Yarmouth gives Cinderella a rude wakeup call
PORTLAND—It turns out the Lincoln Academy boys' basketball team was the gift that kept on giving to the Yarmouth Clippers.
After springing a monumental upset Tuesday night, which allowed the Clippers to avoid rival Greely in their first playoff test, the Eagles weren't able to keep their magical run going as Yarmouth put a dazzling show in a Western Class B quarterfinal round contest Saturday morning at the Portland Exposition Building.
The Clippers got a 3-pointer from senior Chris Knaub on their first possession, then turned up the defense and forced a mindboggling 21 first quarter turnovers. That opening stanza ended with a steal and layup fest by Yarmouth which spelled a 19-0 run and a commanding 27-4 advantage.
The Clippers extended the lead to 54-12 by halftime and never looked back, riding 22 points from senior Josh Britten, 13 from Knaub and an impressive 15 off the bench from sophomore David Murphy as they rolled, 77-35, improving to 15-4 in the process, ending Lincoln Academy's season at 9-11, while setting up a semifinal round contest versus No. 2 Spruce Mountain (18-1) Thursday at 9 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
"We couldn't ask for a better start," said Yarmouth coach Adam Smith. "Our focus all year was to play well, get better and focus on that first game of the tournament. We played well in the regular season and were fortunate to get the third seed. Our focus was to get back to the Expo, play well and make a tourney run. We'll give that kind of effort every night and look forward to doing that again Thursday."
After Smith guided Yarmouth to an 11-7 mark in 2006-07, its first winning record in four years, he stated that his intention was for the Clippers to be annual contenders, a seemingly improbable proposition at the time.
Since then, however, Yarmouth has won more than it lost every season and qualified for the postseason each winter. Last year proved to be the pinnacle (so far) as the Clippers blew past Mountain Valley in the quarterfinals, then upset top-ranked Greely in the semis before finally falling short against Cape Elizabeth in the regional final round.
This winter, Yarmouth produced 14 wins for the fourth time in five years and its four losses came by a combined nine points. 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, Yarmouth won at Poland in four overtimes, 92-78 (behind 54 points from Britten), and held off visiting Cape Elizabeth, 58-52, before closing with a 46-43 overtime loss to visiting Falmouth last Friday night.
Lincoln Academy has been a regular tournament participant, but fell short last year with a 9-9 mark. This winter, the Eagles overcame a 1-4 start and finished the regular season 8-10, good for the 11th and final playoff spot in Western B.
Lincoln went to No. 6 Greely Tuesday for the preliminary round and wasn't given much of a chance, but wound up upsetting the Rangers, 55-54, in the one of the biggest playoff upsets in years, thanks to a last-second 3-point shot.
Lincoln and Yarmouth took the floor Saturday morning having never met.
The Clippers then ended the Eagles' run.
In astonishingly quick fashion.
The game began auspiciously for Yarmouth when Knaub knocked down a 3-ball just 19 seconds in.
"I was just feeling it in warmups," Knaub said. "We came out, ran the play and I was open so I took it. It felt great coming off my hands."
"Chris has got ice in his veins," Britten said. "He hits big shots for us. He's a clutch shooter. He's a great guy to take pressure off of me."
"Being a senior, Chris put it on his shoulders to not just play defense and rebound, but he had to be part of Josh's experience of getting points," Smith added. "When he's open, he has to let the ball fly. He started to do that more at the end of the season. He's more comfortable. That's what senior captains do. When it went in, I wasn't surprised. I wasn't surprised he took it. I liked him stepping up and doing that."
A putback from sophomore Nathaniel Shields-Auble and a foul shot from senior Sam Torres made it 6-0.
With 6:02 to play in the eight-minute first quarter, Lincoln Academy got on the board when senior Dylan Leavitt made two free throws. A Britten layup, set up by a Shields-Auble steal, was answered by a Leavitt layup and the Eagles were seemingly very much in the game, down, 8-4, at the midway point of the period.
Then, Yarmouth delivered the knockout punch.
In breakneck speed.
First, Britten tipped home a missed shot. He then stole the ball, was fouled and made one free throw. Junior Christian Henry followed with a driving layup, Britten made a layup after a steal, after another turnover, Torres fed Murphy (who had just come in the game) for a reverse layup, Knaub passed to Torres for a layup and with 1:16 left in the first, Britten, after a steal, set up Murphy for another layup and a 21-4 lead, forcing Eagles' coach Chris McKenney to call timeout.
It didn't help.
Out of the timeout, Murphy stole the ball and raced in for a layup, Murphy scored on a putback after another steal and Knaub converted a leaner off the glass to bring the nearly perfect quarter to a close with Yarmouth running away, 27-4.
The Clippers certainly benefited from 21 Lincoln Academy turnovers, most of which were steals.
"We came out flying at the beginning," said Murphy. "Josh and Sam and Chris found me for streaking layups. We practiced a lot of press this week and worked on our conditioning so we could press them the whole half. Coach told us to come out flying and not lay back."
"That's what we practice," said Knaub. "We fly around the court, buzz around and get what we can. That's what we have to do. Get the ball and go."
"(The Eagles) had a great win at Greely and had momentum so we wanted to take them out of the game with our defense," Britten said. "It's our bread and butter. If we came out flying we'd be ready to play. We want five guys flying around the court. As long we're moving, it's great."
Yarmouth gave no quarter in the second period either.
After Leavitt made a layup to end the 19-0 run and a 4 minute, 41 second drought, freshman Adam LaBrie made his presence felt with a bank shot. Knaub then hit back-to-back 3s, Britten drained a jumper, Murphy hit two foul shots and with 3:38 left in the half, LaBrie knocked home a 3-ball and the Clippers had an ever-growing 42-6 lead.
"We're a fast team," LaBrie said. "We knew their style of play. We knew what we needed to do."
LaBrie has become more and more of a factor as the season has progressed.
"I was kind of nervous, but I knew the whole team was behind me," he said. "By the time the game gets going, I'm OK. I've played in big games before. This wasn't too bad."
"(Adam's) a little star-struck with the amount of time he's getting," Smith said. "Every trip is fun for him. It's fun to see the game through his eyes. He's contributed and been a huge factor for us. He doesn't seem to be scared about anything. The guys have been good to him, so he's never nervous."
A layup from Eagle's senior Nicholas Phinney ended the 15-0 run, but Knaub hit Britten for a transition layup, Murphy made a 3 and Britten hit another to make it 50-8 with 1:31 remaining.
After junior John Riley made two free throws for Lincoln Academy, Murphy answered with a layup and Torres sank two free throws. A jumper from senior John Lincoln allowed the Eagles to close the first half on a relative high note, but the Clippers had a stunning 54-12 advantage.
"I felt like we could rattle them with our pressure," Britten said. "They came out and weren't ready."
As expected, Yarmouth's scoring production slowed in the second half as the starters came out for the beginning of the third period, but were all on the bench for good by quarter's end.
A Britten floater got the second half scoring started. After Leavitt countered with a leaner, Henry made a layup, Britten sank a 3 and Torres hit a foul shot to make it 62-14.
Leavitt stemmed the tide with a putback, but Britten converted an old-fashioned three-point play and the Clippers had a 49-point advantage.
Senior Ryley Leavitt made a leaner and Lincoln scored on a putback, but Torres hit two foul shots and Knaub made a pair before the reserves came in en masse. After a Ryley Leavitt layup, Henry made a free throw and Shields-Auble hit a pair. A driving layup by Lincoln closed the quarter with Yarmouth up, 72-24.
Twenty seconds into the fourth, LaBrie scored on a putback and a minute later, sophomore Ethan Gage made two foul shots for the biggest lead of the game, 76-24.
The Eagles answered as junior Luke Bibber made a layup, promising freshman Travis Creamer made two foul shots, then hit two more and after a Gage free throw, junior Caleb Farrrin scored on a putback and Creamer ended the scoring with a 3-ball.
The Clippers ran out the final minute-plus and put their 77-35 victory in the books.
"It's a one-game season and any team can win, so it's all about how you come out and start the game," Britten said. "I think we're capable of doing great things this year. We love being the underdogs. It gives us more energy and motivation."
"We knew if we could get (Lincoln Academy) in a fullcourt game it would be to our liking," Smith said. "Put pressure on their guards and make every trip an experience for them. All five of our guys did that."
Britten led all scorers with 22 points. He also had a game-high nine steals.
"(Playing at the Expo) takes a little getting used to" Britten said. "It's better than the Civic Center. I like playing here. It's a great floor."
"Josh is going to bring his game every night," Smith said. "He's going to face some tough defenses, but he's playing better against better defenses as the season goes on. He's a smart player. He's prepared for this. He's a lightning rod out there and we're glad he's ours."
Murphy had a superb effort with 15 points and four steals.
"(David) brought so much intensity," said Knaub. "There was no letdown when he came on. He was a spark for us. He got a hand on everything and made shots."
"David had a huge game for a sophomore of his size," Britten said. "We're a pretty small team. This type of offense works well for him."
"When you scout us, if you're not in our conference, you're not going to think much of David Murphy," Smith added. "We know what he can do. He's a smart player and a great athlete. He does a lot for us, whether he's scoring or not. He gave us a huge lift off the bench to help us keep the momentum."
Knaub, thanks in large part to his three 3s, had 13 points, as well as four steals.
Torres added eight points, LaBrie had eight (along with seven rebounds), Henry five (with seven boards) and Shields-Auble four.
While Henry and Torres didn't light up the scoreboard, their impact was enormous.
"We had guys steal the ball because Christian took the pass away from his man and Sam contained his guys," Smith said. "Other guys got the steals and got on the break because Christian and Sam were stopping whoever's in their area. They're so unselfish. They're team guys and they're happy with our success."
Shields-Auble missed the last few games of the regular season. His return makes the Clippers much better.
"Nate's great down low," Britten said. "He makes space for himself. He does dirty work a lot of people don't see."
"Having (Nate) on the floor moves everyone else a position," Smith said. "That looses up Chris and Josh and Christian Henry. We're in a more comfortable position. The fouls that Nate gets would be Josh's or Chris' normally. It was a tremendous lift for us. Hopefully, he'll play more and better next game."
Gage rounded out the scoring with three points.
Yarmouth made seven 3-pointers to one for Lincoln and ended the game with a whopping 27 steals (to just five for the Eagles). The Clippers were outrebounded by a 31-28 margin, made just 18-of-29 foul shots and gave the ball away on 17 occasions, but the 40 forced turnovers more than made up for any shortcomings.
Even Yarmouth's bench players got to see a lot of action.
"(The reserves) did a really good job," Murphy said. "They kept the pressure up the entire time and never let up."
"After the first half, you can go to guys who deserve that time," Smith said. "I was glad to see that and you could see the fans were too. The bench was glad too. I thought they played really well. There's no garbage time for us. You just play and play hard."
For Lincoln Academy, Dylan Leavitt led the way with 10 points and six rebounds. Creamer had seven points, Lincoln six (with six boards), Ryley Leavitt four (and four rebounds), Bibber, Farrin, Phinney and Riley two apiece.
The Eagles made 8-of-12 foul shots.
Back to the Civic Center
After 34 years with no trips to the semifinals, Yarmouth will take part in that round for the third time in five seasons Thursday when it squares off with Spruce Mountain.
The Clippers didn't face the newly-created Phoenix (a combination of the former Jay and Livermore Falls High Schools) this winter. Thursday will mark the teams' first postseason meeting.
The way Spruce Mountain dominated No. 11 Wells in its quarterfinals (63-34), you can rest assured that for the second game in a row, Yarmouth won't be overlooking anything.
"It'll be tough, but if we play like we have, we'll keep it going," LaBrie said.
"We hope to make more steps forward," Knaub said. "This was a good start. We just want to work our hardest, bring intensity and get after it."
"We still have to focus and get ready for Thursday," Murphy said. "We're peaking right now. We're making shots, working as a team. That's all you can ask for."
"(Spruce Mountain's) a physical team," Smith said. "Not unlike what we face every night in the Western Maine Conference. It will be a grind every trip. Both teams take care of the ball well. I suspect it will be more of a halfcourt game, although we'll try to make it a fast paced game. We know the energy that'll come next round and the effort they'll bring."