Falmouth holds on, downs Cheverus for first Class A playoff victory
PORTLAND—The Falmouth boys' basketball team has won 52 of its past 54 regular season games and is the defending Class B state champion, but Monday at the Portland Exposition Building, the Yachtsmen still felt as if they had something to prove.
In its first ever Western Class A quarterfinal, second-ranked Falmouth quickly learned that even a seventh ranked squad, in this case Cheverus, is capable of making life difficult and it took the Yachtsmen the full 32 minutes to shake the Stags' upset bid.
Cheverus raced to a quick 5-0 lead and was ahead most of the second quarter, but Falmouth hung tough behind junior Jack Simonds, who had the team's first nine points. Strong inside play from senior Nick Burton helped the Yachtsmen rally to go ahead, but late in the half, a putback from Stags junior inside standout Zordan Holman gave them a 20-19 lead at the break.
Back and forth the teams went in the third period, as dizzying outside shooting from Cheverus seniors Brad Carney and Manny Ismail was countered by clutch shooting from Simonds and sophomore Thomas Coyne. Then, as time expired in the frame, Burton scored on a tip-in and Falmouth had the lead for good, 39-38.
The Yachtsmen tried to break it open, but when Holman scored on a putback with 2:53 to play, the underdog Stags were only down three, 48-45.
Falmouth saved its best for last, however, getting two free throws from senior Justin Rogers, a clutch layup from unheralded senior reserve I.V. Stucker and free throws down the stretch from Rogers and Coyne as it went on to a 56-48 victory.
Simonds had a team-high 17 points, Coyne finished with 15, Burton added 14 (to go with 10 rebounds) and the Yachtsmen improved to 18-1, ended Cheverus' bounce-back season at 10-10 and advanced to meet No. 3 Bonny Eagle (18-1) in the semifinals Wednesday at 6 p.m., at the new and improved Cumberland County Civic Center.
"It should be just basketball, but there's a lot of pride at stake," said Falmouth coach Dave Halligan, who has won state titles in Class B and Class C and is hoping to add a Class A Gold Ball to his collection. "We wanted to show we belonged here. It was a good high school basketball game. The first (playoff game) is always difficult. Cheverus is an excellent team. They gave all the good teams a game this year. We knew it would be tough."
Falmouth has been a power at both the Class C and Class B levels, winning three straight Class C crowns between 1997 and 1999, then capping its time in Class B last winter with its second state championship in four seasons.
This winter, the Yachtsmen continued to play their traditional Western Maine Conference schedule in the regular season, but due to increased enrollment numbers, they're relegated to the Western A tournament, where they earned the No. 2 seed after a stellar regular season, marred only by an overtime loss at Greely.
Cheverus missed the playoffs last winter for the first time this century, but has returned to form this time around. After a 9-9 regular season, the Stags hosted and beat No. 10 Scarborough in Tuesday's preliminary round, 55-50.
The teams had no prior history, regular or postseason, but some felt Cheverus could give Falmouth a scare, especially since the Yachtsmen hadn't been seriously tested in over a month.
The game was originally scheduled to be played Saturday night, but poor weather moved it to Monday where Falmouth indeed got a scare, but when plays had to be made, it played like a champion.
The Stags got off to a strong start, getting a free throw from freshman Austin Boudreau, a jumper from Ismail and an Ismail transition layup, set up by a pass from Carney, to go up, 5-0.
Simonds got the Yachtsmen on the board with two foul shots.
"(The slow start) was probably nerves and a weird start time (11:30 a.m.)," said Simonds. "We were ready to play Saturday night."
After Simonds added a free throw, he tied the game with a baseline jumper.
Late in the quarter, Boudreau put Cheverus back on top with a leaner, but as time wound down, Simonds, spun and hit a turnaround jumper with a defender right on him to make it 7-7 after eight minutes.
In the second period, Simonds picked up where he left off, scoring on a leaner in the lane 44 seconds in for Falmouth's first lead.
"Jack was big in the first half," Burton said. "He always comes through big."
After junior Derek Hammond tied the score with a bank shot in the lane, Holman fought for an offensive rebound and scored on a putback to put the Stags back on top, 11-9.
After Holman added a free throw, Burton scored the Yachtsmen's first non-Simonds points, tipping home a miss, but Ismail countered with a bank shot, then hit a free throw to make it 15-11.
Stucker made a bank shot for Falmouth, but Ismail stopped, popped and hit a jumper to put the Stags ahead by four, 17-13.
After Coyne and Ismail traded free throws, Coyne scored on a leaner and Burton made a layup after a steal, was fouled and completed the old-fashioned three-point play.
"It took awhile to get going," Burton said. "It was our first tournament game. We might have had some nerves going. Once we settled in and got our rhythm, we were fine."
With 6.7 seconds left, however, Holman grabbed a missed shot, his eighth rebound of the half, and put it back in to give Cheverus a 20-19 advantage.
Ismail had half of his team's offensive production in the first half and the Stags had a 12-9 rebounding advantage. Simonds led the Yachtsmen with nine points.
In the third period, Falmouth began to turn it up.
First, Holman grabbed an offensive board and fed Ismail for a 3, but the Yachtsmen got a putback from Rogers, another from Simonds and a ridiculously athletic leaner from Simonds to go on top, 25-23.
Ismail countered with another 3, but Burton drove for a layup, was fouled and made the free throw to put Falmouth ahead, 28-26.
Senior Brad Carney countered with a 3 for Cheverus and Ismail added one from behind the stripe for a 32-28 lead.
After Coyne made a leaner, Boudreau answered with one of his own.
The Yachtsmen got a putback from Simonds, but Hammond drove the baseline for a layup and the Stags' lead was four again, 36-32.
Late in the frame, Rogers made a free throw and Burton hit two, but Ismail made a jumper. Simonds then made a jump shot, which hit the rim and rattled home. Then, as time expired, Burton tipped home a missed shot and Falmouth took the slimmest of leads, 39-38, to the final stanza.
"I knew time was winding down and I saw the shot was going to hit the rim, so I went up and got it and put it in," Burton said.
In the fourth, Falmouth finally put it away.
Simonds made two free throws for a 41-38 lead, then, after Ismail drained a jumper, Coyne took over, driving for a layup, then somehow scooping home a shot while being fouled and adding the free throw for a 46-40 lead with 4:32 remaining.
Holman made two foul shots after an offensive rebound, but Coyne countered with two of his own.
With 2:57 left, senior Sam Cross made the first free throw for Cheverus, but missed the second. Luckily for the Stags, Holman was there for the rebound and putback and with 2:53 to play, they were only down three, 48-45.
That's as close as they would get.
With 2:30 showing, Rogers made two free throws.
With 1:50 to play, Burton set up Stucker for a layup.
"I got the ball and I knew someone would try to block it, so I pump faked and put it in," Stucker said.
"We knew the double team was going and I saw I.V. open for the layup," Burton said. "I got it to him and he laid it in."
" I.V. is so quick," Halligan added. "That was a big basket. "
With 1:30 left, Rogers made another free throw.
Coyne added two foul shots with 55.2 seconds left and just like that, the lead was 10 and the competitive phase of the contest was over.
Down the stretch, Coyne made a free throw and Carney drained another 3 to account for the 56-48 final score.
"We got more composed at the start of the second half," said Burton. "We weren't as helter skelter."
"(Cheverus) played a really good game," Simonds said. "They're well-coached. They had a good game plan. We stepped up our defense and our offense flowed from that."
"We got more aggressive on the offensive end," added Halligan. "In the first half, we were standing around watching. Our defense kept us in the game and gave us a chance. In the second half, we got the ball moving and found the open man instead of everybody trying to do it themselves."
Falmouth put three players in double digits.
Simonds, who was so huge early, finished with a team-high 17 points. He also had four rebounds and two steals.
Coyne, who had just three points at halftime, wound up with 15.
"Thomas is a big-time player," said Simonds. "I knew he wouldn't be shut down the whole game."
"Thomas stepped up down the stretch," said Halligan. "He showed up in the fourth quarter and took over the game."
Burton dominated to the tune of 14 points, 10 boards and two steals.
"Nick's been huge for us all season," said Simonds.
Burton's stats that were especially impressive considering he went toe-to-toe with the imposing Holman most of the afternoon.
"(Zordan's) a strong kid," Burton said. "We went back and forth. He'd get one, I'd get one. It was a physical battle. It was fun."
Rogers added six points and Stucker had four.
Stucker, a standout in the spring in lacrosse, is more than happy to help the basketball team by any means necessary.
"Whatever I can do to help us win I'll do,' Stucker said. "Winning last year was awesome. Energy in general is my role. I started out covering Boudreau, then went over to Ismail. I just tried to do my best to make a difference. Boudreau especially is such a good shooter. He's got unlimited range. I did everything I could to try and change things. Thomas didn't get a break all game, so I did my best to help."
"I.V. is one of our best defenders," said Burton. "He works hard. He gave us a great effort off the bench."
The Yachtsmen, who were outrebounded, 21-19, made 20 of 29 free throws and only turned the ball over eight times, an impressive stat, considering the circumstances.
Lots to be proud of
Cheverus was paced by Ismail, who capped his high school career with 23 points.
"Manny was great," said Stags coach Dan Costigan. "He just had it going."
Holman had nine points and a game-high 12 boards.
"Zordan is always terrific," said Costigan. "He does all the dirty work you ask him to do. They all do."
Carney added six points, Boudreau had five, Hammond four and Cross one.
The Stags made just 7 of 15 foul shots and committed 15 turnovers.
Cheverus put forth a valiant effort, but fell just short.
"We played well and left it all on the floor and came up a couple plays short," said Costigan. "Falmouth made plays. We made them make great plays. That's all you can do. They're a great program. They have good kids who play together. They're well coached, but we played them tough.
"The kids got better as the year went on. They came together as a team. It's been neat to watch the kids play and get better. The seniors did a really nice job. They stuck together. That's what I'm proud of."
The Stags are losing several key seniors, most notably Carney, Ismail, Sam Cross, Michael Sinclair and Noah Stebbins, but building around Boudreau, Hammond and Holman, could be even stronger next season.
"We'll take a step back and catch our breath and see what's going on," said Costigan. "We have some good kids coming back.""
Big stage showdown
Wednesday, the Yachtsmen will go to the Civic Center, where they've had lots of success in the past, including celebrating winning a Gold Ball last March, to face a Bonny Eagle squad which is capable of lighting up the scoreboard if its shot is falling, which it was in Monday's quarterfinal round win over Sanford (66-49, behind senior standout Dustin Cole's 33 points).
The teams have no history other than meeting in a non-countable game in the Red Claws Holiday Tournament back at the Expo back in late December, which Falmouth won, 66-55.
This one will count and a trip to Saturday's regional final against either top-ranked, undefeated Portland or No. 4 Deering will be at stake.
The Yachtsmen are ready.
"It will be fun," said Burton. "We know what to expect. We're looking forward to it. We hope to find the rhythm early to be successful."
"Dustin's a great player and Bonny Eagle's a really good team," said Simonds. "We played them in the preseason and in the Christmas tournament. We know them pretty well and they know us pretty well. We need to play our game and make them play our game."
"(We beat them in) an exhibition game that doesn't count for anything now," Halligan added. "Now it's the real thing. They have one of the top players in the state. They're a good team. They have athleticism and senior leadership. They have a chip on their shoulder. We'll try to match their intensity and play smart. Our kids like being here. They want to be here."