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They did it again...Falmouth off to regional final

Sports

They did it again...Falmouth off to regional final

PORTLAND—The late game heroics and breathtaking exploits of the Falmouth boys' basketball team never get old.

They just get better and more improbable by the day.

Thursday evening at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the Yachtsmen added another memorable chapter to their undefeated tale with perhaps their most impressive win to date.

Facing talented and revenge-minded fourth-ranked York, No. 1 Falmouth was hapless in the first half, scoring a mere 11 points. Luckily for the Yachtsmen, their defense was as good as the offense was bad, and they only trailed by three at the break.

The Wildcats got their offense going in the third quarter and with under three minutes to play, York had a 27-15 lead and had Falmouth on the ropes.

This team never, ever, ever says die, however, and once more rose from the near-dead to put on a show, closing the third period on a 10-2 run, as the offense finally kicked into gear.

Then, after falling behind by seven at the start of the fourth period, freshman Jackson Simonds, who saw limited playing time this season and none in clutch spots, hit a 3 to turn things around. The Yachtsmen later benefited from an official's error and essentially got an extra basket and with 3:30 remaining, a tough-angle left-handed bank shot from senior Matt Packard put Falmouth ahead to stay.

Simonds added another 3 and the Yachtsmen pushed ahead by as many as seven points, but the Wildcats had one final rally and got within two before two Packard free throws sealed the deal and gave Falmouth a palpitating 49-45 victory.

Packard led all scorers with 20 points, senior Jack Cooleen added 10 and Simonds had the biggest eight of his young career as the Yachtsmen improved to 20-0, ended York's season at 15-5 and advanced to set up an absolutely delicious regional final with rival Yarmouth (ranked third, 16-4) in the Western B Final Saturday at 3:45 p.m., at the Civic Center.

"In the first half, we played like we were looking for someone else to step forward and do something," said Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan. "This was the first time for these guys on the big stage. Once we figured out there was no cavalry coming, we were fine."

Another thriller

After capturing the 2010 Class B Gold Ball in dramatic style, its first title at that level, Falmouth struggled in 2011, losing several close contests en route to an 8-10 mark, as it missed the playoffs for the first time in 27 years.

This winter, the Yachtsmen have passed every single test and there have been many. More than half their contests were decided in either the fourth quarter and overtime, but each game, a different hero emerged to help secure the 'W.'

York made it to the semifinals last winter, losing to eventual regional champion Cape Elizabeth and entered 2011-12 as the favorite in the region. The Wildcats took their first three contests, then saw visiting Yarmouth rally to beat them 49-48. After two more wins, York fell at home again, this time to Falmouth, 44-37. A four-game victory streak followed before the Wildcats lost another close game, this one at Greely, 64-61. York again bounced back to win four more before falling in overtime at Falmouth. The Wildcats took their finale and ended up fourth in the region at 14-4.

Tuesday, York defeated fifth-ranked Leavit, 59-38, in the quarterfinal round.

The Yachtsmen managed to win both meetings with the Wildcats this winter, although neither came easily. Falmouth had only played York once before in the postseason, a 59-49 win in the quarterfinals two years ago.

Thursday, the Yachtsmen learned that the old adage, "it's tough to beat a good team three times" still rings true, but ultimately, this team's unquantifiable heart and desire allowed it to live to see another day.

When Falmouth senior Alex Cattell took a pass from classmate Matt Kingry and made a layup 14 seconds in, those on hand might have thought they were in for a scoring-fest.

Not exactly.

It took over two minutes for another point to be scored. Senior Jeremy Lydick did the honors for the Yachtsmen, driving to the hoop, bobbling the ball, but somehow managing to lay it in for a 4-0 lead.

The Wildcats broke the ice with 5:20 to go in the first on a driving layup from senior Michael King.

With 3:32 left in the opening stanza, Packard first made his presence felt by burying a 3, but York got two foul shots from senior Liam Langaas and a leaner from junior Zach Leal to make it a 7-6 Falmouth heading for the second period.

There, the Yachtsmen went completely cold and fell behind.

The Wildcats took their first lead on a 3-ball from Langaas. Packard made two free throws to tie the score, but York junior Hayden Webster made a foul shot, junior Aaron Todd hit a jumper and junior Thomas Kington drained two foul shots to make it 14-9 Wildcats.

Falmouth finally ended its 5 minute, 26 second scoring drought and its 11:32 field goal drought when Packard, in a sign of things to come, threw home a circus hook shot with under a second to go.

That at least allowed the Yachtsmen to get into double figures, but they trailed, the determined Wildcats, 14-11.

"We had shots in the first half," Halligan said. "We missed seven layups. It was very frustrating. We got looks, but just couldn't finish."

Things went from bad to worse for Falmouth the first half of the third period.

After King hit a couple free throws, Packard answered with a pair, but Leal scored on a putback and Todd made a layup while being fouled and sank the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play, pushing York's advantage to 21-13.

Cooleen answered with a pair of free throws, but Todd scored on a putback, added a basket on a little hook shot over Cooleen and with 3:12 remaining in the quarter, Leal scored on a putback to make it 27-15 Wildcats.

Suddenly, the Yachtsmen's wonderful season of resurgence was in jeopardy of ending with a thud.

Unfortunately for York, there was still plenty of time to play and Falmouth still had confidence.

Before the period's end, Falmouth would be right back in the game.

The rally started with two Cooleen free throws. Packard then got a running bank shot to drop. After a layup by Leal made it 29-19, Packard somehow managed to score a leaner with his left hand.

Packard then set up Kingry for a layup and with 1.9 seconds left, Packard passed to Cooleen for a layup that made the deficit a very managable four points heading for the fourth.

There, the non-stop drama more than made up for the first half's doldrums.

The Wildcats got a break a little over a minute in when Langaas was fouled by Kingry while shooting a 3. Langaas went to the line and made all three foul shots and York was up seven.

Enter Simonds.

Twenty seconds after the free throws, Kingry passed the ball to the freshman and Simonds confidently went up for a 3 which hit nothing but net.

At the other end, Langaas set up Leal for a layup and 34-28 advantage. The next time down, it would be Cattell who drained a 3, this one set up by Cooleen, and it was suddenly a one-possession contest. With 5:29 left, Langaas hit a leaner in the lane to make it 36-31, but York wouldn't score again for a very long time.

In fact, the game turned for good on the basket as a foul was called on the Wildcats (the points stood). It was York's seventh foul of the half, which should have put Simonds at the line for a one-and-one, but play went on.

It's rare that when something like that happens the team that's adversely affected benefits, but Falmouth would do just that.

With 5:10 to play, Cooleen took a pass from Cattell and made a layup and after a stoppage in play, the officials conferred, spoke to both coaches, then sent Simonds to the line after the fact to shoot the one-and-one.

"It was a correctable error," said Halligan. "We should have been shooting. You have to notify (the officials) at the next stoppage of play. Fortunately for us, unfortunately for them, it was the right procedure."

It couldn't have been easy for a freshman, playing on the biggest basketball stage in southern Maine, to shoot free throws all by himself at the line, but he knocked down the first, then hit the second and the Yachtsmen were within a single point.

"I was nervous, but I knew I had to hit them," Simonds said. "We were down at that point. I had to make them."

It took a little while for Falmouth to go on top as Cooleen missed a jumper, Cattell couldn't knock down a 3 and Kingry couldn't finish on a putback, but with 3:30 showing, Packard drove for another left-handed bank shot and the Yachtsmen had completed the comeback.

"Sometimes, I prefer to drive left," Packard said. "I feel like I can go either way anytime. The lane opened up over there. A couple of those were wild, but they went in."

"We needed (Matt) to put us on his shoulders," Halligan said.

Falmouth wasn't finished.

After Leal missed two free throws which could have put York back on top, the Yachtsmen inbounded the ball under their basket and Kingry spotted Simonds all alone in the left corner. Simonds took the pass, went up and buried another 3 to make it 40-36 with 2:48 to play.

"I missed two easy shots in the first half, but the rebounds got me going and I got comfortable," Simonds said. "I'm a streaky shooter so if I hit one, I have confidence I can hit big shots."

After the Wildcats failed to answer, Kingry was fouled with 1:38 to go and made the first of two attempts to push the lead to five.

A 3 by Leal at the other end went in and out and Simonds got the rebound. He passed to Packard, who was fouled. In a one-and-one situation, Packard hit both attempts and with just under a minute to play, Falmouth appeared in total control, up, 43-36.

To its credit, York battled to the very end and almost pulled off an epic comeback of its own.

With 46.9 seconds remaining, a putback by Todd ended a 4:43 drought and the Yachtsmen's 12-0 run and pulled the Wildcats within five, but three seconds later, after catching the inbounds pass, Cooleen was fouled and he hit both free throws to make it 45-38.

York raced down and Todd made a layup to again cut the deficit to five, but Packard was fouled on the inbounds pass. He missed his first try, but made the second and it was 46-40.

Again, the Wildcats responded, this time with a much-needed 3 as junior Adam Bailey did the honors with 26.9 seconds to go, making it a one-possession game.

Cattell was fouled with 25.7 seconds left. He missed his first attempt, then gave Falmouth slight breathing room by hitting the second, but with 19.1 seconds remaining, York senior Kyle Robinson knocked down a leaner to make it a 47-45 contest.

The Wildcats hoped for a steal or five second violation, but the Yachtsmen got the ball in to Packard, who was fouled with 17 seconds to go. Compounding matters for York, the foul was ruled intentional and not only would Packard get two free throws, but Falmouth would retain possession afterwards.

Packard walked to the other end of the floor, got set at the line and made the first free throw. Then, he hit the second and the Yachtsmen could exhale, up, 49-45.

York had to foul immediately and sent Cooleen to the line with 15.7 seconds left. He missed both tries, but the Wildcats couldn't answer and time ran out on Falmouth's 20th victory without a loss, 49-45.

The resilient Yachtsmen had done it once more.

"It was tough to look at that scoreboard (when we were down)," said Packard. "It was a similar game to everything we've had. I'm surprised we won. Our defense kept us in the game. We had 11 points in the first half, the worst performance we've had this whole year. A lot of teams might have thought that was it. We still didn't get hot in the third quarter. Coach told us in the huddle we had to be a tough team. We stepped up. We had a freshman come in and hit some big shots. We turned it on and before I knew it, we were back in the game. They executed really well in that last minute and I think we got a little overconfident when we went up seven. We had some big foul shots from a few people. We were lucky to get out of here (with a win). "

"When we were down 12, I was very concerned," Cooleen said. "I was afraid the game would get out of hand, but we've been doing it all year. I knew we had it in us to come back. I was happy that people like Matt and Alex and Jack stepped up. We just weren't clicking in the first half. No one had played on this court before. It took us two-and-a-half quarters to settle in and play our game and once we did, our offense started to click. We started to make our shots and got right back in it. They hit that big 3 and it was a little scary because I thought we'd already won the game. It just goes to show you can't stop playing until the end. We stuck it out. We started making free throws and won at the end. "

"It's an emotional game," Halligan added. "Every point was battled for. We've been in close games all season long. That's the 12th or 13th one possession game we've had. (The comeback) started with mixing up the defenses a little bit, getting more pressure and running and attacking them inside."

Packard, one of the best and at the same time one of the most unheralded players in the region, had a memorable game with 20 points.

Cooleen did a great job holding Todd in check most of the contest and pitched in with 10 points, 10 rebounds, three blocked shots and a steal.

Then, there was Simonds, who was spectacular in his first tournament appearance, scoring eight points on two 3-pointers and the game-swinging free throws. He also had six rebounds.

"Coach always says that you have to take advantage of your opportunity because you never know when he'll call your number," Simonds said. "I've been practicing all season and my number got called and I took advantage of the opportunity. I haven't played much all season. It motivated me to work hard in practice and get in games. We have eight seniors and I've learned from all of them. They just know how to win. I can't explain it."

"(Jack's) very good in practice," Cooleen said. "He's going to be one of the best players to watch the next three years. I didn't expect him to step up that much. It's great to have him on the team."

"He's worked hard and gotten better and has gotten confidence and he knows he can play on the big stage," Halligan added.

Cattell added six points (and also had four boards and three steals), Kingry had three (along with three steals and three rebounds) and Lydick two.

Falmouth was outrebounded 28-26, but only turned the ball over 12 times and hit 19-of-24 foul shots, including its first 11. In the fourth quarter, with the game in the balance, the Yachtsmen made 11-of-16 tries.

For York, Todd had a team-high 13 points, along with six rebounds and two blocks. Langaas bowed out with 10 points and four boards. Leal also scored 10 points and grabbed a dozen rebounds. King added four points (and three boards), Bailey three, Kinton and Robinson two apiece and Webster one.

The Wildcats took even better care of the ball than the Yachtsmen, giving it away  a mere nine times. They made 11-of-14 foul shots, but still fell a few points short.

"You have to give York a lot of credit," said Halligan. "Langaas is one of the finest competitors around. They have a young team. They'll be here again."

Saturday afternoon special

Saturday, for the first time ever, Falmouth and Yarmouth will duel in a regional final. The Yachtsmen are seeking their second state title berth in three seasons. The Clippers haven't played in a state game since 1973.

Falmouth beat Yarmouth twice this year, by a total of seven points, and one of those wins came in overtime. The teams have met twice previously in the playoffs with the Clippers winning in the 1971 Western C quarterfinals (71-59) and the Yachtsmen taking a 2003 Western B quarterfinal (44-31).

Everyone's looking forward to this one.

"People say we're the worst 20-0 team, but we'll take it," Simonds said. "We're looking to stay undefeated. We're excited for Saturday."

"We've seen them a lot," Cooleen said. "We know what they can do. They know what we can do, so we'll have to change a few things around. We'll prepare and get ready to play."

"We have to lock up (Yarmouth senior standout Josh Britten, a Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalist)," Packard said. "He's probably over 50 percent of their offense. We have good defenders and play good team defense. They play different defense from a lot of teams. It'll be a tough game. I think we might have to take it all the way to get that respect. We have to play with a chip on our shoulder regardless. We can't listen to people praising us or hating on us. We've heard a lot both ways. We just have to play our game and play tough."

Halligan has coached his share of playoff battles versus Yarmouth in soccer, where he's won more often than not. He expects a close contest Saturday.

"(Yarmouth's) a legitimate team," Halligan said. "Going into the tournament, we said anyone could win. It comes down to whoever imposes their will on the other. We can only control what we control."

The Class B state final is Friday, March 2 at the Bangor Auditorium. The Falmouth-Yarmouth winner will draw either Mt. Desert Island (20-0) or Gardiner (18-2).

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

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Falmouth senior Alex Cattell lines up a jumper.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Falmouth senior Jack Cooleen is usually the one towering over the opposition, but on this play, he was brought down a size by two York defenders.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Falmouth senior Matt Packard, the game's leading scorer with 20 points, soars past a York defender.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Falmouth senior Jack Cooleen puts home a rebound.