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Greely girls eye Gold Ball; Falmouth hosts prelim

Sports

Greely girls eye Gold Ball; Falmouth hosts prelim

The girls' basketball tournament began Wednesday night when the eighth-ranked Falmouth Yachtsmen hosted No. 9 Cape Elizabeth in a preliminary round contest. The winner meets undefeated, top-ranked and defending regional champion York in the quarterfinals.

Greely got a bye into the quarters, by virtue of its solid 16-2 mark. The Rangers, seeded third, will meet No. 6 Mountain Valley once again in their first playoff test.

Freeport (5-13), North Yarmouth (6-11) and Yarmouth (5-13) fell short of the postseason.

Three a lucky number?

A year ago, in Billy Goodman's first season as coach, Greely went 16-2 and advanced to the regional final where it lost to York. This year, the Rangers again went 16-2, but had no answer for the Wildcats, losing, 51-43, in York Jan. 8 and, 32-27, at home to the Wildcats eight days later. Greely (ranked third in Western B) hopes the third time's a charm, but it has plenty of work to do before even thinking of the Wildcats.

Tuesday at 2 p.m., at the Expo, the Rangers will see a familiar foe, No. 6 Mountain Valley (11-7) in the quarterfinals. Greely eliminated the Falcons from the playoffs each of the past two years, 43-40, in the 2008 quarterfinals and, 49-27, in last winter's semifinal round.

The Rangers enter the postseason on a high note, having won their final six games, including a 50-29 home victory over Gray-New Gloucester (senior Abby Young led the way with 17 points) and a 48-34 win at Lake Region Friday (behind a staunch defensive effort and 14 from Young).

"We're playing our best basketball at the right time," Goodman said. "I like my team. Our defense is playing really well. To hold Lake Region to eight points in a half at their place is pretty impressive. I'm very happy with how the girls have come together and gotten better. We've had injuries, but other girls have stepped up. I think we're better than last year.

"We haven't really seen Mountain Valley this year. Last year, they played us tough in the Christmas tournament, then at the Civic Center, we had a great game.

If Greely advances, it will likely face No. 2 Leavitt (17-1) in the semifinals next Thursday. The Rangers and Hornets did not play this season. Then, if Greely can reach the regional final, it will likely get another chance to finally beat York.

"York and Leavitt are the favorites," Goodman said. "I watched Leavitt and they scored 84 points. They're very good offensively. They push it. If we play them, we'd have to play good defense. Until somebody beats them, York is the favorite. The girls would love one more crack at them."

Repeat performance

Friday night, in the regular season finale, Falmouth held off visiting Cape Elizabeth, 45-41, to leapfrog the Capers for the No. 8 spot and the right to host them in a prelim. It wasn't easy. After racing to a 38-26 lead after three, the Yachtsmen had to hold on for dear life down the stretch behind 16 points from junior Jess DiPhillipo and 11 points and 15 rebounds from sophomore Jenna Serunian. That win erased the sting of a 61-37 setback at York three days prior and gave Falmouth a 10-8 mark.

"I've seen a lot of improvement," said Yachtsmen second-year coach Kristi Ouellette. "There was a lot to learn this year. We've come around and meshed and learned a little bit each game."

The Yachtsmen lost at Cape Elizabeth, 39-32, back on Jan. 5. The teams had never met in the postseason.

"It's nice facing an opponent you know well," said Ouellette. "It'll be fresh in our minds coming off a big win. They came back at us. Holding a lead at this point of the season is hard to do. It was a good experience for the kids. Friday was one our best all-around games."

If Falmouth was able to beat the Capers for the second time in six days, it meet York (18-0) in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., at the Expo. The Yachtsmen lost twice this year to the Wildcats, 55-30, in York Jan. 14 and at home last week. York beat Falmouth, 32-24, in the 2004 preliminary round and, 47-37, in last year's semifinal round.

"Getting to play at the Expo would be huge," Ouellette said. "York's very strong and deep."

Wait til' next year

Senior-laden Freeport hoped to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005, but injuries led to a slow start and although the Falcons played much better down the stretch, they fell short. Freeport closed with a 36-20 win at Poland and lost, 64-35, at Wells.

"It was a tough season," said coach Jay Harper. "We certainly felt like we could have and should have won more games. We were in most of our games which was an improvement from last year, but getting those key shots to fall was something we need to work on. Two key injuries certainly didn't help our cause,  losing senior captain Emily Drummond in the fourth game of the season, then freshmen Leigh Wyman at the halfway point, really hurt. Wyman was becoming our top scorer and Drummond was one of our best defenders and gave other teams problems being left handed and so quick to the basket. So even though five wins was an improvement from last season, we are disappointed that we didn't win more.

"We lose a lot of experience with seven seniors graduating,and Rachael Foster's determination and inside scoring will not be easily replaced. We have seven returning players, who all started at least one game during the season, including freshmen Wyman and Aubrey Pennell, who are talented guards with excellent scoring ability. Erin Hall will be our inside presence and Ally Fuehrer will be needed on the boards. Katee Poulin and Jess Hench and Alex Mitch are super quick and good defenders and hopefully will add some scoring. A couple of concerns are size and depth, we need to develop some beyond the seven returning players, but we are looking forward to a good eighth grade group from both Durham and Freeport."

Yarmouth suffered its share of growing pains this season and was often done in by long scoring droughts. Sophomore Morgan Cahill emerged as one of the premier post players around, but Yarmouth finished 5-13 after losing, 42-32, at Cape Elizabeth and, 45-37, at Gray-New Gloucester last week.

"We lacked experience and didn't have a lot of depth," said coach Nick Nash. "That played out in most games. We were competitive for long stretches when we played good teams, but in the end, we didn't have enough shooting. They're great kids. They worked hard every minute in practice and on the floor. They showed flashes of the team they may be next year. There's good talent coming up from the eighth grade. They should be good, have a winning record and get into the tournament."

Nash announced that he won't return for a fourth year as coach. He led Yarmouth to the preliminary round his first season, but the Clippers didn't reach the postseason the past two years. Nash was 20-39 in his three seasons.

"I turn 60 this year and there are just other things I want to do with my life," he said. "I'm sure I'll miss coaching, but the decision wasn't that hard. I told the kids I'd be their biggest fan."

NYA lost, 44-33, at Traip, then ended the year with a 35-23 victory at Poland.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net