CAPE ELIZABETH—The upcoming Class B boys’ and girls’ basketball tournaments will be quite notable for a glaring omission from the proceedings.
The Falmouth Yachtsmen.
Both the Falmouth boys and girls traveled to Cape Elizabeth Friday evening needing victories to keep long postseason streaks alive, but it wasn’t to be.
The girls’ squad actually took care of business, racing to a 16-3 lead en route to a 40-30 victory to balance their mark at 9-9, but the Yachtsmen needed help from Freeport and couldn’t get it as the Wells Warriors secured the final playoff spot in Western B with a win over the Falcons. As a result, Falmouth will be out of the postseason for the first time since 1999-2000.
The boys’ situation was simpler, win-and-get-in or lose-and-go-home. Falmouth, the defending Class B state champion, trailed the potent Capers, 45-33, with five minutes to play before embarking on a furious rally, but the Yachtsmen could never completely catch up and wound up 8-10 after a 53-44 loss ended their run of playoff seasons at 26.
Too little, too late
The Falmouth girls made the regional final in 2007 and 2008 under coach George Conant, losing both times to nemesis Lake Region. The past two years, York has sent the Yachtsmen packing. Kristy Ouelette’s team lost the Wildcats in the semifinals two years ago and the eventual state champion Wildcats in the quarterfinals last winter.
This season, under new coach Mari Warner, Falmouth won its first three games, capped by a dramatic 42-41 victory at Waynflete, but inconsistency followed as the Yachtsmen lost two in a row, won back-to-back games, lost two straight, won two in succession, then lost two more. Heading into Friday’s game, Falmouth had fallen against Lake Region and twice in a row to York to be pushed to the brink.
Cape Elizabeth, meanwhile, wasn’t supposed to even be in the playoff discussion this year. In 2009-10, the Capers made it to the preliminary round, but dropped an agonizing 46-41, double-overtime decision to Falmouth, then graduated several key contributors.
Instead, the Capers, thanks to yet another stellar coaching job for former playing standout Chris Roberts, and led by lone senior Emily Donovan, shocked the local basketball fandom again by racing to a 6-2 start, capped by a 31-25 victory at Falmouth on Jan. 11. Cape Elizabeth entered Friday’s game knowing it was locked into the No. 7 spot for the playoffs, but the Capers, despite resting junior Kayla Raftice (who was ill), gave the Yachtsmen their all.
Falmouth made an immediate statement as junior Jackie Doyle fed classmate Jenna Serunian for a layup 58 seconds in. A jump shot from senior Caitlin Costello made it 4-0, before Cape Elizabeth got its only points of the opening stanza, a 3-ball from Donovan.
The Yachtsmen closed the first period on a 12-0 run as sophomore Maddie Inlow made back-to-back jumpers, Costello twice went to the line and hit both attempts, Serunian scored on a putback and Doyle made a layup after a steal for a commanding 16-3 advantage.
“Credit Falmouth,” Roberts said. “We played them zone last time and no one looked to shoot. They knew it was win or go home tonight and they shot. They sank open looks. We seem to repeatedly put ourselves in a hole this year.”
Ten Yachtsmen turnovers in the second quarter allowed the Capers to crawl back.
Fifteen seconds in, Donovan’s 3-pointer ended a 6 minute, 40 second drought. After sophomore Anna Hickey made a jumper for Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth’s promising freshman Kate Miklavic made a short jumper and sophomore Marlo Dell’Aquila hit a free throw to make it 18-9. Serunian answered with a free throw, but a 3 from Miklavic and a Dell’Aquila putback made it a five-point contest. With 22.4 seconds to go before the break, however, the Yachtsmen restored some momentum when senior Jess DiPhillippo made a 3-pointer and it was 22-14 at halftime.
The Capers hung tough in the third, but Falmouth never let it become a one possession contest.
After Dell’Aquila started the second half scoring with a foul shot, Costello scored on a putback. Miklavic hit a leaner to make it 24-17 and DiPhillippo was called for a technical foul moments later. Miklavic hit one of the two free throws and with 1:40 to play in the third, Miklavic’s jump shot pulled Cape Elizabeth within four, 24-20.
But again the Yachtsmen would answer in the final minute of a period as junior Ashleigh Burton’s 3-ball with 52.2 seconds to go gave the visitors a 27-20 lead with eight minutes to play.
Falmouth immediately went up nine in the fourth on a runner from DiPhillippo. After Donovan made a free throw, a DiPhillippo 3 pushed the Yachtsmen’s lead to a seemingly safe 32-21 with 6:14 left, but the hosts weren’t done.
A free throw from Donovan, reverse layup after an offensive board from Donovan and a Miklavic 3 cut the deficit to 32-27 with 4:29 to play.
Again, Falmouth responded as Burton made two free throws, DiPhillippo hit a dagger of a 3, Doyle made a layup and with 2:07 to go, Doyle hit a free throw to make it 40-27. A late 3 from Capers freshman Mary Perkins accounted for the 40-30 final score.
“I like the heart and enthusiasm we showed,” Warner said. “The kids seemed to really want it. We got a nice lead early on which helped. We answered each challenge. Our situation is a fine line between rushing and being too tentative. There were moments when we had to rush and moments when we were too tentative and it was easy for them to steal the ball.”
DiPhillippo had a team-high 11 points (along with seven rebounds). Costello added eight points (and six boards). They are the team’s lone departing seniors.
Burton, Doyle and Serunian (15 boards and a blocked shot) all had five points, Inlow four and Hickey two.
For the first time this century, the Yachtsmen will be watching the tournament from afar.
“We didn’t do our part in the middle of the season and that put us in this situation,” Warner said. “I’m exceptionally happy with Falmouth. They took me under their wing and really accepted me. It’s been hard on these guys with a new person coming in with a new system and new terminology. I give them a tremendous amount of credit. We had a slump when we got sick. We got the flu and it did a number on us. We weren’t able to come back from that in full. The other issue was the snowstorms. We had to play York back-to-back. Overall, I’m happy with our season. There’s so much more we’re going to do. We have to get a full program and we will.”
The Capers were led by Miklavic’s game-high 13 points and Donovan’s 10 points, five steals and two rebounds. Dell’Aquila added four points (and seven rebounds) and Perkins had three (along with six boards and four steals). Sophomore Kisa Tabery didn’t score, but had four rebounds and a steal.
“Every game you want to win,” Roberts said. “We knew we could knock Falmouth out of the playoffs so it meant something. It would have been nice to go in at 10-8 instead of 9-9, but it didn’t happen.”
Cape Elizabeth’s regular season can’t be qualified as anything short of an unmitigated success.
“We had amazing leadership from Emily,” Roberts said. “She set the tone. She got the younger kids to buy in. I wouldn’t have put us at 9-9. We won some games I didn’t pick us to win. The girls surprised me.”
Cape Elizabeth is idle until Tuesday, Feb. 22, when it meets No. 2 Leavitt (18-0) in the quarterfinals at the Portland Expo. The Capers haven’t played in a quarterfinal since 1996 (Roberts’ senior year), when they made it to the regional final.
Roberts admits her team is a long shot against the potent Hornets (the teams didn’t play in the regular season), but that anything’s possible in the playoffs.
“We have to put more points on the board, but we play hard night-in, night-out,” Roberts said. “Our defense is what we rely on. I think everybody’s beatable. As (upset) as you get about a game like this, we’re in the postseason and no one expected it. For us, it’s stepping up and being confident. I’m hoping the kids don’t get it and don’t get nervous under the bright lights of the Expo. We go in with a game plan and try to keep it close. You never know how things shake out.”
End of an era
Falmouth has been a top contender for over a generation and didn’t miss a beat when it followed up its back-to-back-to-back Class C titles from 1997-99 with a move to Class B. After several close calls, the Yachtsmen finally got that elusive Class B Gold Ball a year ago after edging Camden Hills in an overtime thriller.
Virtually every key contributor from that team graduated, however, and Falmouth had its hands full this winter. To their credit, the Yachtsmen battled throughout and played the top teams very tough, but despite having Cape Elizabeth, Greely, Yarmouth and York (the top four teams in Western B) on the ropes, they couldn’t earn a victory and a 51-50 home loss to Poland Jan. 7 really hurt as well. Falmouth came to Cape Elizabeth Friday knowing a win would allow them to start fresh in the postseason.
The potent Capers, on the other hand, are seeking to get back to the state final. They made it 2008 and 2009, but lost to Falmouth in last year’s regional final. This year’s team has sparkled behind the senior scoring wizardry of Theo Bowe and entered the game 13-4, although three of its losses came at home.
The Yachtsmen got off to a strong start and held the lead after the first quarter. After Bowe got the scoring going with a leaner, a jump shot from junior Alex Cattell tied the score. Bowe made a layup, but junior Jack Cooleen took a pass from Cattell and made a layup and junior Matt Kingry hit a baseline jumper to make it 6-4 Falmouth. After senior Cam Brown made a foul shot for the hosts, senior Brendan McDonnell sank a 3-ball and Kingry scored on a putback for an 11-5 lead. A 3 from Bowe as time wound down pulled Cape Elizabeth back within 11-8 heading for the second.
A jumper from Kingry gave the Yachtsmen a 13-8 advantage, but the hosts erupted for 11 straight to take the lead for good.
A 3-ball from Bowe got things started. Brown tied the score with a layup after a steal and a back-to-back 3s from senior Joey Doane made it 19-13. After Cooleen stemmed the tide with a layup, Brown hit a jumper in the lane. Falmouth junior Matt Packard scored on a putback and Cooleen made a short jumper to make it 21-19, but a turnaround jumper from Bowe extended the lead. Packard made it a two-point game with a jumper, but Brown hit a baseline jumper for a 25-21 advantage. After a Cooleen leaner once more brought the visitors within two, Doane closed the half with a 3-ball to make it 28-23 at the break.
A Bowe leaner opened the second half scoring. After two dry minutes, Falmouth got within four on a 3-ball from McDonnell, but Bowe hit a jumper in the lane and Doane made a free throw. A 3 from Kingry made it 33-29, but Brown and Bowe followed with daggers from 3-point land to give the Capers a 39-29 edge, forcing longtime Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan to call timeout.
After the timeout, Cooleen scored on a bank shot, but a fadeaway jumper from Brown in the final minute gave Cape Elizabeth a 41-31 lead heading for the fourth.
There, the Capers twice went up by 12, but couldn’t exhale until the final seconds as Falmouth fought to the very end.
A pair of layups from senior Kyle Danielson sandwiched around a layup by Yachtsmen junior Jeremy Lydick gave Cape Elizabeth a seemingly safe 45-33 advantage with 6:41 to go, but Falmouth would rattle off 10 in a row to make things interesting.
A 3-ball from sophomore Tom Wilberg got the rally started. Kingry added a free throw and Packard made consecutive layups (the second coming after a steal) to make it 45-41 with 3:17 left.
After a Cape Elizabeth timeout and turnover, Packard fed Cooleen for a layup with 2:20 to go to make it a 45-43 game. The Capers missed a shot and the Yachtsmen had a chance to tie or go ahead, but Doane stole the ball and was fouled. He hit the second of two free throws to make it 46-43 with 1:39 left.
After a Packard miss, the hosts extended their lead to 48-43 on two Bowe foul shots with 1:20 to go. At the other end, Wilburg missed a 3 and Cooleen’s tip wouldn’t go. Doane rebounded, but Cape Elizabeth threw the ball away.
With 27.4 seconds showing, Wilberg made the first of free throws, but missed the second. Wilberg got the rebound and fed Packard for a layup attempt that could have cut the deficit to two, but the shot rolled off and Bowe rebounded.
With 21.1 seconds left, Bowe made one of two free throws to push the lead to five. After a missed 3 by Packard, Bowe was fouled and hit two more foul shots. Then, with 1.3 seconds to go, Bowe iced the victory with two free throws to give the Capers 53-44 triumph.
“Falmouth played desperate and they played well,” Bowe said. “They played great. They’ve been in a lot of games this year and just had bad luck. We came out prepared and were ready to go. Down the stretch, it worked out.”
Falmouth got a team-high 12 points from Cooleen, who also had nine points and a block. Kingry added 10 points, two blocks, two steals and a rebound. Packard had eight points, McDonnell six, Wilberg four and Cattell and Lydick two apiece.
“The kids fought to the end,” Halligan said. “I was so proud of and impressed with my kids for not quitting. We got it to two and had a rebound shot where the ball spun out. If that went in, it might have been a different game, but that’s the way it’s gone for us all year. You can’t fault the kids. They’ve battled. I told them I’m impressed they didn’t quit. I’m impressed with kids like Brendan, who hasn’t played a lot, but he’s played hard in practice and did a great job. Hopefully the younger players learn from this.”
The Yachtsmen lamented what might have been and will look forward to 2011-12, when much of this team will return hungry to get back to the top.
“I’m sad to see the seniors leave, but I’m excited about the future,” Halligan said. “We’re fortunate to have (assistant coach) Jamie (Hilton). He’s like having another varsity coach. The JV team went unbeaten. They’ll push these guys, which is the way our program’s always been. My wife wants me to go on a cruise. I told her Casco Bay Lines, but now I might have to go a little bit further.”
For the victors, Bowe continued his season-long dominance with a game-high 26 points. He also had six rebounds and two steals. Brown (three rebounds) added 12 points and Doane (four boards and two steals) had 11. Danielson finished with four points, five rebounds and a steal. Sophomore Henry Babcock didn’t score, but had four boards and a block.
Cape Elizabeth finishes 14-4 and is the No. 2 seed for the Western Class B playoffs.
“I knew we’d be good,” Bowe said. “We played great this summer. We knew we had talent and we got experience.”
The Capers will battle No. 7 Wells (11-7) in the quarterfinals next Saturday at 12:30 p.m., at the Portland Expo. Cape Elizabeth beat the Warriors twice this year, 60-41, at Wells in the season opener Dec. 10 and 52-39 at home Feb. 3. The teams last met in the playoffs in the 2008 quarterfinals (a 72-35 Capers win).
“We wanted to be second,” Bowe said. “I think we have what it takes. We have to keep playing like we are. We have to put defense first. We’ve had great offensive balance the past few games.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @foresports
Cape Elizabeth senior Theo Bowe elevates to release a jump shot during Friday night’s game against Falmouth. Bowe led all scorers with 26 points.
Falmouth junior Matt Kingry releases a shot over the reach of Cape Elizabeth sophomore Henry Babcock.
Falmouth junior Matthew Packard looks for space to make a pass as he’s defended by Cape Elizabeth senior Joey Doane.
Falmouth junior Jack Cooleen looks for room inside as he’s defended by Cape Elizabeth sophomore Chris Robicheaw.
Cape Elizabeth senior Joey Doane is fouled as he goes to the hoop against Falmouth juniors Alex Cattell (20) and Jack Cooleen. The host Capers held on for a 53-44 victory Friday night, eliminating the Yachtsmen from playoff contention.
More photos below.