By Michael Hoffer
YARMOUTH — The resurgence of the Yarmouth boys’ basketball program over the past three seasons has provided countless highlights.
One of the more memorable came Saturday night at Yarmouth High when arguably the finest player in program history hit a personal milestone.
Facing defending Western Class B champion Cape Elizabeth, senior sharpshooter Johnny Murphy ended the suspense quickly, draining a jumper and a 3-pointer in the game’s first minute-and-a-half, then adding a layup after a steal with 1:11 to go in the opening quarter, giving him 1,000 points for his prolific high school career.
“It was a very nice surprise,” said Murphy, who will attend Bates College in the fall. “To be honest, I had no idea I was even close. Randomly this season, coach (Adam Smith) did a point total and I was 16 away. It was never something that was on my mind or something that was a personal goal. I just wanted to win games. It’s a great honor, but I owe all of that to my teammates and my coaches, all who have helped so much in making me a better player and person.”
The game was momentarily halted so athletic director Susan Robbins could present the game ball to Murphy, who handed it over to his father. Murphy was hailed by his teammates, coaches and all on hand.
Murphy’s layup gave the Clippers a 13-10 lead, but things quickly headed south for the hosts as the Capers erupted for 16 straight points to seize control. Making matters worse, Murphy picked up his fourth foul with 2:19 to go in the first half and played sparingly the rest of the night.
Yarmouth trailed by 10, 29-19, at halftime and got within eight on a few occasions in the third period, but poor foul shooting (the Clippers were just 3-of-18 in the first three quarters) sealed its doom and Cape Elizabeth closed the quarter on a 16-4 run and rolled to a 64-48 victory.
“I would have traded my 1,000th point in a heartbeat for the win,” Murphy said.
Murphy finished with 12 points on the night, giving him 1,005 for his career, leaving him just 19 points shy of the school record held by the late Steve Morris (Class of 1968), who went on to serve as a longtime coach and athletic director at North Yarmouth Academy before losing a battle with cancer in 2002.
Smith said that Murphy’s milestone further validates Yarmouth’s legitimacy as a top program.
“People come out to watch the team and individuals like Johnny, they talk about the games and they read about us along with the other ‘top’ teams,” he said. “That has elevated the level of performance and expectations in the program. Johnny scoring his 1,000th point and in the next couple of games, breaking the school scoring record, gives more excitement and notoriety to our program. We started out winning some games, then beating teams we hadn’t beaten in the past, going to the tournament and winning a game in the tournament. Now we have a 1,000-point scorer. All of this is not a big deal at Greely, Falmouth or Cape, but it’s the progression we have had to take to be taken seriously in this league.”
The loss was just Yarmouth’s third in 10 games, but the Clippers have yet to contend with a top team. Their losses to Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and Greely came by an average of 17-plus points.
“I have felt like we’ve been going in the right direction, then we don’t seem to be able to compete for four quarters with the top teams,” Smith lamented. “We rebuild, while bigger and better programs reload.”
Yarmouth went to Poland Tuesday (too late for this edition) as Murphy sought the 20 points to put him over the hump as the program’s all-time leading scorer. The Clippers (fourth in the latest Western Class B Heals) then face another stern test Friday when they host Falmouth (which beat them 52-33 Dec. 13 in Falmouth).
Murphy and Smith expect Yarmouth to turn the corner and remain in the hunt for the remainder of the season.
“We’re at least not fearful of these teams like we were in the past,” Smith said. “Effortwise, I know what I’m going to get every night. I love that about this group. Going into the season, with only two returning players from a year ago, if you told me we’d be 7-3, I would have been ecstatic. As a coach, you never seem to be satisfied, so I look forward to the challenge of getting this team to the consistent level of play it will take to be competitive in the tournament.”
“I’m very happy and excited with where our team is right now,” Murphy added. “We’re a lot better than people thought we were going to be. There are a few areas we need to work on. The good thing is that they’re areas that are easiest to improve. We already have the defensive and offensive intensity a team needs. We don’t make many turnovers. We need to improve upon foul shots and converting easy opportunities like layups.
“I know that this is not where we’re going to be come playoff time, but we’re only going to get better and I’m confident we’ll be able to make some sort of playoff run come February.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com