Falmouth caps perfect regular season with OT win at Yarmouth
YARMOUTH—Throughout the storied history of the Falmouth boys' basketball program, one that's included countless all-star caliber players and six state championships, no Yachtsmen team had ever navigated a regular season without a blemish.
Friday evening, on the home floor of one of its fiercest rivals, Falmouth did what it's done all winter, find a way to win a close game, and as a result, culminated an 18-0 regular season with yet another stirring triumph.
While host Yarmouth gave the Yachtsmen everything they had hope for and more, Falmouth was able to rally from a seven-point second period deficit, dodge a series of bullets down the stretch and once the game went into overtime, senior Jack Cooleen, who dominated the post all night, scored the only field goal of the extra session and the staunch Yachtsmen defense held the Clippers scoreless, bringing the curtain down on a historic regular season with a 46-43 victory.
Falmouth not only finished 18-0, but also secured the No. 1 seed for the upcoming tournament and will face either Mountain Valley or Poland in the Western B quarterfinals, next Saturday at 4:45 p.m., at the Portland Expo.
Yarmouth's regular season ended at 14-4. The Clippers will be ranked third and will square off against either Greely or Lincoln Academy in the quarterfinals Saturday at 11 a.m., at the Expo.
"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. Good players. They worked hard. (Going 18-0) wasn't even close to what I thought would happen."
Yarmouth, which made it to the regional final last winter for the first time in 37 years before losing to Cape Elizabeth, had another solid campaign. The Clippers opened with a 70-34 romp at Gray-New Gloucester. They then downed visiting Lake Region (85-40), visiting Wells (57-33) and host York (49-48). After a 46-42 setback at Falmouth, Yarmouth closed 2011 with a 65-35 home win over Fryeburg.
The new year opened 2012 with wins at Freeport (83-42), at home over Greely (53-52) and Poland (63-56). After a 40-39 setback at Cape Elizabeth, the Clippers bounced back with a 52-45 win at Waynflete, then dominated visiting Gray-New Gloucester (81-38), host Traip (81-29) and visiting Freeport (69-40). After a 58-57 heartbreaking loss at Greely, which ended with Britten's potential buzzer-beater being off the mark, Yarmouth won at Poland in four overtimes, 92-78 (behind 54 points from Britten), and held off visiting Cape Elizabeth Tuesday, 58-52.
After last year's 8-10 season (the first time Falmouth missed the playoffs since 1983-84), the 2011-12 campaign has been most memorable.
The Yachtsmen opened with a 60-37 home win over defending regional champion Cape Elizabeth, then had their way at Fryeburg, 66-37. After rallying past host Greely, 55-48, Falmouth held off Poland, 61-58, rallied past visiting Yarmouth (46-42) and crushed visiting Traip (75-26) to wrap up the 2011 portion of the schedule.
The winning continued in the new year as the Yachtsmen opened with a 44-37 triumph at York and had its way with host Freeport (62-34) and visiting Gray-New Gloucester (71-26). On Jan. 14, while Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were decimating Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in an AFC Divisional Round playoff game, Falmouth hosted Greely and the teams put on a thrilling show that took two overtimes before the Yachtsmen prevailed, 53-51. Wins at Lake Region (83-50) and Cape Elizabeth (52-37) was followed by a 60-39 home victory over Wells, which saw Falmouth explode in the fourth period. After rolling at Poland (64-39) and at home over Lake Region (84-31), the Yachtsmen survived another tough game at Wells (58-47), then had to go to overtime Tuesday, but again prevailed, 57-52, over visiting York.
A once one-sided rivalry in favor of Falmouth has been much more even in recent seasons (see sidebar). Last year, the Clippers swept the season series (50-33 at home and 63-58, in OT, and Yarmouth) for the second time in four years. In the first meeting this winter, both squads entered unbeaten and the Clippers got an early jump, but the Yachtsmen went on to win behind 14 points from senior Matt Packard.
Falmouth lost just once in a regular season on six previous occasions: 1985-86, 1994-95, 1995-96, 1996-97, 2003-04 and two years ago, when it went on to win the Class B championship. That winter, the Yachsmen lost at home to Cape Elizabeth in the finale.
This time around, Falmouth made sure it's regular season ended perfectly.
Yarmouth, fresh off its Senior Night ceremony, came out a little flat and the Yachtsmen made the Clippers pay, scoring the game's first six points.
After two scoreless minutes, Cooleen passed to senior Alex Cattell to break the ice. A finger roll from senior Jeremy Lydick and a jumper by senior Matt Kingry made it 6-0 with 4:57 remaining in the first period and Clippers coach Adam Smith had to call timeout.
It worked as Britten got free for a jumper to put Yarmouth on the board with 4:17 to go. Lydick answered with a 3, but senior Sam Torres set up Britten for a short bank shot and freshman Adam LaBrie made a bank shot put to pull the hosts within three, 9-6, after one.
As the teams took the floor for the second period, Britten made his way to the foul line as those on hand weren't sure what was going on. It was then announced that a technical foul had been called after Falmouth junior Tom Wilberg entered the game wearing a different number than what was in the official book.
Britten made the first of his two attempts, but missed the second, and regular play commenced.
After Cattell made a free throw, the Clippers got a floater from senior Chris Knaub and with 5:39 to play before halftime, LaBrie fed Knaub for a layup and the home team's first lead.
Yarmouth wasn't through as Britten made two foul shots, Torres took a pass from Britten and made a jumper and Knaub fed Torres for a layup with 3:40 to go to cap a 10-0 surge and give the Clippers a 17-10 advantage.
Not surprisingly, the poised Yachstmen didn't buckle and in a little over a minute's time, they completely erased the deficit.
With 3:17 to play before halftime, Cooleen got involved in the offense, making a layup, drawing a foul on Knaub, then hitting the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point, which ended a 4 minute, 2 second drought.
Six seconds later, Cattell made a layup after a steal and with 2:05 showing, junior sparkplug reserve Grant Burfeind passed to Cooleen for a layup to tie the score.
Yarmouth went back on top on Knaub's jumper with 1:27 to play, but 16 seconds later, Kingry buried a jump shot to make it 19-19.
In the final minute, Britten's leaner was answered by a jump shot from Cattell. As time wound down, Burfeind broke free for a layup, but he had to race the clock and just before the horn sounded, his shot rolled off the rim, leaving the score deadlocked, 21-21, at the half.
Of more immediate concern to the Clippers and their fans was the sight of Britten (to that point, the game's high scorer with nine points) collapsed on the floor at midcourt. Behind the play, he had suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury and stayed down for a couple minutes before being helped up and led to the locker room.
Neither team would lead by more than six in a taut second half and as it turned out, 16 minutes wouldn't be enough to decide matters.
To the relief of the home crowd, Britten did return for the second half, but it soon became clear he wasn't 100 percent.
Fourteen seconds in, Britten did make the second of two foul shots to give Yarmouth its last lead, 22-21.
At the other end, a three-point play from Cattell put Falmouth ahead for the first time since 10-9. Junior Charlie Fay added a free throw, then Fay took a pass from Cattell for a layup and a 27-22 lead. Britten answered by making three free throws after being fouled by Kingry on a 3-point shot, but at the other end, Cattell passed to Packard, who had been quiet to that point, for a 3-point bomb.
With 2:37 to go in the third, Knaub hit a leaner, the Clippers' first field goal of the half. Sophomore David Murphy then made a layup after a steal to cut the deficit to one and Halligan called timeout.
Out of the timeout, Burfeind got free for a 3 and sank it and the next time down, Kingry scored on a putback to push the lead to six. Britten passed to junior Christian Henry for a layup with a minute to go, but 21 seconds later, Burfeind scored on a putback and the Yachtsmen took a 37-31 lead to the fourth quarter.
There's Yarmouth's opportunism closed the gap.
Torres set the tone with a layup after a steal 17 seconds in. After three scoreless minutes, Wilberg scored on a putback, but Britten hit a free throw and with 3:18 to go, Britten stole the ball and raced in for a layup to cut the deficit to 39-36.
Cooleen answered with a putback at the other end, but a Knaub 3 followed by a Torres steal and layup made it 41-41 with 2:22 to go.
"(Yarmouth's) pressure defense takes you out of rhythm and what you want to do," said Halligan. "They did a great job pressuring the ball. Once we saw the open man, we were fine, but we were always a little bit late and that had to do with their defense. No lead against them is comfortable."
After Kingry missed a 3, Henry got the rebound and when Britten was fouled with 1:55 showing, it looked like the Clippers would go on top, but he missed the front end of his one-and-one and Fay got the rebound. Falmouth then transitioned down the floor and Packard made a jump shot for a 43-41 lead.
Yarmouth then ran a minute off the floor looking for a good shot until Smith called timeout with 41.9 seconds to play. After nearly 30 more seconds of frustration, Britten spun between two defenders into the lane before banking home a short jumper to tie the score anew, 43-43, with 13.8 seconds remaining.
Little did anyone suspect that the Clippers wouldn't score a single point the rest of the way.
Out of a Falmouth timeout, Yarmouth stole the ball back with 6.4 seconds showing and Smith called timeout to set up what he hoped would be a winning play.
To the surprise of no one, the ball came to Britten, who attempted to drive, only to be met by Cattell, Fay and Kingry. Britten slipped and was called for traveling with 0.4 seconds on the clock.
"Josh has had to step up on a lot of big shot opportunities for us this year," Smith said. "He feels he has to do more than I'd like to see him have to do. At that point, with the ball in his hand, he felt like he had to do whatever he could to make it happen. As soon as the rest of his teammates step up and give him support and ask for the ball, he won't have to go against three guys. It'll make us better and Josh better. He has to draw people and give an open look to somebody. I told him it's OK. This isn't the game we want him to excel."
Falmouth's defensive hunger had made the difference.
"We didn't want him to get a free shot and Alex and Charlie did a great job stepping in and making sure he didn't have an open look," said Kingry.
"We expected Britten to take the shot," Burfeind said. "He's a really good shooter. We hoped to deny him the ball, make someone else shoot the ball and play good team defense."
"We hung our hat on defense all year," Halligan added. "It kept us in the game when all the other stuff was going bad. We tried to help as much as we could. We couldn't leave anyone open for a shot. If they were going to beat us, it would have to be a great play."
The Yachtsmen had time to throw a pass toward the basket and have it tipped in, but the long inbounds throw hit the backboard, was grabbed by Knaub and the horn sounded, sending the game to overtime.
The four-minute extra session saw the Yachtsmen do what they've done all year, whatever it takes to win, while the Clippers didn't lack for opportunities.
Just 12 seconds in, Cattell lofted a pass to Cooleen under the basket. Cooleen somehow went up and made a reverse layup and Falmouth was on top to stay, 45-43.
"I always find myself under the basket," said Cooleen. "I didn't go up strong at all the rest of the game, so I went up strong there and wound up finishing. I thought I'd have to score a few more times, but it didn't end up having to happen. At the beginning of the game, my offense wasn't clicking, so I focused primarily on defense and rebounding to help the team win."
"(Jack's) a senior captain," Halligan said. "That's what seniors have to do in games like this."
Yarmouth's first OT possession saw Britten miss a 3, but LaBrie grab the rebound, Knaub miss a 3, but Henry grab the rebound, Knaub miss a shot, but Britten get to the loose ball, Knaub miss a shot, but get his own board and then finally, the Clippers turned the ball over.
The Yachtsmen gave it right back, but a steal by Fay led to a breakaway layup opportunity, which was denied by hustle of Torres who got back to affect Fay's shot.
Yarmouth couldn't convert the next time down either as Knaub was called for an offensive foul, his fifth.
With 49.3 seconds to go, Burfeind was fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one. Under pressure, he made the first attempt to push the lead to three.
"I came in and did what I have to do,' Burfeind said. "I just tried to tune everything out, imagine it was practice, get my routine down and luckily I hit one of them."
"(Grant's) something special," Halligan said. "He's got qualities you can't coach. He's got a competitive nature. He just makes things happen."
Burfeind's second attempt was no good and the Clippers raced down the floor. Murphy missed a shot, but Henry got another offensive rebound. With 10.3 seconds to play, Smith called timeout and Yarmouth had one last chance to tie.
Again, Falmouth overcompensated on Britten and this time, the ball came to Henry on the right wing. He had a good look at a tying 3, but his shot was off the mark. Torres' tip (which would have only cut the deficit to one) was no good as well and Cooleen snared and cradled the rebound as the horn sounded.
The perfect Yachtsmen had found a way once again, 46-43.
"Yarmouth's a great team," Kingry said. "We worked really hard to prepare. We didn't exactly execute everything perfectly, but we kept fighting. We've had those crunch moments and we prepare for those. We felt pretty comfortable going into overtime."
"We've been in a lot of close games this year," said Burfeind, who was also a huge contributor to a soccer state championship in the fall. "We didn't have the same regular season as soccer, but it's been special. It was a really big crowd tonight, but it doesn't get to you when you play a lot of games like this. This is really special for us. We'll savor it right now, but we know there's work to be done. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do in the playoffs."
The Yachtsmen epitomized the phrase balanced scoring.
Cattell led the way with 10 points (and also had two steals). Cooleen had nine (along with eight rebounds and six blocked shots), Burfeind (seven boards) and Kingry six each, Lydick and Packard (seven rebounds) five apiece, Fay three and Wilberg two.
Falmouth ended with a 33-28 rebounding advantage, had six steals, eight blocked shots and overcame 20 turnovers and 5-of-10 foul shooting.
In a single season, the Yachtsmen increased their win total from eight to 18, surprising even them.
"Actually, (going 18-0) came up in preseason goals and we discarded it," Cooleen said. "Alex Cattell pushed 18-0, but we settled at 15-3. We're pumped. It's awesome to win every game."
"We know what each other will do on every play," Kingry said. "We beat Greely and York early and that gave us a gauge. We kept the momentum going and had a chip on our shoulder from last year."
"We're 18-0, but we could have gone 12-6, 13-5," Halligan added. "(The guys) found a way. It's been a different person each time. I think it's maturity and experience. We lost close games last year. If we made the tournament last year, I think we could have made some hay."
Britten ((who became Yarmouth's all-time leading scorer on the night) finished with a game-high 18 points, but it was obvious he wasn't his normal self in the second half and overtime.
"He said he was OK and assured me his knee wasn't that bad, but I thought explosively he wasn't there a couple trips where he tried to get to the rim," Smith said. "It threw his shot off. He missed a few looks he normally knocks down."
Falmouth's defensive effort, led by Kingry, also helped hold Britten in check.
"It was a team effort," Kingry said. "(Britten's) a great player. I couldn't stop him on my own. The team really stepped up and helped."
"(Kingry's) our unsung hero," said Halligan. "He always guards the other team's best player game after game. He works his butt off."
Knaub had 11 points, a seven rebounds and three steals before fouling out, Torres added eight points, five rebounds and three steals and Henry (six boards), LaBrie (five rebounds) and Murphy each finished with two points.
Yarmouth had 13 steals and only gave the ball away 15 times. The Clippers sank 8-of-12 free throw attempts.
"We had a lot of looks, but Falmouth played great defense," Smith said. "They force guys into taking shots which at that time they probably weren't comfortable with. It's a tough matchup for us. Falmouth's big and strong. I'm thrilled with the effort and the guts and determination we showed and our ability to not get down at any stretch. Any run Falmouth made, we answered. I'm pleased with the character and makeup of the guys. It wasn't easy."
Smith has long stated that his goal is for Yarmouth to be a consistent contender, in the mold of Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and Greely. After another superb regular season, in which the four losses came by a combined total of nine points, it's safe to say the Clippers are there.
"Every game this year, the four losses especially, we've given ourselves a chance to win," 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 this one. Hopefully it will make us better going into next weekend's game."
Let the fun begin
Both Falmouth and Yarmouth will next take the floor Saturday, Feb. 18, at the Portland Expo for the Western Class B quarterfinals.
The Clippers earned their highest seed in four seasons, but that guarantees them nothing other than a likely quarterfinal round matchup against a great team, Greely. The rivals split in the regular season, with each squad holding on for dear life to win by a single point on its home floor.
Making the task even more difficult for Yarmouth, the Rangers are bound and determined to avenge last year's semifinal round playoff defeat.
Regardless, Yarmouth feels it has what it takes to make noise again.
"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. We'll prepare and hopefully things won't be different than they were in the regular season. It will be a tremendous task for us. Both (Greely and us) will be healthy by then. As it should be.
"Once the prelim games play out, I'm sure Falmouth will think it's one of the tougher 1-8 matchups. I can see Spruce Mountain coming down and playing against our conference, they'll see the 2-7 matchup won't be a cakewalk either. There should be quite a few very, very good games. That 4-5 matchup could be another epic battle, as our 3-6 matchup will be. We'll have closer quarterfinal games, 1 through 8, that we've had in awhile."
The Yachtsmen will be No. 1 for the first time since the 2004-05 season. Falmouth doesn't play Mountain Valley in the regular season. The Yachtsmen beat Poland twice.
While it won't take anyone for granted, Falmouth feels it's ready for another title run.
"We have to keep working hard and running our sets like they're supposed to run, crack down on defense and keep it going," Kingry said.
"There's no margin for error," Cooleen said. "This is the most even I've seen the league. Every team plays hard. We've had a ton of close games this season. Everyone's very solid."
"We could be 1 or we could be 10, it doesn't make a difference," Halligan added. "It'll be tough. Whoever wins will have to put three good games together. Every game's a battle. That's how tournament games are."