Falmouth saves best for last, stays perfect with 54-51 win at Yarmouth
YARMOUTH—The Falmouth boys' basketball team tasted adversity for the first time this winter, but found a way to rise above and rally for an inspirational win Wednesday night at Jack Stroud Gymnasium.
Thanks to a tremendous 16-minute performance by the host Clippers, the Yachtsmen faced a season-high 10-point halftime deficit and trailed by eight with under four minutes to go, but a sterling defensive effort and the awakening of senior standout Stefano Mancini's 3-point shooting touch keyed a rally that allowed Falmouth to improve to 13-0 with a 54-51 win.
The Yachtsmen didn't take the lead for good until 1:13 remained when senior Ryan Rogers scored on a finger roll. Rogers added two foul shots with 11.3 seconds to play and Falmouth finally exhaled when a last-second Yarmouth 3-point attempt was off-target.
"Somewhere along the line, we'll have a game like this in the tournament, so it's a good experience," said Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan. "I'm awfully proud of them."
Closer than expected
Falmouth entered the game having no peer, rolling in 11 of its 12 victories and holding off two-time defending regional champion Cape Elizabeth by seven in the other.
Yarmouth, meanwhile, has made great strides with a relatively untested squad. The Clippers split their first six contests, then carried a six-game win streak into a rematch of a 58-41 Yachtsmen home win back on Dec. 19.
Wednesday, Yarmouth came to play early and set the tone for what was almost an epic upset.
The visitors grabbed a quick 2-0 lead on a leaner from senior John Roberts, but a jumper from sophomore point guard Josh Britten allowed the Clippers to answer. After Yarmouth went up 4-2 on a jump shot from senior Evan Henry, Mancini made a 3, but that would be Falmouth's last lead until the fourth period.
A jumper from junior Mike McCormack and a layup by Henry put the Clippers on top. After Roberts scored on a putback, senior Jeff Kuklewicz made a layup, Henry drained a 3 and Britten followed with a long jumper for a 15-7 advantage. Rogers ended the 7-0 run with a scoop shot and senior Sam Horning made a layup, but a layup by junior Luke Pierce in the final minute gave the hosts a 17-11 lead after one quarter.
Falmouth made a run early in the second, but Yarmouth regained control.
After Rogers started the period with a 3, McCormack hit a jumper in the lane, but Roberts answered with a pair of layups to pull the Yachtsmen within one, 19-18. With the lead in jeopardy, the Clippers responded thanks to a jump shot from junior Matt Murphy and a left-handed scoop shot by Henry. After Mancini buried a jumper, Murphy scored on a putback, Britten drained a 3-ball and McCormack made a floater for a 30-20 lead.
With 1:21 left before halftime, Mancini ended a 7-0 run and a 3 minute, 50 second drought with two free throws, but Henry made a layup with 15.9 seconds to go to give Yarmouth a 32-22 advantage at the break.
Strong defense, second and third chances on the offensive boards and just four turnovers allowed the Clippers to open it up.
Everything then changed in the third.
Yarmouth turned the ball over six times in the first two-and-a-half minutes and the visitors scored 10 straight to tie the score.
Horning got the rally started with a 3-ball. After sophomore Jack Cooleen made a layup to make it 32-27 with 7:14 to go, neither team scored for almost three minutes before Cooleen hit a leaner to pull his team within three. With 2:02 left in the quarter, Roberts made a free throw. With 1:24 left, Mancini sank a pair and the game was deadlocked.
The formerly raucous gym had gone deathly quiet.
Sixteen seconds later, Henry scored on a putback to end a 7 minute, 7 second drought, but Horning answered with a jump shot to tie the score at 34-34. With time winding down in the third, after a Falmouth turnover, Pierce fed Henry for a layup and the Clippers took a tenuous 36-34 advantage into the fourth.
The Yachtsmen had switched to a man-to-man defense, which forced 10 Yarmouth turnovers and turned the tide.
"We came out and went to our bread and butter, man-to-man," Halligan said. "They got a couple breaks. We couldn't quite get over the hump. We went to a halfcourt trap and got close. I have to give (Yarmouth) a lot of pressure. They killed us on the boards."
"We played scared," said Clippers coach Adam Smith. "It was uncharacteristic of us. We played on our heels as we started the season doing. Good teams will do that to you. They turned up the intensity."
Despite the poor third, Yarmouth returned to form at the start of the fourth and opened up a healthy lead once again.
Just 19 seconds in, Kuklewicz made a layup. With 7:04 to go, after McCormack twice grabbed offensive rebounds but couldn't finish, Pierce corralled one and laid the ball home for a 40-34 lead. Cooleen answered with a putback and Mancini made a layup, but Henry sank a 3 from the corner, Pierce scored on a putback and when Britten sank two foul shots with 4:24 remaining, the Clippers' lead was up to nine, 47-38.
After doing virtually nothing from the perimeter all night, the sharpshooter found his range and the visitors came roaring back.
A Mancini 3-pointer with 4:16 to go made it 47-41. After Murphy answered with a fadeaway, Mancini canned another shot from behind the stripe to make it 49-44. Pierce made a layup with 3:34 to play (which would prove to be Yarmouth's final points), but 11 seconds later, Mancini lined up another long-distance bomb and sank it to pull his team within four, 51-47.
"I kept shooting, despite demoralization in the first half," Mancini said. "I have a terrible habit of psyching myself out in warmups that I don't like this gym. I got over it and shot the ball in the second half. I didn't have time to think about it."
"Good players step up and Stefano stepped up," Smith added.
Horning assumed the hero's role next, converting an old-fashioned three-point play with 2:51 remaining. After a Clippers' turnover, Falmouth had two looks at the lead, but both Mancini and Rogers missed on 3-point attempts.
After another Yarmouth turnover, senior Jahrel Registe went to the line with a chance to put his team ahead or tie the score, but he missed both shots. At the other end, Henry was off on a shot and Registe rebounded. Rogers then drove to the hoop and his finger roll finally put the Yachtsmen on top, 52-51.
With 20 seconds to play, Birtten missed a shot and Cooleen rebounded (his 12th). After a Falmouth timeout, Rogers was fouled and sank both ends of the one-and-one to make it 54-51.
The hosts had a chance to tie the game, but couldn't get a good look and Henry's desperation heave with a second to go was way off the mark.
"If the 3's there you can take it, but my style is to get the two and grind it out that way," said Smith. "Being on our heels, penetration is difficult. The 3 was there and they didn't take it. That's pretty much where we were in the second half. The last 15 seconds capsulized the second half for us."
Falmouth had survived.
"This is just the second time we haven't won by double figures so it's a good experience for us," Mancini said. "We learned something."
"We didn't give in," Halligan added. "Ryan and Steph didn't have great first halves, but they played through it."
The Yachtsmen were led by a game-high 20 points (and six assists) from Mancini. Horning added 10, Roberts and Rogers each had nine and Cooleen finished with six.
Yarmouth (9-4) got 18 points from Henry, nine from Britten, eight from Pierce, six apiece from McCormack and Murphy and four from Kuklewicz.
Despite the appearance of a moral victory, Smith would have none of it.
"I think our confidence showed in the first half, so this is not a confidence boost for us," he said. "It's a disappointment to play as we did in the third quarter. That's got to be overcome. We have big games coming up.
"The two lowest scores Falmouth's been held to was against us. It took an incredible second half for them to get to 54. I'm pleased with our defensive effort. We got on our heels offensively in the second half and it affected us defensively. We can't let that happen. The magnitude of the game I tried to downplay, but it seemed to win over in the second half. Falmouth's intensity magnified in our players' mind the situation and the scope."
The Clippers (fifth in the latest Western Class B Heal Points standings) has to bounce back quickly as it goes to dangerous York Saturday. Yarmouth visits Freeport Tuesday of next week.
The Yachtsmen were a narrow second to Mountain Valley in the Heals at press time. They face another huge test Saturday night when they host rival Greely.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com