Northern winter teams seek strong finishing kick
The swimming postseason begins Friday, basketball's regular season ends a week later and it won't be long until state championships are bestowed in several sports.
With that in mind, here's where local teams stand as the winter sports season gets short:
The Falmouth boys' basketball team held off Greely in a showdown Saturday (please see story). Three days prior, the Yachtsmen had an even closer call at plucky Yarmouth, which has been in the thick of the Western B hunt all winter. The Clippers raced to a 10-point lead at halftime and after the visitors rallied, went up 47-38 with 4:24 to go, but Falmouth senior standout Stefano Mancini hit back-to-back-to-back 3s to spearhead a rally and senior Ryan Rogers made a finger roll with 1:13 to play to put the Yachtsmen ahead to stay. Two late Rogers foul shots sent the Clippers to gutwrenching 54-51 defeat.
"We played scared," said 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. Good players step up and Stefano stepped up.
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 Clippers then fell, 45-36, at York Saturday to drop to 9-5 this season (eighth in the Heals). Senior Evan Henry, who had 18 points versus Falmouth, led the team with a dozen points.
Yarmouth went to Freeport Tuesday and has a huge home test awaiting it on Friday when it plays Greely. The Clippers will also take on the two-time defending regional champion Cape Elizabeth next Tuesday. The Clippers close the regular season Feb. 5 at home versus Gray-New Gloucester.
Freeport is 3-11 and 16th in the Heals after a 52-37 home win over NYA Friday (junior Kyle Strozewski had 16 points and sophomore Josh Weirich ended with 13) and a 67-50 setback at Lake Region Saturday (senior Jackson Dodge had 14). The Falcons hosted Yarmouth Tuesday, go to Traip Thursday and host Poland next Tuesday before closing at Wells on Feb. 4.
In Western C, NYA is 3-9 and No. 18 in the Heals after falling, 52-37, at Freeport (junior Andrew Esancy had 13 points) and, 42-34, at Waynflete (Esancy finished with 15). The Panthers hosted Old Orchard Beach Tuesday, play at Sacopee Friday, host Traip next Tuesday and close at home Feb. 5 versus Poland.
On the girls' side, while playoff-bound Falmouth and Greely battled over the weekend (please see story), Freeport continued its resurgence. Friday, the Falcons made it four wins in six games with a 54-43 triumph at NYA. Senior Rachel Foster had 11 points. Saturday, Freeport fell to 4-10 after a 54-37 setback at Lake Region. Sophomore Jess Hench had 12 in the defeat.
The Falcons (15th in the Western B Heals) hosted Yarmouth Tuesday, welcome Traip Friday and close the season on the road next week at Poland and Wells.
Yarmouth is 4-10 and 16th in Western B after losses last week to visiting Falmouth, 59-46, (despite 24 points from sophomore Morgan Cahill) and visiting York (Cahill had 13), 55-29.
The Clippers were at Freeport Tuesday, host Greely Friday and end their season next week at Cape Elizabeth and Gray-New Gloucester.
In Western C, NYA is 4-8 and 13th in the Heals (the top nine teams make the playoffs). Last week, the Panthers lost, 54-43, to Freeport (junior Blair Haggett had 19 points in defeat) and, 61-36, to visiting Waynflete (sophomore Morgan Scully finished with 11). NYA was home with Old Orchard Beach Tuesday, goes to Sacopee Friday and hosts Hebron Saturday. The Panthers end their season on the road next week at Traip and Poland.
While Falmouth's boys' hockey team was knocking Biddeford from the ranks of the unbeaten Saturday night (please see story), up Route 1, the Clippers of Yarmouth were enjoying their biggest win in years. Facing defending Class B champion Greely, a team the Clippers hadn't beaten since Feb. 17, 2005, Yarmouth trailed 1-0 after two periods (sophomore Peter Stauber scored for the Rangers early in the second), but tied the game on sophomore Alex Kurtz's goal 1:06 into the third. With 8:36 to play, sophomore Marshall Brunelle took a pass from Kurtz and beat helpless Greely junior goalie Matt Libby to put the Clippers on top.
"I called over to Alex for the one-timer in front of the net," said Brunelle. "The goalie was on the far side. I knew I had to get the goalie moving side-to-side and put it in the net. I think we're more determined this year. We work well together. We're focused and want to win."
Yarmouth's defense and senior goalie Ethan Gray (23 saves) did the rest and the Clippers ended their nine-game losing streak to the Rangers with a 2-1 victory.
"My seniors had never beaten them and I never did," said Yarmouth coach Marc Halsted. "I'm so proud of them. We lost senior captain Steven Petrovek for the year. We did this without one of our best forwards. It shows our character. We switched up our lines. We loaded up our top line and they went first, third and fifth to start the period and got a goal and about five shots. Then, we got the power play goal. It's what we needed. It's nice to see the kids respond."
"They've been the best team we've played all three of my years," Gray said. "This is unbelievable that we've come back. We feel on top of the world. It's awesome. We're looking at playoffs. It's big for momentum. We'll take momentum into a huge stretch of our season."
The Clippers snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 5-4 for the year (second to York in the latest Western Class B Heals). Yarmouth hosted Portland Wednesday, welcomes Camden Saturday and travels to York Monday.
Halsted hopes Saturday's win will be a springboard for more success.
"Even though we're incredibly young, we've played a lot of hockey and the kids have a lot of passion," Halsted said. "They look up at the banners every day and we remind them of the seven state championships. They have a passion to make Yarmouth hockey something we can all be proud of again. We're a long way from going 20-0, but going 5-4 and beating Greely, that's progress.
"It's going to get tough. We're in the playoff hunt. This was a Heal Point-win. If we can be a playoff team with sophomores and freshmen out there, that's a nice accomplishment."
Greely continued its trend of close contests.
"That's the seventh one-goal game out of the 11 we've played," said coach Barry Mothes. "There's been a lot of tight games, some of which we've won. I don't expect that will change. We're just trying to find ways to get a little more offense going. It's difficult to just snap your fingers and have goals happen. I think we're playing better. It doesn't always show up on the score sheet. We're moving the puck better. We're possessing a little better. We just need to find a way to get more shots on goal in a consistent situation. It's difficult to win games when you average under two-and-a-half goals a game. Defensively, I think we're playing very well. We gave up two goals tonight and lost. Bottom line, is we need to find a way to score. Otherwise, our season might be over sooner than we hoped."
The Rangers (fourth in Western B) improved to 6-5-1 Monday after defeating Leavitt, 1-0, on a goal from Stauber and 16 saves from Labbe. Saturday, they have a huge home test against rival Cape Elizabeth. Wednesday brings a trip to Camden. Greely has to stay in the top four to make the playoffs and have a chance to defend its crown.
"We're one of five teams going for three spots," Mothes said. "Losing (to Yarmouth) doesn't help. We have to try and find a way to score more goals and win more games. I think it will probably go down to the wire for playoff spots."
On the girls' side, Greely is battling to the end for the final East region playoff spot. Last week, the Rangers lost, 6-4, at home to Biddeford (despite a 3-1 lead after one period), downed visiting Deering, 8-1, (as junior Michaela Finnegan had a hat trick) and blanked host Yarmouth, 4-0, (behind two goals from freshman Paige Tuller). Monday, the Rangers lost, 5-2, at home to defending state champion Lewiston to fall to 7-9 on the year.
After a scoreless first period, Greely fell behind 3-0, but goals frm junior Casey Benner and Finnegan made things interesting. The Blue Devils scored again late in the second, then added an empty netter in the waning moments. Sophomore goalie Emma Seymour stopped 37 shots.
"The girls played hard," said Rangers coach Heather Geoghan. "They were able to capitalize on a few of our mistakes. It's a tough loss. We came out strong. We hopefully proved a point to them that we're a tough team and we haven't signed off on the season."
Greely is fifth in the standings, but only the top four teams advance. The Rangers' hopes will likely come down to Thursday's home showdown with No. 4 Winslow. Greely closes the regular season at home Saturday versus Falmouth.
"Winslow will be a huge game for us," said Geoghan. "Hopefully we'll come out strong. Falmouth's worth points as well. It's a tough season. It's tough to be in an unbalanced league like this. We've got to come to play in the games that count. Hopefully we'll come out strong Thursday and Saturday. It's do or die time."
Speaking of the Yachtsmen, they continue to shine in the West region. Last week, Falmouth lost 6-3 at home to Lewiston, but bounced back to blank Gorham 10-0 to improve to 9-4-2 (second to Cheverus in the region). Falmouth is home with Leavitt Thursday and closes at Greely Saturday.
Yarmouth will fall short of the postseason, but the young Clippers have made nice strides this winter. The Clippers lost, 9-0, at St. Dom's last Wednesday, then fell 4-0 at home to Greely Saturday. Yarmouth was within 1-0 after two periods in that one and got 27 saves from goalie Caitlynn Cyr. The Clippers (seventh in the East region) go to Portland Thursday and host Lewiston Saturday.
On the track, the long-standing Western Maine Conference indoor mile record didn't fall just once to a local runner last weekend, it was bested twice. First, NYA's Henry Sterling finished with a time of 4 minutes, 21.20 seconds, to beat Gorham's Michael Downing's nine-year old mark of 4:21.27. Hours later, Greely's Mark McCauley lowered the record to 4:20.92.
Despite Sterling's performance, NYA was sixth in a seven-team meet won by York. Yarmouth placed seocnd and Freeport was seventh. On the girls' side, NYA came in fifth, Yarmouth was sixth and Freeport placed seventh. York was first.
Even with McCauley's new record, Greely was second to Falmouth in its six-team meet. The Rangers did win the girls' competition with Falmouth second.
In the pool, Greely enjoyed a big win over rival Cape Elizabeth Friday, as the boys triumphed, 103-79, and the girls beat the defending Class A champs, 107-5.72.5. Falmouth's boys lost 147-61 to Cheverus and 72-61 to Hyde, while the girls defeated the Stags, 134-130. NYA's boys edged Yarmouth, 54-47. The Clippers won the girls' meet, 100-66.
Falmouth and Greely will compete in the north division Southwesterns Friday (boys) and Saturday (girls) in Westbrook. NYA and Yarmouth compete in the south division Southwesterns the following weekend.
On the slopes, Greely hosted Falmouth and Yarmouth in a giant slalom meet Thursday. The Yachtsmen won the boys' meet with 14 points. The Clippers were second with 34 and the Rangers came in third with 89. Yarmouth's Reed Wommack had the best combined time (58.53 seconds). In the girls' meet, Greely won with 17 points. Yarmouth (32) and Falmouth (34) weren't far back. The top individual was Yarmouth's Natalie Aiken (1 minute, 1.13 seconds).
Friday, Yarmouth hosted Freeport, Fryeburg and Lake Region in a GS. The Clippers won both genders. The Falcons were second on the boys' side and tied Fryeburg for second in the girls' meet. Aiken was the top female (1:03.25). Freeport's Ryan Collet (1:01.34) finished first among the boys. That same day, in a slalom race, Falmouth (first in both races) and Greely (second in both) competed against Gray-New Gloucester and Cape Elizabeth. Falmouth's Ben Weigel (1:20.52) and Casey Hilfrank (1:35.68) won the boys' and girls' races, respectively.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com