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Falmouth becomes team for the ages with OT win in scintillating state final

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Falmouth becomes team for the ages with OT win in scintillating state final

BANGOR—In a building that oozes history and has seen so many memorable battles over the decades, the Falmouth and Camden Hills boys' basketball teams produced an instant classic in Friday night's Class B state championship game.

At the venerable Bangor Auditorium, the Yachtsmen proved once and for all that they are the best team in the state, overcoming megadoses of adversity to turn back the defending champion Windjammers, 72-65, in an overtime thriller.

Falmouth trailed by eight points early, lost senior standout Stefano Mancini for nearly eight minutes in the second half due to foul trouble and after a 10-point lead slipped away, the Yachtsmen were down twice in the waning moments, but somehow, they rose from the deck time and time again, forced overtime on a late free throw from senior John Roberts, then took the lead for good on a Mancini putback in the extra session as they scored the final eight points of the game to win Class B for the first time since moving up in class a decade ago.

"There's no better way to cap off a career than with an overtime win in the state game," said Mancini, a semifinalist for the Mr. Maine Basketball award. "It's everything we hoped it would be. Everyone feels that way in the locker room. In past years, our experience wasn't there. We practiced here Tuesday and we knew it could get crazy. It's an ideal place to win our first championship."

"I'm so happy for our senior group," added longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. "They really worked hard for this. They earned it. Every championship is special. If we're going to win a state championship in basketball, this is the place to win it. The atmosphere is great. The kids will remember this for the rest of their lives."

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Falmouth was no stranger to state championships in the 1980s and 1990s. The Yachtsmen won it all in Class C in 1984, 1985, 1997, 1998 and 1999 and fell in the final in 1990. Following the last title, a 58-36 triumph over Penquis in 1999, Falmouth moved up to Class B and despite having perennially strong teams, the Yachtsmen couldn't get to the state game. After losing to Cape Elizabeth in last year's regional final, the Yachtsmen entered this season as the favorite and the senior-laden squad didn't disappoint, winning their first 17 games in impressive fashion before a three-point home loss to the Capers in the regular season finale left them 17-1 and second in the region.

That loss turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to Falmouth as it regrouped and was at its best in the tournament, defeating No. 7 York, 59-49, No. 3 Mountain Valley, 67-37, and top-ranked Cape Elizabeth, 53-40.

Camden Hills has quite the pedigree as well. Back when it was known as Camden-Rockport, the school won the 1974 and 1999 championships and fell in the state game in 1973, 1994 and 1998. This decade, the Windjammers have four titles, in 2001, 2002, 2005 and last year, a 62-49 win over Cape Elizabeth, which capped a perfect season. Camden lost in the 2007 state game to Mountain Valley.

This season, with a vastly different look, Camden rattled off 13 straight wins, before losing 49-47 to Mount View. Three more wins followed, then the Windjammers lost by a point to rival Rockland in the regular season finale. Camden had little trouble in the regional tournament, cruising past MDI (54-39), Medomak (69-48) and Ellsworth (82-49).

The teams had no history, but did meet in the fall league. Friday night was for keeps, however, and the squads put on a show.

Camden junior Keegan Pieri hinted at a huge game to come when he buried a 3 to get the scoring started just 10 seconds in. Mancini answered with a runner and after a Windjammers miss, Mancini sank a 3 for a quick 5-3 Yachtsmen lead.

Camden junior standout Tyler McFarland tied the score with a leaner. After Mancini missed a 30-foot 3-point attempt, the Windjammers went ahead on a leaner from Pieri. After a Falmouth miss, McFarland sank a 3 to make it 10-5. The Yachtsmen had a pair of looks at the other end, but couldn't convert. After the teams traded turnovers, Pieri made a layup to cap a 9-0 run.

Camden hit five of its first six shots from the floor.

The teams then traded misses before Falmouth ended a 3 minute, 13 second drought on a 3-ball from senior Sam Horning. McFarland answered with two free throws and after senior Ryan Rogers missed a 3 for the Yachtsmen, Pieri scored on a leaner off the glass for a 16-8 advantage, forcing Halligan to call timeout.

"They jumped out 16-8, but we called timeout and kept fighting," Mancini said. "There's 1,920 seconds in a game. That's our motto."

"We got off to a slow start and could have folded, but we battled through the adversity," Halligan added.

Out of the timeout, Horning missed, but Roberts was there for the putback. After the teams traded missed 3s, Camden turned the ball over and Mancini capitalized, racing in for a layup to make it 16-12. In the final minute of the first quarter, Mancini sank another 3 to pull his team within a point, but junior Joel Gabriele answered for the Windjammers with a 3-ball and they led, 19-15, after one.

Camden went cold in the second and Falmouth took advantage.

A 3-ball from Mancini made it 19-18 54 seconds in. The Windjammers then missed four straight shots while the Yachtsmen were off on three. With 5:56 to play in the half, a jump shot from senior Cameron Gatley gave Camden a 21-18 lead, but Falmouth rattled off nine straight to go ahead.

Sophomore Jack Cooleen got the run started with a putback. After a Windjammers turnover, Horning scored on a layup with 4:38 remaining in the half to give the Yachtsmen the lead, 22-21.

With 3:32 left, Rogers scored on a fastbreak layup. Thirty-two seconds later, Mancini canned a 3 to make it 27-21. With 2:50 to go in the half, an old-fashioned three-point play by McFarland ended the run, but Rogers fed Cooleen for a layup and Rogers after a miss, he fired again and this time buried a 3 to make it 32-24. McFarland stemmed the tide with a jumper, but Falmouth was up, 32-26, at the break.

In the first 16 minutes, the Yachtsmen didn't attempt a free throw, but made six 3-pointers and only turned the ball over twice. Mancini had half their points.

The Windjammers, after a 6-for-8 shooting start, wound up just 10-of-27 and had four second period turnovers, which led in part to the Falmouth run.

In the third, the Yachtsmen stretched their lead and appeared on their way to an easy win, but the game took a different turn.

An old-fashioned three-point play from Roberts was answered by a bank shot from Gartley. Horning then fed Roberts for a layup and a 37-28 lead, but a layup from senior James Weferling, just after Mancini picked up his third foul, got the Windjammers back within seven.

With 5:08 to go in the third, Horning buried a 3 for a seemingly commanding 40-30 lead, but senior Will Vlautin answered with a layup and with 4:38 left, Mancini turned the ball over and committed a foul in the process, his fourth, benching him until the fourth period.

"I didn't have time to feel sorry for myself," Mancini said. "I had to make sure my teammates were ready to step up to the challenge and they did. They kept it alive for us."

Camden took advantage and pulled even, but couldn't grab the lead.

After Pieri made two free throws, Rogers answered with a 3-ball, but McFarland converted a three-point play. A pair of Rogers foul shots with 3:18 to go made it 45-37.

"When (Stefano) got his fourth foul, coach pulled me aside and said, 'this is your game now. We need you,'" Rogers said. "It helped me calm down. I knew I had to step up and lead the team while he was gone."

The Windjammers then rattled off eight straight to draw even.

Senior Casey Scott stepped up and hit a clutch 3, Scott made a free throw after being fouled after a steal, McFarland scored on a putback, then, after a Falmouth turnover, with 1;31 to go, a leaner in the lane from Pieri tied the score at 45-45 and forced the Yachtsmen to call timeout.

Horning stemmed the tide with a three-point play, but McFarland responded with a leaner. Horning then fed Cooleen for a layup and a 50-47 lead, but with 16.3 seconds showing, McFarland converted another three-point play to tie the score.

With 3 seconds left, junior Michael Lafond was fouled and put the Yachtsmen back on top with a foul shot, giving Falmouth a 51-50 advantage heading for a frenetic fourth.

A putback from senior Jahrel Registe made it 53-50, but McFarland answered with a spinner. After a missed Yachtsmen 3, the Windjammers had a chance to go ahead when Weferling went to the line with 5:45 to play, but he missed both attempts.

After a Roberts miss, McFarland gave Camden the lead back on a layup with 4:58 to play, but 14 seconds later, after a Falmouth timeout, Mancini returned (the Yachtsmen were outscored 22-13 in his absence).

He made an immediate impact. After his shot was blocked by Weferling, Mancini grabbed the rebound went up again and was fouled. He made both attempts and the Yachtsmen were back ahead, 55-54, with 4:30 to go.

After a Windjammers miss, Mancini coolly drained a 3, his fifth on the night, but at the other end, McFarland was fouled and made both, making it 58-56 Falmouth with 3:53 to go.

Mancini had two looks at 3s to extend the lead, but missed. McFarland made the Yachtsmen pay by hitting a leaner to tie the score. After another Mancini miss on a 3, Camden had a chance to go ahead, but turned the ball over. Roberts got a good look at the other end, but couldn't convert and with 1:24 to play, after two Pieri misses, McFarland got the rebound and drew a foul. He calmly made both and put Falmouth on the ropes.

The Yachtsmen would get off the deck, however. After Rogers missed a runner, Roberts got the biggest rebound of his career (to that point), went up and made a layup while being fouled, then sank the free throw for a 61-60 lead with 1:04 to play.

Again, Camden had an answer, as Pieri hit a mid-range jumper with 32.6 seconds to play, making it 62-61 Windjammers.

With their season on the line, all eyes were on Mancini. He brought the ball into the frontcourt, but got tied up by Weferling. Luckily for Falmouth, it retained the ball. After a timeout, the Yachtsmen went out and made another huge play.

Mancini drove the right baseline and threw up a contested shot that was way off line. Roberts somehow came down with the rebound (the biggest of his career) and the whistle blew. At first, as the Falmouth contingent held its breath, it looked as if Roberts might be called for an over-the-back foul, but instead, the foul went to McFarland, his fifth, ending his evening.

"(The defender) was going for steals the whole time, so I thought I'd up-fake and try and get a foul," Mancini said, of his shot. "I just threw up a shot and Roberts was there. Thank God!"

Roberts coolly made the first attempt to tie it, but the second bid was too long and Pieri came down with rebound. After a timeout, Camden's bid to win in regulation never had a chance (Pieri's halfcourt bomb was well short) and it was on to OT.

"I would have liked to have made that last foul shot," Roberts said. "I just tried to get there. Once the foul was called, I zoned out everything else. I got one of them, that's what counts."

In overtime, the Yachtsmen had the advantage, playing with Mancini while McFarland was out of the game and they appeared to get the jump when Rogers made a runner. Pieri answered with a 3, however, but Mancini wouldn't be denied at the other end, rebounding his own miss and laying it home for a 66-65 lead with 3:14 to go in the four-minute OT.

Falmouth wouldn't relinquish the lead.

After a pair of Camden misses, Horning grabbed the rebound, but at the other end, a Rogers layup was blocked by Scott. The Windjammers then turned the ball over and Horning alertly threw it forward to a streaking Rogers who made the layup for a 68-65 lead with 1:55 to go. After another Camden turnover, Mancini was fouled with 1:02 remaining and sank both shots to make it 70-65.

The Windjammers had two looks at the other end, but missed. Rogers then went to the line with 42.1 seconds remaining, but missed both attempts. Camden had three looks to cut into the deficit, but missed them all. Roberts grabbed the rebound, fed Mancini, who was fouled with 6.7 seconds to go and he fittingly brought the curtain down on the title with two foul shots. A last-ditch Pieri 3 was no good, Mancini grabbed the rebound and at 10:35 p.m., Falmouth was state champion with an exhilarating 72-65 triumph.

"Going into overtime, we talked about doing what we do," Halligan said. "Having them adjust to us and being aggressive. We did it."

There was more than enough joy to go around.

"The feeling is indescribable," Rogers said. "It's been our goal since the beginning. We've worked so hard. We welcomed the challenge this year. We earned the right (to wear the bulls-eye)."

"It's what we've worked for all season," Horning said. "When Stef went out of the game, everyone stepped up. It was just a great game. So many teams from Falmouth have tried to win it, but we could never do it. This year, we had to get it done and we did. We had a great season."

"It's the greatest feeling in the world," said Registe. "It's the fulfillment of our dreams. I do my job and my team rewards me with wins. It's what we love to do. It's always fun."

"It was intense," Roberts added. "All the nerves faded away. We had momentum on our side. We were pumped up.There aren't enough words to describe it. It's one thing to think about it and another to win a Gold Ball on this court. It feels so good. We had a lot of heart. Camden has experience. They won last year. They used experience to their advantage, but we had a lot of heart toward the end especially. We wanted it so bad. All the pieces fell together."

Mancini led Falmouth (21-1) with 27 points.

Rogers added 14 points, Horning and Roberts had 11 apiece, Cooleen finished with six, Registe two and Lafond one.

"Coach has said all season that come tournament time we'd need everyone and I think everyone was ready," Mancini said. "We were sick of hearing we're a one-man show. We proved tonight that we're a team."

"John Roberts was huge," said Halligan. "He led the way inside. Stef was Stef. He played very big for us. He had foul trouble, but didn't stop playing. You have to give him credit.

"It was team victory. That's the best part. Some other guys stepped up for us. I told the players all along to keep working. You never know when your number will be called and you have to be ready and they were.

"We weren't cocky. We came in here and did the work. It's nice winning, but it's really about the journey with these kids. They're a terrific group of young men who will be successful off the court."

The Yachtsmen made 27-of-58 field goals (including nine 3s, which tied Mountain Valley's 16-year-old mark), hit 13-of-19 free throw attempts (all in the second half) and most remarkably, turned the ball over just six times in 36 pressure-packed minutes.

McFarland was brilliant in defeat, leading all scorers with 32 points before fouling out. His absence was the difference in overtime.

"Having him out definitely helped," Rogers said. "He killed us all game. We had no answer for him. We had a sigh of relief when he got his fifth foul."

"He's a great player," Roberts said. "I enjoyed the challenge."

"McFarland's the real deal," Halligan added. "He's very good."

Pieri added 16 points, Gartley and Scott both had four, Gabriele three and Vlautin and Weferling two apiece.

"We knew coming in that (Camden's) a good team," Horning said. "We lost to them twice in fall league. We knew McFarland and Pieri would have good games. We stepped it up when we needed to. We work so hard. We were all on the same page. We wanted it really, really badly. We had a good time and worked hard. It showed tonight."

The Windjammers made 24-of-62 field goal attempts, drained 12-of-14 foul shots and only turned the ball over 10 times.

Camden wound up 19-3 and will lose some key contributors to graduation, but with McFarland and Pieri returning, the Windjammers have to be viewed as a favorite in 2011.

As for Falmouth, while the Yachtsmen will be decimated by graduation, some talent returns and it won't be long until this program is battling for a second Gold Ball.

"Success breeds success," said Halligan, who after the game was non-committal about returning for yet another season or going the Al McGuire route and leaving on top. "The younger kids learned their lessons."

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

Photo: Jason Veilleux

Falmouth senior John Roberts goes hard to the basket in the late stages of Friday's state final. Roberts' free throw late in regulation forced overtime and the Yachtsmen went on to win their first Class B title.

Photo: Jason Veilleux

Falmouth junior Michael Lafond saw limited action Friday, but hit a key free throw.

Photo: Jason Veilleux

Falmouth senior Stefano Mancini was sensational in the state final, scoring 27 points.

Photo: Jason Veilleux

Falmouth senior Stefano Mancini and Camden senior James Weferling battled for a loose ball in the fourth quarter Friday.

Photo: Jason Veilleux

Falmouth senior Ryan Rogers goes up for two points during the second half of Friday's Class B Final.

Photo: Jason Veilleux

Falmouth senior Jahrel Registe was right in the middle of the action Friday night, as he's been all season.

Photo: Jason Veilleux

Falmouth seniors Ryan Rogers (11) and John Roberts hoist the newly won Gold Ball after Friday night's victory.