Greely one step from state final after dispatching Yarmouth
PORTLAND—Consider it a lesson learned.
And a lesson taught.
Greely's boys' basketball team, the top-ranked team in the Western Class B tournament and the prohibitive favorite to win the program's first Gold Ball this century, almost stumbled in its first playoff game Saturday when unheralded and outmanned No. 8 York took the Rangers to the wire before they prevailed by a mere three points in the quarterfinal round.
Thursday evening in a semifinal round tilt at the Cumberland County Civic Center, in its second postseason test, Greely was ready and made an emphatic statement against rival Yarmouth, the No. 4 seed, which was taught that without intensity, you don't have a chance against a great team.
The Rangers, led by senior standout Mike McDevitt, who played like a man possessed, never trailed and ended the competitive phase of the game by halftime.
Greely took a 15-7 lead after one quarter, thanks to a late 3 from junior Gabe Axelsen, who provided great energy off the bench, then closed the half on a 17-1 run, as McDevitt converted an old-fashioned three-point play late to make it 34-13 at the break.
The Clippers tried to get something going early in the third period, but McDevitt scored four quick points and Greely senior Bailey Train buried consecutive 3s to push the lead to 27. The Rangers were up, 50-23, after three quarters and went on to an easy 56-38 victory.
McDevitt stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points and 17 rebounds and Train added 12 points (on four 3-pointers) and Greely improved to 19-1, ended Yarmouth's season at 15-5 and advanced to meet upstart Poland (12-8) in the Western Class B Final Saturday at 3:45 p.m., at the Civic Center.
"We practiced well and had a good week coming in," said Rangers coach Travis Seaver. "(York) was an eye-opener for us. Tonight, we attacked the basket a lot better than we did in that game. We played better basketball tonight."
Greely had no peer in the regular season in the region, winning 17 of 18 games (losing only at defending state champion Falmouth), but the Rangers learned Saturday that a regular season pedigree means absolutely nothing come tournament team, when they trailed York most of the way before rallying late to win, 41-38.
Yarmouth lost only to Greely and Falmouth (twice apiece) in a 14-4 regular season and was also taken to the wire in its quarterfinal, fending off a late rally from No. 5 Cape Elizabeth to advance, 45-43.
On Dec. 18, the host Rangers held off the Clippers, 57-49. Greely won even more impressively in the rematch at Yarmouth Jan. 17, 65-48,
The teams had split four prior playoff meetings with the Clippers winning the most recent, 54-42, in the 2011 semifinals, when Yarmouth was a 4-seed and Greely was a 1.
Thursday, an upset wasn't to be as the Rangers returned to the form they hope will produce a Gold Ball a week from now.
It took over two minutes for a point to be scored, but Train did the honors, sinking a 3 to give Greely the lead for good.
Train is no stranger to making long shots at the Civic Center. As a freshman, also against Yarmouth in the semifinals, he made three first quarter 3-pointers and wound up with 13 points.
"I do enjoy shooting here," Train said. "I had the stroke early. I felt good in warmups. It's only the second time I've played here. The first time, I shot well too. I was pumped."
Yarmouth's first points came courtesy a spinner from senior Nate Shields-Auble, but Rangers senior Connor Hanley made a free throw and after McDevitt kept possession alive with three straight offensive boards, Hanley knocked down a leaner for a 6-2 lead.
A 3 from junior Jordan Brown pulled the Clippers within one, but Hanley made a layup and Hanley set up McDevitt for a layup, forcing Yarmouth coach Adam Smith to call timeout.
The Rangers kept the pressure on, as senior Kyle Wood scored on a putback. After Shields-Auble made a jumper, Axelsen drained a 3 from the corner and Greely was up, 15-7, after eight minutes.
"I've always been the type who loves the pressure," said Axelsen. "I've had ice in my veins since I was born. The Civic Center's different from the Expo, but I've noticed I'm comfortable shooting in bigger arenas."
"Gabe always brings a certain swagger to our team," McDevitt said. "Some of us come in lackadaisical, but he fires us up and keeps us going."
In the second period, The Rangers blew it open.
After Clippers senior standout David Murphy made a layup while being fouled and added a free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play, McDevitt scored on a putback. Murphy answered with a putback, but Train sank a 3. Yarmouth senior Ethan Gage hit a foul shot, but Wood made a layup, McDevitt scored on a putback in traffic and Hanley set up McDevitt for a layup and a 26-13 lead, forcing Smith to call another timeout.
It didn't help, as senior Patrick O'Shea scored on a floater and after McDevitt blocked a shot at one end, Axelsen scored an acrobatic layup at the other.
McDevitt was sidelined by foul trouble against York, but managed to stay on the floor Thursday.
"I was concerned because (Yarmouth) can go off," said McDevitt. "Gage and Shields-Auble have post moves down low. I was scared of getting in foul trouble like I was last game. I just focused on playing defense."
Axelsen added a free throw and McDevitt scored on a putback while being fouled and added the free throw to not only cap a 14-0 run and make it 34-13 at halftime, but give himself a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) in the first 16 minutes.
Yarmouth started strong in the second half, as Gage scored on a leaner and Shields-Auble scored on a putback, but after McDevitt scored on a putback, then hit two foul shots, Train drained back-to-back 3s.
"We all knew Yarmouth would come out strong in the second half," Train said. "We didn't come out sluggish, they just came out with a lot of energy with their season on the line. We just needed to get our groove back and we did."
"Bailey always shoots well here," said McDevitt. " It doesn't matter who we're playing."
"Bailey has the ability to catch fire and when he does, it's nice to let him ride it for awhile," Seaver added. "He brings so much to the floor."
After another futile Clippers' timeout, Wood banked home a shot for an insurmountable 46-17 advantage.
With 1:56 left in the frame, Murphy made a 3 to end a 12-0 run, but Hanley converted a three-point play and senior Connor Terison made a free throw. Murphy hit a 3 at the horn, but Greely was well ahead, 50-23, with eight minutes to play.
In the fourth period, Brown made a floater, but Wood, on a third effort, put home a shot for a 52-25 advantage.
Murphy scored on a putback for Yarmouth, Shields-Auble hit a jumper in the lane and after a steal, Murphy made another layup to cut the deficit to 52-31.
After McDevitt scored on a spinner for his final field goal, Clippers sophomore Cody Cook hit a leaner and senior Wyatt Jackson made a layup and Yarmouth was within 19, 54-35.
"I'm always proud of the effort these guys give and their ability to focus," said Smith. "I'm glad that we were able to keep our heads about us and play hard in the second half."
With 2:46 to play, McDevitt hit two foul shots to finish his evening.
Down the stretch, Yarmouth got a free throw from senior Jackson Bartlett and a bank shot from senior Bennett Thompson to account for the 56-38 final score.
"I think we really came out with much more energy and much more confidence," McDevitt said. "I think we thought we'd walk in and kill (York), but we knew (Yarmouth) would give us a game. Even if we were up 15 or 20, they'd battle to get back in it."
"We played not to lose in the first game, but today, we just went back to what we do, transition the whole game," Train said.
"We got away with one the other day, but we played up to our ability tonight," added Axelsen.
The 6-foot-7 McDevitt, a Mr. Maine Basketball finalist, who will play at Franklin Pierce University next year, had 19 points and 17 rebounds (nine of the them offensive boards). He also blocked two shots and had a steal.
"I just listen to what my Dad (Mike McDevitt, the women's coach at St. Joseph's College) told me," McDevitt said. "He told me to go out and have fun. It's the last couple games of my career at Greely and he told me to go out and have a smile on my face. Basketball's supposed to be fun. I really had a blast tonight."
"When Mike gets going, he really gets going," Axelsen said.
"Mike was on a mission," Seaver added. "He really cleaned up the boards. That was something he could focus on tonight."
Train only made four baskets, but all were from behind the 3-point stripe, giving him 12 points for the game. He also had five rebounds and a block.
Hanley (five boards, five assists and a steal) and Wood (eight boards, a steal, a block and an assist) both had eight points, while Axelsen added six points and three rebounds off the bench.
"On this team, we have three of the best scorers in the conference," Axelsen said. "I just come in and try to do what I can to help them. If it's knocking down a big shot, I'll take the big shot, or if it's feeding Mike on the block or Bailey for a 3 or Connor leaking out on the fastbreak."
"Gabe was a huge part for us," Seaver said. "He's kind of our energizer bunny. He brings certain things to the floor. He brings a different dynamic. He can hit shots and get by people."
O'Shea finished with two points (to go with seven rebounds, two assists and a steal) and Terison had one point.
Greely outrebounded Yarmouth, 48-31.
"We should win every rebounding battle, as far as I'm concerned, with our height and strength," Seaver said. "That was something else we could have done better (against York) and we did tonight."
The Rangers committed 17 turnovers and made 9 of 15 free throws.
The bright spot for Yarmouth was Murphy, who led the team with 15 points and went over the 1,000 point mark for his career. He also had five rebounds and a steal in his swan song.
"David's got the ability to come every night to play, whether the shots are going down or not, you wouldn't know it with his expressions, his face, his game," Smith said. "He's team-oriented every night. He didn't even know he got (1,000) until after the game. The Western Maine Conference plays tough defense and they made it tough on him this year. He never complained. I told the guys what they could take from David is giving everything you have every night, regardless of the circumstances. If those younger guys can get that from him, we'll be a better program next year because of it."
Shields-Auble had eight points (to go with eight boards and four blocks). Brown finished with five points, Gage had three, Cook, Jackson and Thompson two apiece and Bartlett one.
Yarmouth turned the ball over 11 times and made 3 of 8 from the line.
"The Clipper ship sailed early in this one," Smith said. "Greely played extremely well and we did not. Greely's had some disappointing semifinal games and you can never underestimate the hunger in a team that will not allow itself to have a disappointing game. We happened to be the feast for them tonight. They were more hungry than we were. It took awhile for the guys on the court to understand the intensity of the game. It didn't come down to Xs and Os, it came down to their desire to not have a disappointing semifinal game.
"McDevitt came to play. We have a tough time matching up with a lot of their players, with McDevitt, Train and Hanley being the toughest. When one of them goes off, the other two can feed off that. They only need one to go off. All three of them played well tonight."
Despite the sting of this defeat, Yarmouth has to be proud of its 15 victories and return to the Civic Center after a year away.
"We lost to only two teams, two of the best teams in the state," Smith said. "I told the guys if somebody told me we'd get to the semifinals this year, I'd take it. If you tell me we'll be in the semifinals next year, I'll take it. You never know what will happen at the Civic Center. I'm pleased with how far we got. As bad as the score was, the guys gave everything they had."
The loss of Murphy, Gage and Shields-Auble (along with five other seniors) will hurt, but the Clippers should remain near the top of the standings in 2014-15. Point guard Musseit M'Bareck will be a junior, Adam LaBrie (who was held without a point Thursday) should pace the offense as a senior and players like Brown, Cook and junior Cote Sawyer will all play bigger roles.
"I think we're a good program," Smith said. "We'll play well next year. We've got guys who have to work on their game and hopefully not let somebody be more hungry than we are."
Eye on the prize
Since winning its last Gold Ball in 1998 (with Seaver in a starring role), Greely has reached the Western B Final twice (losing to Mountain Valley in both 2003 and 2007).
Saturday, the Rangers will be playing a Poland squad that's truly an underdog. The Knights began the year 1-4 and were 6-8 late in the season, in danger of missing the playoffs, but Poland won its final four regular season games, then upset No. 3 Spruce Mountain (77-69) in the quarterfinals and second-ranked Morse (45-44) in the semifinals to make it to its first ever regional championship game.
Greely won the lone regular season meeting, 67-44, six days before Christmas in Poland, but that was a long time ago and the Knights have improved dramatically.
The Rangers know nothing will come easily Saturday, but they're not about to let up.
"Poland's a completely different team now," Train said. "Everyone has gained a lot of experience. They'll be ready to play. They'll have nothing to lose. We need to play hard. We can't take them lightly. We're not ready to be done. We want the Gold Ball and I think we're ready to do that."
"We need to have some great practices and keep doing what we do and let the other teams worry about us," Axelsen said.
"Everyone lovees a Cinderella story," McDevitt added. "There's no way they come out and lay down. It's going to be one of the hardest games we'll have all season for sure."
Seaver knows that the Knights will pose a challenge, but he believes in his team.
"I think it's an intriguing matchup," he said. "They're a totally different team than when we played them two months ago. It will be fun. We start five seniors who have played a lot of basketball and they certainly understand what's at stake.""