Falmouth the favorite as boys' tournament starts; Greely, Yarmouth in the mix
A year after its undefeated run and championship hopes were dashed in the regional final, the Falmouth boys' basketball team is once again the top seed for the Western Class B tournament.
The Yachtsmen will have their share of obstacles, however, most notably from powerhouse York, but possibly also from the team that ended their run a year ago, reigning Class B state champion Yarmouth.
Also in the field is Greely, which features some of the best players in the league.
Falmouth won its first 16 games this winter by an average of 30 points, but last Tuesday, the Yachtsmen's unbeaten run ended emphatically with a stunning-in-its-decisiveness 65-39 loss at York. Grant Burfeind's team-high nine points weren't nearly enough.
"York just played better than us," said Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. "They're a very good team. We shot poorly. We'd like another crack at them."
Friday, the Yachtsmen bounced back with a 69-35 home victory over Yarmouth behind 22 points from freshman Thomas Coyne to finish 17-1 and first in the Western Class B Heal Points standings. In addition to Burfeind and Coyne, Falmouth has gotten consistent scoring from Charlie Fay and Jack Simonds and key contributions from several other sources.
"We've exceeded the expectations we had going into the season," Halligan said. "I like how we're playing. The young kids came along nicely and the older kids are playing well."
Falmouth, which is in its final season at the Class B level, will begin its quest for a second state championship in four years Saturday at 4:30 p.m., at the Portland Exposition Building against either No. 8 Maranacook (8-10) or No. 9 Yarmouth (10-8). The Yachtsmen didn't play the Black Bears in the regular season. They swept the Clippers, also winning at Yarmouth, 55-34, Dec. 18. Falmouth has no playoff history with Maranacook. In addition to its 56-50 loss to the Clippers in last year's regional final, Yarmouth beat Falmouth (71-59) in the 1971 Western C quarterfinals and the Yachtsmen beat Yarmouth in the 2003 Western B quarterfinals (44-31).
"You can't ever count out Yarmouth," said Halligan. "Maranacook played well the second half of the season."
Falmouth is ready to make a run.
"We need to stay within ourselves and play our game," Halligan said. "I am a little concerned with our lack of tournament experience. We have good balance. Our seniors are very hungry after last year."
Yarmouth enjoyed a magical run to its first championship in 44 seasons a year ago. After some big graduation hits, the Clippers, as expected, took a step back this winter and wound up 10-8 and ninth in Western B after final week losses at Cape Elizabeth (48-44) and Falmouth (69-35). David Murphy and Nate Shields-Auble both had 11 points against the Capers. Adam Labrie had 10 points versus the Yachtsmen.
Despite the rough finish, Yarmouth coach Adam Smith had plenty to hail.
"I was thrilled with the perseverance our team showed through the season," Smith said. "We had just two players who played in all 18 games. That's not ideal to rebuild and get better. I still think we got better and set ourselves up to play as well as we can play in the tournament."
The Clippers went to Maranacook for a prelim Tuesday. The teams don't play in the regular season and had no prior playoff history.
"We're playing well enough to give ourselves a chance to win," said Smith. "Maranacook is a little like Greely. They have a big post presence and a lot of guys who like to shoot 3s. It fits well with how we play. We need to focus on what we do best and play well in a tough environment."
Greely lost an agonizing preliminary round game a year ago when visiting Lincoln Academy hit a buzzer beater. That proved to be the final game in the long and successful coaching career of Ken Marks, who was replaced this winter by former star player and assistant Travis Seaver.
The 2012-13 Rangers have been up-and-down and wound up 9-9 and seventh in the region after closing with losses at Gray-New Gloucester (59-48) and at home to Cape Elizabeth (54-46). Michael McDevitt had 14 points and Jonah Normandeau added 11 in the loss to the Patriots, while McDevitt had 22 against the Capers.
"We had our moments of being up and being down this year," said Seaver. "Our goal was to play our best ball at the end. We did some things against Cape that we haven't done all year. Hopefully, that translates to the tournament."
Greely hosted No. 10 Fryeburg (10-8) in the preliminary round Tuesday. In the regular season, the Rangers beat the Raiders, 65-59, at home Dec. 15 and lost at Fryeburg, 46-37, Jan. 26. The teams haven't met in the postseason since the 1981 Western B semifinals (a 61-47 Greely victory).
"Fryeburg is a tough team," said Seaver. "They pose a tough matchup. When they're shooting well, they're very tough. Falmouth and York are the favorites, but now we throw the records out the window."
If Greely advances, it will meet No. 2 York Saturday at 12:30 p.m., at the Expo in the quarterfinals. The Rangers fell at home to the Wildcats, 71-48, back on Dec. 10, and 53-33 at York, Jan. 18. The last time the teams met in the playoffs was in the 2006 quarterfinals (a 58-49 win for the Wildcats).
Other Western B quarterfinals include No. 3 Cape Elizabeth (13-5) facing either No. 6 Wells (10-8) or No. 11 Morse (7-11) and No. 4 Mountain Valley (12-6) facing either No. 5 Spruce Mountain (13-5) or No. 12 Leavitt (6-12).
Looking ahead, the Western B semifinals are Feb. 21 at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The Western B Final is Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Civic Center. The Class B state game is Friday, March 1, also at the Civic Center.
Wait til next year
Freeport wound up 3-15 and 18th in Western B. The Falcons closed with a 51-45 home win over Poland and a 56-47 setback at Old Orchard Beach. In the victory, Chandler Birmingham had 18 points, Landon Easler 11 and Jeremy Ketch nine. In the loss, Birmingham capped his stellar season with 13 points.
North Yarmouth finished 7-11 and 12th in the Western C Heals, but only 11 teams made the playoff cut. The Panthers closed with a 63-33 win at Buckfield, then lost at home to Traip, 50-45. Colby Bate had 20 points and Chase Gendron 13 in the victory. Against the Rangers, El Tayeb Dahia had 18 points.