Heartbreaker...Falmouth falls one point short
PORTLAND—The Falmouth boys' basketball team proved without a shadow of a doubt that it belongs in the Class A tournament, but unfortunately for the Yachtsmen, that's small consolation.
Moral victories ring hollow for a program which has lost just two games over the past three regular seasons, is the defending Class B state champion and boasted the kind of talent that made the biggest and most storied teams in the state sit up and take notice this winter.
Falmouth was hoping to make history in this tournament by winning a Class A crown a year after taking home a Class B Gold Ball, but by the slimmest of margins, the Yachtsmen's dreams turned into a nightmare defeat Wednesday evening at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Facing third-ranked Bonny Eagle, a team accustomed to deep playoff runs behind its dynamic senior guard Dustin Cole, second-seeded Falmouth hung tough and then some for every second of the 32 minute thriller.
The Yachtsmen fell behind by five points in the first period, 12-7, rallied to go up by nine, 28-19, when junior Jack Simonds buried a 3 and sophomore Thomas Coyne added two foul shots late in the first half, but the Scots closed the second quarter on an 8-0 run and it was essentially anyone's game as the second half began.
After being held to just two points in the first half, Cole, the Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalist, began working his magic in the second and the game went back-and-forth.
Falmouth went up by as many as four, 39-35, in the third period, but Bonny Eagle roared back and went ahead, 47-43, after a long 3-pointer from Cole with 6:30 to play.
The Yachtsmen got off the deck again, and retook the lead with 1:20 to play, 51-50, when an improbable hero, senior I.V. Stucker, drove for a layup, but the Franklin Pierce University-bound Cole simply wouldn't let his team go home or his high school career end.
With 1:04 to play, Cole got a rebound of his own miss, was fouled and made both free throws to put the Scots ahead for good. Fourteen seconds later, after a controversial no-call at one end, Cole was fouled again, this time by Simonds, who fouled out, and he added two more foul shots.
Falmouth kept coming back, but the Scots kept making free throws.
With 7.5 seconds to go, a Coyne layup made it a two-point game, 60-58, but Cole iced it a second later at the line and a Coyne 3 just before the horn proved academic as Bonny Eagle held on, 62-61.
The Scots got 22 points from Cole and 20 from junior Ben Malloy, who shot lights out in the first half, as they improved to 19-1 and earned a regional final date with top-ranked Portland Saturday at 9 p.m., back at the Civic Center.
The Yachtsmen got 30 points from Coyne and 15 from Simonds, but it wasn't enough, as their superb season ended at 18-2.
"We had our chances," lamented longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. "We played a very good team with an excellent player. Sometimes to have to feel a sting like this to appreciate what you've accomplished. We're upset with the loss, but I'm not upset with our effort. Especially with our first time in the Class A tournament."
Good as advertised
Bonny Eagle entered the season knowing it was now or never in regards to its state championship hopes. After falling in the regional final in each of the past three years, including last year to South Portland, the Scots produced a superb 17-1 regular season record, falling only to undefeated Portland. Bonny Eagle then got 33 points from Cole in blowing past No.6 Sanford in Monday's quarterfinals, 66-49.
Falmouth also won every game but one in the regular season (an OT loss at Greely) and after a scare, survived No. 7 Cheverus, 56-48, in its quarterfinal.
Falmouth and Bonny Eagle had no playoff history, but they weren't strangers. The Yachtsmen beat the Scots in a summer tournament in Providence, R.I., downed them again in the preseason, then beat them a third time, 66-55, in a non-countable game at the Red Claws Christmas Tournament in December.
The teams were the first to take the floor at the new and improved Civic Center, where a little over an hour before game time, it was discovered that a high school 3-point line had not been painted on the court, producing some anxious moments for the tournament officials, who managed to avoid a crisis by putting white tape down to produce a line at the proper distance and still get the game to start on time.
Once Falmouth and Bonny Eagle took to the floor, did they ever put on a display.
The first period was fast paced and hinted at the thriller to come.
Scots senior Jon Woods opened the scoring with a bank shot just five seconds in and the Yachtsmen answered as senior Matt Tseng drove for a layup.
After Woods put Bonny Eagle ahead with a leaner, Coyne scored his first points on a leaner.
Malloy then started heating up with a 3 and after Coyne took a pass from senior Nick Burton and tied it with a 3, Malloy gave the Scots the lead with a bank shot, then added a 3 for a 12-7 lead.
Tseng made a layup after a nice spin move, but Malloy added a foul shot. Burton made a layup for Falmouth and after a steal from Stucker, Burton set up Coyne for a layup which tied the score, 13-13, after one period.
The Yachtsmen led almost all of the second quarter.
Coyne took a pass from Simonds 23 seconds in and made a 3 to put Falmouth ahead.
Coyne then banked home a jumper. After a driving layup from Scots junior Nick Dubay, Coyne took a pass from Simonds and made another 3. After Dubay banked home a shot on a drive and Woods scored on a floater, senior Justin Rogers banked home a shot, Simonds added a 3 and Coyne hit two foul shots for a 28-19 lead with 3:11 to go in the half.
Bonny Eagle then closed the half on an 8-0 run.
With three minutes to go before halftime, Cole scored his first points, on a floater. Malloy then banked home a shot and
Halligan called timeout, but it didn't help.
In transition, Cole threaded a beautiful pass to Woods for a layup, junior Matt Smith added a putback and when Malloy's layup at the horn was waved off for coming a split second too late, the Yachtsmen clung to just a 28-27 lead at halftime.
"We started to get into foul trouble and that affected us a little bit," Halligan said, of the closing phase of the half. "We made some mistakes. They were physical with us and we couldn't get the ball inside."
Coyne went off for 17 points and Falmouth only turned the ball over five times in the first half, but 11 points from Malloy and 10 from Woods (to go with seven rebounds) kept the Scots very much alive.
The back and forth fun continued in the third period, although there was a lid on both baskets early.
It took 2:44 for someone to score, but Bonny Eagle retook the lead when Woods set up Malloy for a 3, giving the Scots their first lead since 13-11.
With 4:58 left in the quarter, after a drought of 6 minutes, 13 seconds, Coyne's leaner ended Bonny Eagle's 11-0 run and tied the score, 30-30.
Cole put Bonny Eagle back on top with two free throws, but Coyne made one foul shot, Simonds scored on a putback and Burton did the same to make it 35-32 Falmouth.
Malloy tied the game with a long 3, but in transition, Coyne fed Burton for a layup and Coyne added two free throws for a 39-35 Yachtsmen advantage.
Cole got a point back at the line and Bonny Eagle senior Nate Schopen scored on a putback to make it a 39-38 game entering the final stanza.
There, Cole refused to let the Scots lose.
He scored on a putback 15 seconds in for a 40-39 lead. After Simonds banked home a spinner to give the Yachtsmen the lead, Woods was fouled and appeared to miss the front end of a one-and-one, but Falmouth moved early and the violation gave Woods another chance. He made both and Bonny Eagle was on top.
Those two points would loom large.
Cole added a layup after a steal and after Burton fed Simonds for a layup, Cole drained a long 3 for a 47-43 lead with 6:30 to go.
"I knew I needed to start scoring quickly," Cole said.
Stucker fed Simonds for a baseline jumper, but a leaner from Malloy restored the four-point bulge.
With 4:22 left, Simonds hit another baseline jumper, but after Burton missed the front end of a one-and-one with a chance to tie the score, Malloy made one of two foul shots with 2:19 remaining for a 50-47 lead.
With exactly 2 minutes showing, Simonds leaned in for a layup to cut the deficit to one.
Then, with 1:20 to go, the Yachtsmen went ahead on a driving layup from none other than Stucker, but the win wasn't to be.
With 1:04 left, Cole got a rebound of his own miss and was fouled. He made both free throws.
After a steal by Woods, on a play on which the Falmouth side of the building thought for sure Simonds was fouled, Cole was fouled again (by Simonds, who was done for the night) and with 50 seconds remaining, made two more foul shots for a 54-51 lead.
"I think it was the right non-call," said Bonny Eagle coach Phil Bourassa, on the non-foul on Woods. "I think they both kind of hit each other, he lost the ball and we got it. Jack's an incredible player. He's a nightmare matchup for us in the post."
"I tell the kids we should have been ahead by 11 or 12 and then, (a call like that) wouldn't make a difference," Halligan said.
The Scots then stole the ball back and with 35.5 seconds to play, Dubay stepped to the line and coolly hit two free throws to make it 56-51.
Coyne raced down for a layup, but Cole was fouled and made both free throws, keeping Bonny Eagle up by five, 58-53, with 29.8 seconds remaining.
After Cole blocked a Coyne shot at the other end, the Yachtsmen got a gift, as Cole was called for taunting, which resulted in a technical foul. That ruling came because after the blocked shot, Cole stood over Coyne, said something to his good friend, then playfully tapped him on the behind, but a rule is a rule and Coyne went to the line for two shots.
He only made one and that missed foul shot would also prove immense.
Falmouth kept the ball and after Coyne missed a 3, Tseng put home the rebound and suddenly, the deficit was just two, 58-56, with 15.1 seconds to go.
Those 15.1 seconds would go far too quickly if you rooted for the Yachtsmen and they seemed to take an eternity for those cheering for the Scots.
The ball was inbounded to Cole, who was fouled immediately. With 13.5 seconds left, he again made both free throws to push the lead to four.
Coyne raced down for another layup, but it ate up six seconds and although Falmouth was only down, 60-58, just 7.5 seconds remained.
Again, the inbounds pass came to Cole, who was fouled with 6.4 seconds showing.
A miss of one or both shots would have given the Yachtsmen hope of forcing overtime, or even winning in regulation, but Cole refused to play along with that script.
He sank the first free throw and buried the second and that effectively ended it.
"I just knew I needed to hit the free throws and I did," Cole said.
Coyne again raced down and shot a long 3, which went through the net with 2.1 seconds to go, but without a timeout, Falmouth couldn't stop the clock and it ran out as Bonny Eagle held on for the palpitating 62-61 triumph.
"We kept our composure and did what we had to do," Cole said. "I have confidence in all my teammates. They stepped up and hit shots today."
"With the preseason, the Christmas tournament and this summer in Providence, they beat us three times, but luckily, we got the fourth one," Bourassa said. "Falmouth's a tough team. They had length on us, they have shooters, but we prepared to win. The guys played hard. Ben played really well early and other guys did things. We attacked the offensive glass like we did all year. Dustin came up big late and made a lot of big free throws for us. He's not ready to be done and we're not ready for him to be done with Bonny Eagle. We had to make free throws. When you have guards who are confident at the line, especially (Cole), you feel good about your chances in the fourth quarter."
Cole had a fourth quarter to remember, scoring 17 of his 22 points in that final stanza, including a clinical 10 of 10 from the free throw line.
"I wasn't going to let this be my last game and we came out with a victory," said Cole.
"Cole got his points because we had to foul and they were able to get the ball to him," Halligan said.
Malloy added 20 points (which included four made 3-pointers), while Woods was also in double figures with 10, to with 10 rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Dubay had six points (and five boards), while Schopen and Smith (five rebounds) each added two.
Considering the setting and the stakes, the Scots' 19 of 24 free throws and mere six turnovers were jawdropping statistics. They were outrebounded, 34-28, but considering Falmouth's big size advantage, that was respectable as well.
Looking ahead to Saturday, Bonny Eagle lost its regular season meeting against Portland, 69-60, back on Jan. 14, in a game played at St. Joseph's College.
The teams last met in the tournament in the 2009 preliminary round, a 56-38 Bulldogs' victory. The teams also met in the 1998 semifinals (65-50 Portland), 1999 semifinals (60-44 Bulldogs) and the 2007 semifinals (52-47 Portland).
The regional final round has not been kind to the Scots and when asked if he was hoping to avoid becoming the Buffalo Bills and losing four straight times in the final, Bourassa said, "I don't want to be (former Bills' coach) Marv Levy."
To prevent that fate, Bonny Eagle will have to play well for 32 minutes, but this squad does seem to have a Team of Destiny vibe.
"(This is) a big win, but we have to get ready for our next one," Cole said. "I think we can beat them. We had a lot of unforced turnovers last time, but this time we'll be prepared."
"We hope it's a different outcome than the last three years," Bourassa said. "We'll change our game plan like we did tonight. We did that tonight and we got lucky."
Quite a legacy
Anyone concerned about Falmouth's future only needs to know that last night's two leading scorers, Coyne (30 points, four rebounds, three assists) and Simonds (15 points, seven boards, two assists, two blocked shots) are a sophomore and junior, respectively.
"Those guys took it the hardest," Halligan said. "That bodes well. Adversity makes you stronger. They haven't really experienced it. I think we'll be alright. We have a good program with good coaches and a good youth program."
The seniors will certainly be missed, however.
As freshman, they were part of a team that missed the playoffs for the first time in 27 years. As sophomores, they went undefeated in the regular season before losing a close game to Yarmouth in the regional final. Last year, they had no peer and they have plenty of reasons to hold their heads high as seniors, even after Wednesday's agony.
"The seniors were on a great roll," Halligan said. "I'm proud of them. they had a great career. If losing a basketball game is the worst thing that happens to them, they'll be very lucky."
Burton finished his breakthrough season with six points, 10 rebounds and three assists. Tseng also had six points. Rogers (six rebounds, two steals and a block) and Stucker (three boards, a block and a steal) added two points apiece.
The Yachtsmen only turned the ball over 12 times and made 5 of 9 free throws.
We'll be hearing from this team again.
"I'm pleased with our season," Halligan said. "We were competitive every night out. We proved we belonged (in Class A). We pride ourselves on being our best regardless of class.