) at 4:45 p.m.

Tuesday, at the Expo, in Western B girls’ quarterfinal action, No. 5 Greely meets No. 4 Mountain Valley at 7 p.m.

Here’s an in-depth look at the matchups:

Boys

Greely, which lost to Cape Elizabeth in the semifinals three years running, entered 2010-11 as the Western B favorite and has lived up to billing, only falling twice, at home to Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth, while winning its other 16 outings. The Rangers closed with a 91-42 home romp over Gray-New Gloucester (senior Sam Johnston had 24 points) and a 65-29 victory at Lake Region (Johnston led with 12). 

“I thought we’ve played well overall,” said longtime Rangers coach Ken Marks. “The kids came along. We didn’t match Cape Elizabeth’s intensity the first time and Yarmouth just played outstanding. We didn’t lose a game we shouldn’t have lost, which is always nice.”

Greely beat 10-8 Gray-New Gloucester twice this year, 51-39 at Gray Jan. 15 and by 49 at home last week. The teams last met in the playoffs in the 2009 quarterfinals (a 68-35 Rangers’ win). Greely doesn’t play 10-8 Maranacook in the regular season. A year ago, the Rangers survived the Black Bears in the quarterfinals, 58-54.

“Maranacook’s a completely different team this year,” Marks said. “Obviously, we won’t beat Gray by 50 again. We have to be ready to play together. Our inside game is strong. We have to get the ball to them. I’m excited.”

Yarmouth, which lost at home to Lake Region in last year’s preliminary round, has been a pleasant surprise this winter and wound up 14-4, the third time in four years the Clippers have won 14 or more. Yarmouth went 9-1 down the stretch and bounced back from last Tuesday’s 61-39 home loss to Cape Elizabeth (junior Josh Britten had a team-high 17 points) with a 67-42 romp at Gray-New Gloucester Friday (Britten led with 24 points and senior Luke Pierce added 18), which avenged an earlier loss to the Patriots.

“We’re playing well to finish the season and that’s what we wanted to do,” said Yarmouth coach Adam Smith. “You look at our schedule and we have Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Greely and York twice, eight very difficult games. To through that gamut with just four losses is very impressive. This group brought its own special character from the beginning. They brought energy and intensity and that brought anticipation, hope and expectations. As we won each game and got more confident, it permeated and carried over.”

The Clippers and Mountain Valley (16-2) don’t play in the regular season and have no playoff history.

“Mountain Valley is a perennial contender like Cape, Falmouth and Greely,” Smith said. “It’s a physical defensive team. This year, they have a three-guard offense. They can light it up. We always talk about how we handle ourselves. We have to pay more attention to how we play as opposed to who we’re playing. We’re both perimeter-oriented, which is good for us since we struggle with height. I hope we shoot better than they do.”

Notable by their omission from this year’s tournament are the Falmouth Yachtsmen, who last missed the playoffs in 1983-84. Falmouth lost its final three games, including a 57-45 home decision to York and a 53-44 setback at Cape Elizabeth to wind up 8-10 and 10th in Western B, where only nine teams qualified. Junior Jack Cooleen had 15 points versus the Wildcats and 12 against the Capers. In the latter game, the Yachtsmen rallied from 12 points down to get within two, but couldn’t complete the rally.

“The kids fought to the end,” said longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. “I was so proud of and impressed with my kids for not quitting. We got it to two and had a rebound shot where the ball spun out. If that went in, it might have been a different game, but that’s the way it’s gone for us all year. You can’t fault the kids. They’ve battled. Hopefully the younger players learn from this.”

The Yachtsmen lamented what might have been and will look forward to 2011-12, when much of this team will return hungry to get back to the top.

“I’m sad to see the seniors leave, but I’m excited about the future,” Halligan said. “We’re fortunate to have (assistant coach) Jamie (Hilton). He’s like having another varsity coach. The JV team went unbeaten. They’ll push these guys, which is the way our program’s always been. My wife wants me to go on a cruise. I told her Casco Bay Lines, but now I might have to go a little bit further.”

Freeport wound up 0-18 for the first time since 1971-72 after falling last week to host Poland (66-57) and visiting Wells (67-43). Junior Mitch Loeman had 17 points and classmate Josh Weirich 16 against the Knights. Weirich and freshman Chandler Birmingham had seven points apiece versus the Warriors as the Falcons finished 16th in Western B.

In Western C, North Yarmouth Academy wound up 7-11 and 15th in the standings (only the top 10 teams made the playoffs) after going 1-2 last week. The Panthers lost, 70-51, at Traip (senior Andrew Esancy had a team-high 21 points), beat host Poland, 55-41 (Esancy led with 22), then fell at Old Orchard Beach, 47-36 (senior Mike Ianno finished with a team-high 15).

Girls

North Yarmouth Academy’s girls started 1-3 this year, but wins in six of its final eight allowed the Panthers to make the playoffs for just the second team in seven seasons with a 10-8 mark. NYA dropped a 44-38 home decision to Traip last Tuesday (senior Blair Haggett had 15 points and junior Morgan Scully 13), but secured a postseason berth Thursday after a 50-35 home victory over Poland (freshman Charlotte Esancy had a team-high 12, while Haggett and senior Eliza Gendron both had 10).

“I’m really happy about the way the girls are playing right now,” said Panthers coach Liz Smith. “We are definitely feeling the momentum. We’ve suffered some injuries to key players and we’ve had to adjust to that. We have a small roster, but the girls know each other very well, which I think is an advantage.”

NYA doesn’t play former Western Maine Conference rival St. Dom’s (12-6) in the regular season anymore. The Panthers and Saints have no playoff history.

“Making the playoffs is a big deal for us,” Smith said. “NYA hasn’t made it to Augusta since we moved to Class C several years ago. We like the matchup with St. Doms. While we don’t play them in the regular season, we played them a couple of times over Christmas break, so we are familiar with each other. They definitely have the height advantage over us and Allaina Murphy is a very dangerous player, so we’re really going to have to do a good job on her and box out. If we can stay out of foul trouble and keep our nerves in check, then it should be a very good game.”

In Western B, Greely, regional finalists each of the past two seasons, locked up their 16th straight playoff berth by virtue of its 14-4 mark. The Rangers edged host Gray-New Gloucester, 28-24 (senior Megan Coale had a team-high seven points), then lost at home to Lake Region, 33-30 (junior Caroline Hamilton had 10 points, but the Rangers turned the ball over 27 times), in the finale.

“The kids work really hard,” said Greely coach Billy Goodman. “I think we do better in practice than we show in games. I don’t know if it’s nerves, but we have our moments. We’re fired up.”

The Rangers don’t face 14-4 Mountain Valley in the regular season, but the teams have met each of the past two seasons in the playoffs. In 2009, Greely won, 49-27, in the semifinals. Last year, the Rangers rolled, 52-24, in the quarterfinals.

“Mountain Valley will play hard,” Goodman said. “It’s tough to face a team you don’t see in the regular season. Hopefully, we’ll cut down on our turnovers and get our shots to fall. All it takes is one game to get confidence.”

Falmouth missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000 after winding up 8-10 and 10th in the region (where only nine teams qualified). The Yachtsmen suffered a 60-22 home loss to undefeated defending state champion York last Tuesday (senior Jess DiPhillippo had seven points), but bounced back Friday to down host Cape Elizabeth, 40-30, to keep hope alive until Wells beat Freeport to secure the final berth. DiPhillippo had a team-high 11 versus the Capers.

“I like the heart and enthusiasm we showed,” first-year Falmouth coach Mari Warner said. “The kids seemed to really want it. We got a nice lead early on which helped. We answered each challenge.

“We didn’t do our part in the middle of the season and that put us in this situation. I’m exceptionally happy with Falmouth. They took me under their wing and really accepted me. It’s been hard on these guys with a new person coming in with a new system and new terminology. I give them a tremendous amount of credit. Overall, I’m happy with our season. There’s so much more we’re going to do. We have to get a full program and we will.”

Freeport’s midseason surge wasn’t enough to get it to the playoffs. The Falcons wound up 6-12 and 11th in Western B after beating visiting Poland (52-35) and losing at Wells (62-43). Against the Knights, sophomore Leigh Wyman had 10 points. Junior Morgan Brown had 17 points versus the Warriors.

Yarmouth ended up 1-17 and 17th in the region after losses last week to Cape Elizabeth (46-29) and Gray-New Gloucester (40-35). Freshman Olivia Smith had 11 points in each game.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net and followed on Twitter @foresports

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