Fabulous Falmouth strikes gold; Yachtsmen dominate Medomak in state final
PORTLAND—Last time it was difficult.
This time, it was a piece of cake.
The Falmouth boys' basketball team, which had to go to overtime to beat Camden Hills in its last state game foray, punctuated its brilliant 2012-13 season Friday night with one final reminder why many feel it is the best in the state, regardless of class.
Facing Medomak Valley in the Class B state final at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the Yachtsmen never trailed, put forth a spectacular effort in the first quarter, where baskets, not nerves, were prevalent, and opened up a 38-24 advantage at halftime. The Panthers hung tough in the third period, but couldn't cut into the deficit and Falmouth put it away in the fourth quarter, going on to an emphatic 62-39 victory to cap its season in the ultimate style.
Sweet shooting sophomore Jack Simonds went off for a game-high 21 points, underappreciated senior Tom Wilberg added 15, budding star freshman Thomas Coyne finished with 14 and seniors Grant Burfeind and Charlie Fay both played key roles as the Yachtsmen ended Medomak Valley's year at 19-3 and culminated their own season of redemption and dominance at 21-1.
"It means everything," Wilberg said. "It feels incredible. I've played with Grant, Charlie and (senior) Jake (Horning) forever and we always dreamed of doing it. I'm indescribably happy. No one can take this away from us."
Bowing out in style
Ever since it left the Civic Center disconsolate last Feb. 25, having failed to erase an early deficit in a 56-50 loss to Yarmouth in the Western B Final, Falmouth focused on completing the job this winter.
The Yachtsmen, with the exception of one hiccup, weren't denied or even tested.
Falmouth opened by winning at Cape Elizabeth (72-49), then prevailed at home over Fryeburg (83-33) and Greely (63-45), at Poland (68-35), at Yarmouth (55-34) and at Traip (74-47) to close 2012.
After winning the Portland High Holiday tournament, crushing Class A teams along the way, Falmouth opened 2013 with a dazzling 71-51 home win over York to emerge as the clear favorite. The one-sided victories returned as the Yachtsmen defeated visiting Freeport (66-25), host Gray-New Gloucester (77-28), visiting Lake Region (92-41), host Greely (68-45), visiting Cape Elizabeth (53-41), host Wells (70-36), visiting Poland (67-42), host Lake Region (70-28) and visiting Wells (74-59).
Falmouth then tumbled from the undefeated ranks in a big way with a 65-39 loss at York Feb. 5, but the Yachtsmen got back on track in the finale, 69-35, over visiting Yarmouth, to wind up 17-1 and earn the top seed in Western B for the second year in a row.
Medomak Valley got to the semifinals last season. The Panthers were even better this winter, winning three in a row, losing to Oceanside, winning four straight, falling to Winslow, then taking their final nine to wind up 16-2 and first in Eastern B. Medomak held off No. 8 Camden Hills, 52-47, in the quarterfinals, handled No. 13 Foxcroft Academy 53-30, in the semis, then downed third-ranked Mt. Desert Island, 56-50, in the regional final last weekend to advance to its first state game since 1980.
The Panthers won the title that year, 80-59, over Schenck, and also took the 1977 Gold Ball, 72-57, over Hampden Academy. Medomak lost in the Class B Final in 1975 (56-53 to Foxcroft) and 1979 (45-43 to Bucksport).
Falmouth had won six of its eight previous trips to the Gold Ball game, with a stirring 72-65 overtime triumph over Camden Hills in the 2010 Class B Final its most recent appearance.
The Yachtsmen and Panthers entered the game with no previous playoff history.
Friday, Falmouth left Medomak happy it won't be seeing the Yachtsmen again anytime soon.
Generally in tournament games, especially championship games, the first quarter is sluggish and offense is often at a premium, but the Yachtsmen didn't struggle at all at the start Saturday, producing their best period of the game and one of their best of the entire season.
When it mattered most.
It took all of 69 seconds for Wilberg to score on a leaner, while being fouled, and add the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play which put Falmouth ahead to stay.
Burfeind added a leaner off the glass, but the Panthers got on the board on a three-point play of their own when sophomore Micah Williamson scored on a driving scoop shot while being fouled before tacking on the free throw to cut the deficit to 5-3.
After an offensive rebound from junior Justin Rogers kept a Yachtsmen possession alive, Burfeind knocked down a 3 to restore the five-point lead.
"Grant's the sparkplug," said Wilberg. "Offensively, defensively. If he's not scoring, he's drawing two or three players and dishing. He's been integral to the team."
A driving layup from Medomak senior Jonathan Hendrickson-Belloguet pulled his team within three, but Falmouth rattled off the next nine points to seize firm control.
The run started on an inbounds pass, when Wilberg fed Simonds for a layup and his first points. Fay then set up Rogers for a fastbreak layup. Rogers was fouled on the play and completed the three-point play with a free throw. Simonds then took a pass from Burfeind and drained a short jumper in the lane.
With 3:11 still to go in the first quarter, Simonds hit another jumper and the lead was 12, 17-5.
A jumper from Panthers senior Ryan Ripley ended the surge, but after being fouled on a rebound of his own miss, Coyne scored his first points, sinking two free throws.
A 3-ball from senior Kazu Tibbetts pulled Medomak within nine, but Burfeind answered with a long jumper. After Panthers senior John Murray, a 6-foot-8 behemoth, got in the scoring column with a leaner, Simonds hit a 3. Williamson countered with a 3, but with time winding down in the frame, Wilberg drove for a layup and Falmouth was ahead, 26-15, after eight very impressive minutes.
"I didn't go out thinking I'd look for my offense, but the way it worked, they keyed in on Jack Simonds, who played incredible, and Charlie Fay, and I had open lanes and I took them," Wilberg said. "They were just as nervous as we were and we've played here before. So, we had less nerves, more experience and we took advantage."
"When you have a guy like Tommy on the team, he's like the darkhorse," Burfeind said. "When you have a guy like him, it's easy to win games. He plays great defense. He's great at driving to the rim. He's been huge for us."
The Yachtsmen had forced six turnovers without committing any and seemingly knocked down shots from everywhere to open up a healthy advantage.
"It was good to get off to a big start there," Burfeind said. "That's what we wanted to do. We knew if they hung around, their fans and players would get into it. We knew if we put them away early, we'd end it."
"The kids came out ready," said longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. "We had that adrenaline charge at the beginning and they executed well. We scored 26 points in the first quarter. When you get off to a start like that, it builds up your confidence."
Keeping up such a dazzling pace was unrealistic, but the Yachtsmen were pretty impressive in the second quarter as well.
After Tibbetts opened the scoring with a driving layup, Wilberg was fouled on a drive and made both free throws. Ripley made a layup, but Wilberg answered with a driving layup of his own.
With 4:19 to play in the half, a three-point play (putback, foul, free throw) from Murray pulled the Panthers within eight, 30-22, but another Falmouth run opened things up again.
A floater from Simonds stemmed the tide. Wilberg added a leaner, Simonds hit a leaner which rattled home and Simonds took a pass from Burfeind before knocking down a jumper to make it 38-22.
"When Jack hits shots, you don't even have to work on offense sometimes," Wilberg said. "He makes it so easy. He makes a shot and you're back on D already."
A pair of free throws from freshman Zach Starr pulled Medomak back to 38-24 at the break.
In the first half, the Yachtsmen hit all six of their free throws, only committed four turnovers and got 15 points from Simonds and 11 from Wilberg.
The Panthers made things interesting in the third period, but despite stronger play, couldn't draw closer.
It took nearly three minutes for a point to be scored in the frame before Murray set up Ripley for a layup. Simonds answered with a long jumper, but Murray made a layup to cut the deficit to 12, 40-28.
Again, Simonds and Company didn't let the Panthers maintain hope as Simonds hit a leaner from the baseline and Fay got his lone points on a putback to push the lead to 44-28.
After Ripley made a layup, Murray scored on a pretty reverse layup to make it 44-32, but as the period wound down, Simonds again scored on an inbounds pass from Wilberg and Coyne sank two foul shots to push the lead back to a safe 16, 48-32, with just eight minutes to go.
"They came out with intensity in the second half, but luckily, we matched them and were able to hold them off the rest of the game," Burfeind said.
"A 12-point spread is dangerous, but we showed determination," Halligan said. "It's always easier to have a cushion. We strive for perfection and good things will happen. We had some lulls, but I thought we played great. We had the great offensive start, but the defense kept that separation. They came out strong in the third quarter, but they didn't score that many points."
Coyne started the fourth quarter with a free throw and after Williamson made a 3, Coyne took a pass from Burfeind and made a 3, Coyne scored on a runner in the lane, then the freshman hit both ends of a one-and-one with 5:31 remaining to make give the Yachtsmen their biggest lead, 56-35.
"We have incredible underclassmen," Wilberg said. "They'll be good for years to come. Coyne has great composure with the ball. He never gets nervous."
A pullup jumper from Murray ended the run, but with 3:47 left, Medomak senior Brandon Soper was called for a technical and Wilberg made both free throws. A pair of Tibbetts foul shots with 2:50 to go gave the Panthers their final points. Coyne made two free throws and Wilberg hit two more before Halligan cleared the bench.
At 10:20 p.m., after a 70-minute display of dominant basketball, it was official.
Falmouth 62 Medomak Valley 39.
The coronation was complete.
"It feels amazing," Coyne said. "We made sure we contained their two big men. Offensively, we were great in the first quarter. We carried over the fast tempo until the fourth quarter, when we slowed it down to hold the lead."
"It was a bitter taste last time, but it feels good to get it done after all the hard work we put in this year," Simonds said. "Our shots were falling. We got the right shots. We had good defensive intensity. Playing here helped us. That was like a homecourt advantage."
"For the guys who returned, last year's loss was huge motivation," Burfeind said. "To (win) it senior year, to end like this, it's amazing. We wanted it so badly. After seeing (the 2010 team) hoist the Gold Ball at the Bangor Auditorium, that's all I wanted to do my senior year. It's just an unreal feeling."
Simonds led all scorers with 21 points.
"When Simonds shoots like he does, you just want to get him the ball," Burfeind said.
"You hope a big kid will shoot like that on a big stage," Halligan said.
Wilberg added 15 points, to go with four rebounds, two steals and two assists.
"(Tom) does the all the stuff nobody else wants to do," Halligan said. "He's the offensive lineman. He's why we were successful."
Coyne had 14 points, Burfeind seven, Rogers three and Fay two. The Yachtsmen finished with a 28-21 edge on the glass, led by Fay with eight and Burfeind with five. Falmouth only turned the ball over nine times and made an impressive 17-of-20 free throws.
For Medomak, Murray led the way with 11 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots. Williamson had nine points, Ripley eight, Tibbetts seven and Hendickson-Belloguet and Starr two apiece. The Panthers turned the ball over 11 times and made 6-of-7 foul shots.
Falmouth began the season viewed as a contender and developed into a veritable powerhouse.
"Nobody expected anything from us," said Simonds. "We wanted to prove everyone wrong. The seniors have been great leaders. I've just followed whatever they do in practices and in games. They've made me who I am on the court."
"It's definitely been an unreal experience," Burfeind said. "I could tell from the start, we'd be a special team. I'm not surprised we got the Gold Ball."
"Going into the season, I knew we had the raw materials and if we jelled as a team, we could do it," Wilberg said. "I thought we had what it took and that we just needed to work hard all season and we did. (York) was a good loss. We got a slap in the face and we were ready to go. I can attribute that loss for us playing some of the best basketball we've ever played in the tournament."
"We thought we could be good," Halligan added. "We were just untested. We had good games in the preseason and over Christmas. We got a little cocky, which is human nature, but we responded well. (The York loss) could've knocked us down and left us down, but the guys said, 'We're better than this.' They came out and proved it."
Falmouth will lose Burfeind, Fay, Horning (who won the unofficial tournament award for best facial hair, with an circa 1970 Elvis-inspired pair of mutton chops), Wilberg, Jacob Laplante and Andrew Thornton to graduation.
"(The seniors are) great," Coyne said. "They treated me like any other player."
"They're special in that they're great kids," Halligan said. "You'd want every one of them to be your son. They've earned it. I really appreciate them."
The Yachtsmen will make the move to Class A for the postseason next winter, but one thing that figures to remain the same is that they'll be right there in the end. With Coyne, Rogers and Simonds leading the way, overlook next year's Falmouth team at your own risk.
"I think we'll be a good team again," Coyne said. "We have talent coming back. I think we should work hard and get ready for next year."
"I'm hoping for a couple more," Simonds said.
"I'll be back here next year to see what they can do," Burfeind said.
"(The younger kids) had a great experience," Halligan added. "Maybe it will whet their appetite and make them want to come back and do something like this again."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Falmouth stories
Previous Falmouth state games
2010 Class B
Falmouth 72 Camden Hills 65 (OT)
1999 Class C
Falmouth 58 Penquis 36
1998 Class C
Falmouth 78 Washington Academy 61
1997 Class C
Falmouth 83 Narraguagus 56
1996 Class C
Hodgdon 77 Falmouth 71
1990 Class C
John Bapst 46 Falmouth 38
1987 Class C
Falmouth 65 Calais 62
1986 Class C
Falmouth 76 Hodgdon 59