Waynflete's seniors shine in final home game
PORTLAND—There comes a time during an intense, competitive season when we pause and give certain athletes their due.
For the seniors of the Waynflete girls' basketball team, they got to revel in their moment in the limelight Tuesday afternoon.
And did they (and their teammates) ever make the most of it.
Hosting Greater Portland Christian School on Senior Day in the penultimate game of the regular season, the defending Class C state champion Flyers put on a clinic from the opening tip and the squad's three healthy seniors, standout Leigh Fernandez and role players Lydia Fox and Louise Lyall, all played key roles.
Fox opened the scoring, Lyall made her presence felt at both ends of the floor and Fernandez, as she always does, facilitated the team's success. Throw in the brilliance of a non-senior, junior Helen Gray-Bauer, who had 17 first quarter points, and the Lions never had a chance.
Waynflete scored the game's first 21 points, led, 32-2, after eight minutes and never looked back as it went on to a 73-25 victory.
Nine different Flyers scored as Gray-Bauer led the way with 23 points. Waynflete forced 44 turnovers and improved to 11-6, ending Greater Portland Christian's season at 5-12 in the process.
"It's nice to see the seniors contribute on the floor today," said Flyers coach Brandon Salway. "They've all given a lot to the program. It's a huge commitment time-wise. It's a long season. They've been a huge part of the program and a huge part of our success, whether they had stats to back it up or not."
Waynflete saved its best for last a season ago and even played into March before winning a first-ever Class C Gold Ball.
This year's squad is hoping to follow suit, but consistency has been a problem.
Waynflete won its first four outings this winter, downing visiting Greater Portland Christian School (71-38), host Sacopee (51-33) and visiting North Yarmouth Academy (78-26) with ease before holding off host Old Orchard Beach (46-44). After closing 2013 with a 38-35 home loss to Traip, the Flyers opened 2014 with a 60-52 loss at Wells and a surprising 43-41 home loss to Yarmouth. After bouncing back to win at NYA, 53-28, Waynflete fell at defending Western B champion Lake Region, 62-37, and at home to Poland, 49-34, making it five losses in six games. A 52-31 victory at Buckfield turned things around and the Flyers then edged host Traip in an overtime thriller, 59-57. After falling at home to Old Orchard Beach, 53-46, Waynflete won at Kents Hill (60-45), at home over Hebron (61-33) and at home over Sacopee Valley (50-30).
Tuesday, prior to the tip, the Waynflete seniors were hailed in a ceremony with their families.
Fox, in her third varsity season, has helped in this season of transition.
"Lydia's a great kid," Salway said. "The other kids really like her."
Lyall has been a member of the varsity team for four seasons and while her contributions didn't always show up in the box score, she's been invaluable.
"Louise has a sincere affection for the team and it's reciprocal," said Salway. "She really wants the team to do well, whether she participates on the floor or not. She's 100 percent behind them."
Senior Emily Wasserman, who missed the game due to illness, also was hailed.
"Last year, Emily transitioned and it took her awhile to get acclimated, but now she's really a player," Salway said. "She's really contributed this year. She's helped our rotation coming off the bench. She has the ability to score points. She's terrific. She has a great personality. She's a significant player for us that we'll need in the tournament."
Then, there's the one and only Fernandez, the sparkplug/human victory cigar, who has won state titles in five consecutive sports seasons (two apiece in lacrosse and soccer and one in basketball), whose impact simply can't be quantified.
"Leigh is relentless," Salway said. "I don't know how she does it. It doesn't seem like she tires during games. It's been a good four years for her. Her first playoff game this year will be her 12th playoff basketball game, which is incredible. Playoff experience is good, but winning playoff experience is better. There's no better winner."
With all three healthy seniors on the floor for the opening tip, it didn't take long for the Flyers to end the competitive phase of the contest.
Just 52 seconds in, Fernandez set up Fox for a layup and Waynflete never looked back.
"It was fun," said Fox. "I'll never do that again, so it was a great experience. There was a lot of energy today. Everybody really came together today for the team."
"It was nice to see (Lydia) contribute right away like that," Salway said.
Gray-Bauer then put on a scoring show, producing 17 points in a 4 minute, 18 second span.
Gray-Bauer's first basket was a 3-pointer, coming after a Fernandez steal. Fernandez then set up Gray-Bauer for a layup and a 7-0 lead.
Lyall got in on the fun, making a layup after taking a pass from junior Julianna Harwood and after a Fernandez steal, Gray-Bauer made a layup for an 11-0 advantage less than two minutes in.
"First quarter, I was looking (for Louise and Lydia) and then Helen couldn't miss," Fernandez said. "It was fun to play with them. We came out strong. The underclassmen did a really nice job. That meant a lot to all of us."
GPCS tried to stem the tide with a timeout, but the Flyers' onslaught continued as Gray-Bauer stole the ball, made a layup while being fouled and added the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play. After Lyall set up Gray-Bauer for a layup, Fernandez set up Lyall for a short bank shot. Gray-Bauer then sank a 3 and Waynflete had a 21-0 advantage.
The Lions got on the board with 4:16 to go in the opening stanza when Ashlee Dawson set up Kyrie Austin for a layup.
The Flyers then picked up where they left off as Fox made a long jumper, Harwood set up Fernandez for a layup after a steal and Gray-Bauer capped her mindboggling 17-point first quarter by taking a pass from Harwood and making a layup for a 27-2 advantage.
Late in the quarter, Fernandez set up sophomore Arianna Giguere for a 3 and junior Dana Peirce scored on a putback for a 32-2 lead.
In the first eight minutes, Waynflete forced 21 turnovers and in addition to Gray-Bauer's output, got plenty of help from the seniors, as Fernandez had six assists and four steals, Fox had four points, five boards and three steals and Lyall added four points.
The Flyers called off the press in the second quarter and as a result, the scoring settled down.
The Lions scored the first two baskets of the period as Dawson set up Jessica Smith for a layup and Dawson scored on a runner, but Harwood countered with a driving layup. After GPCS got a putback from Smith, Waynflete freshman Annika Brooks drove for a layup and a 36-8 lead.
The Lions got a jump shot from Erin Robinson, but Harwood set up Pope for her first points, a layup. After Robinson banked home a shot, Pope made a free throw, Fernandez sank two, Harwood set up Gray-Bauer for a layup, Gray-Bauer scored on a putback and Fernandez passed to Peirce, who made a layup with 7.8 seconds remaining to give the Flyers a 47-12 halftime advantage.
Waynflete started the second half the way it did the first, as Lyall scored on a putback, Lyall set up Harwood for a bank shot, Lyall took a pass from Harwood and made a layup and Harwood added a foul shot to make it 54-12.
After Gray-Bauer scored her final points on a putback, Lyall set up Peirce for a layup, Peirce made a free throw and Peirce scored on a putback.
With 2.5 seconds to go in the frame, Robinson scored on a putback, ending a 10 minute, 10 second drought and a 23-0 Flyers' run, making it 61-14 Waynflete heading for the final stanza.
The Lions got off to a good start in the fourth, as Robinson scored on a putback and Dawson sank a 3. After Pope made a layup for the Flyers, Smith hit a leaner for the visitors. Brooks made a free throw, but Smith made another layup.
Waynflete finished strong as Pope made a layup, then scored on a putback, Brooks scored on a putback and after Smith made two free throws for GPCS, Pope brought the curtain down on the 73-25 victory with a late 3-pointer.
"I told the team that the biggest tribute they could give to the seniors is to play their guts out the rest of the way," Salway said. "Sometimes it comes down to finishing off plays and that helps our confidence. We had the good, quick start and got everyone involved. It's a good way to play on Senior Night."
The seniors had mixed feelings after the game.
"It's actually really sad," said Lyall. "I feel really nostalgic about it because we've had such a great time. So many amazing experiences. It's meant a lot to me. It was great to have this opportunity today."
"It's really bittersweet," said Fernandez. "Hopefully we'll have another home game (in the playoffs)."
Gray-Bauer almost matched the Lions' offensive production by herself, scoring 23 points, and she had plenty of help.
Pope had a strong effort with 12 points, Peirce had nine, Lyall eight, Brooks and Harwood five apiece, Fernandez and Fox four each and Giguere three.
As much as it dominated the scoreboard, Waynflete was equally excellent on the glass, owning a 58-29 rebounding advantage, as Fernandez had a team-high 10 and Fox added nine.
"I don't know if I would get those rebounds in a normal game, but the ball came to me," Fox said.
Peirce grabbed seven boards and Harwood and Lyall finished with six apiece.
The Flyers also had a whopping 32 steals, as Harwood led the way with seven, Fernandez and Gray-Bauer each had five and Brooks and Fox both collected three.
Waynflete turned the ball over 14 times, but forced 44, and made just 7 of 18 free throws, suggesting that it still has aspects of its game that need to show improvement.
"We have to make foul shots and we've struggled there," said Salway. "We have to do that to win close games."
For GPCS, Smith had 10 points, Robinson eight (to go with a team-high 10 rebounds), Dawson five and Austin two. The Lions made 2 of 4 free throws.
Repeat after me?
Waynflete (currently sixth in the Western Class C Heal Points standings) closes Friday at Hyde and expects to host a preliminary round game Tuesday of next week before embarking on what the Flyers hope is another thrilling title run in Augusta.
"Everybody needs to bring the same energy we brought tonight and play hard," said Fox.
"It isn't over," Lyall said. "There's still a lot to look forward to. I think we can sneak up on some teams. It's been an adjustment, but as we've played more games, it's been more cohesive."
"We've come together nicely," Fernandez said. "(We had some tough games) against Class B teams, but I think that will help us in the long run. We're peaking now, which is where we want to be. I like where we fall in the pack. In the middle. We don't want to be a top seed. Hopefully our hard work will pay off."
"We've had a lot of events recently," Salway added. "I'm proud of the girls. They raised $500 and I gave that to the American Cancer Society today. We had a banner (for former star player and reigning Miss Maine Basketball Martha Veroneau), which was awesome. It's been a busy few days. Now, hopefully we can focus on next week. We think we'll be sixth or seventh. It looks like we'll play Hall-Dale or Traip. There's no clear-cut favorite this year. Everybody has players who can do damage. Hopefully, we'll call on the winning experience we've had in past tournaments."
A year ago, Waynflete was viewed as a title hopeful, if not the outright favorite. This time, the Flyers will have to do it as an underdog, but they can't be ruled out.
Not this group.
Not led by these seniors.
"The girls want to get back to Augusta," Salway said. "That's really motivating. We've come a long way from the first week of the preseason. Some people wondered if we'd win five games. We've improved. The freshmen have developed. It's just a matter of making big plays. Last year, honestly we worried about staying healthy and avoiding foul trouble. I felt like we had the best team if we did those things. This year, it's just one step at a time."