N-sportsBB THE PLAYOFFS Greely boys' basketball earns Western B top seed
Falmouth and Yarmouth in the hunt; NYA qualifies in Western C
By Michael Hoffer
Four of five local boys' basketball teams qualified for the playoffs this winter. There's a good chance that one of the three from Class B could be playing for a championship on Feb. 27.
The Greely Rangers entered the tournament red-hot, winning their final eight games to wind up 16-2, good for the No. 1 seed in Western B. Greely will face either No. 8 Gray-New Gloucester or No. 9 York in the quarterfinals Saturday at 4:45 p.m. at the Portland Expo.
Falmouth finished 15-3 and is second. The Yachtsmen will open tournament play Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against either No. 7 Lincoln Academy or No. 10 Fryeburg.
Yarmouth also peaked at the end, winning its final six contests, including a stunning overtime victory at Cape Elizabeth, to earn the No. 5 seed and set up a rematch with the defending regional champion Capers Saturday in the quarterfinals, Saturday at 3:15 p.m.
Only Freeport fell short in Western B, finishing 4-14 in Craig Sickels' final season as coach.
In Western C, North Yarmouth Academy went 7-11 in Mike Dutton's first season as coach and earned the No. 13 seed in the region. The Panthers played a preliminary round game at No. 4 Traip Academy Wednesday (too late for this edition).
Since winning its third state title in four seasons back in 1998, Greely has come close in the postseason but has been unable to get over the hump. The Rangers, who have lost four times in the semifinals and twice in the regional final in the interim, have a great shot at finishing the job this winter.
Greely not only appears to have karma on its side in the form of newly christened celebrity manager Patrick Thibodeau (please see story, page 13), it has also gotten the job done in some hostile environments, winning late-season games at Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth (59-46 Friday, behind 15 points from senior Sam Thompson).
"One thing I like about this group is they knew how big this game was and they brought it," said Greely coach Ken Marks. "They played hard and unselfish. I couldn't be prouder of a group of guys.
"I knew we had some talent, but all the talent in the world doesn't help you if you don't play well together. This is my 22nd year. I've never had a team work harder than this one. I've probably had more talented players, but these guys are playing so hard and unselfishly, I enjoy watching them."
The Rangers, seeded first for the second time in three years (they lost to Mountain Valley in the regional finals in 2007), will return to action Saturday.
Greely beat the Patriots twice this winter, 60-27 in Gray Jan. 2 and 61-43 at home Feb. 2. The Rangers also won 57-56 at York back on Dec. 18.
"Anybody can beat anybody," Thompson warned. "Having the No. 1 seed doesn't automatically mean we'll win states."
Greely has playoff history with both teams. The Rangers lost 39-36 to Gray-New Gloucester in the 1971 quarterfinals, beat them 70-35 in the quarterfinals two years later, won 60-52 in the 1981 quarters and triumphed 57-33 in the 2001 second round.
Greely beat York 91-85 in overtime in the 1981 regional final, won 74-73 in the 1987 quarterfinals, and triumphed 70-57 in the 1995 quarterfinals. The Rangers fell 55-49 to the Wildcats in the 1992 regional final, lost 39-35 in the 2004 preliminary round and fell 58-49 in the quarterfinals in 2006.
Falmouth started 13-1 this winter, dropped home games to Greely and Cape Elizabeth, then bounced back with a 61-27 win at York and a 55-49 home victory over Lake Region to finish 15-3.
"I'm happy with the season to date," said Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan. "We exceeded expectations."
Falmouth earned the No. 2 seed and will meet Lincoln or Fryeburg Saturday.
During the regular season, the Yachtsmen played the Raiders and beat them 63-42 at home Dec. 18. They didn't face Lincoln.
Falmouth beat Fryeburg 64-36 in the 1982 preliminary round and 40-20 in the 2005 quarterfinals. The Yachtsmen downed Lincoln 55-49 in the 2000 quarterfinals, lost 63-50 to the Eagles in the quarterfinals in 2001 and beat them 57-42 in the quarterfinals two years ago.
"We're as competitive as anybody," Halligan said. "We can hopefully put together a string of three or four games together. Greely's playing extremely well. Cape Elizabeth's the defending champ. Mountain Valley's historically good. Yarmouth's come on at the end. Anybody in the field can win it."
Speaking of the Clippers, they suffered one-sided losses to Falmouth (twice), Greely and Cape Elizabeth earlier in the year, but earned a huge dose of confidence last Tuesday at the Capers when they rallied for a 63-59 overtime win.
Thursday, Yarmouth hosted Freeport on Senior Night. Standout Johnny Murphy sat out at the onset so the other five seniors could start and the Clippers had their way virtually from the get-go. They cruised to a 63-42 win behind 20 points from Murphy, nine from sophomore Luke Pierce and eight apiece from junior Evan Henry and sophomore Mike McCormack. Yarmouth also had 27 offensive rebounds.
"All the seniors scored," said Clippers coach Adam Smith. "They played well. We didn't let up."
Yarmouth finished 14-4, its third straight year of double-digit victories, and earned the No. 5 seed.
"It's not good enough to be good," Smith said. "We want to be consistent. We don't have the basketball junkies this year, but they expect to compete and win. They've done really well this year. Especially the last six games. They've come together. We have a lot to be proud of."
The Clippers lost 64-48 at home to Cape Elizabeth on Jan. 10. The teams have met just once before in the playoffs: A 77-48 Capers victory in a 2002 prelim.
"I think one through six, not to disrespect the other teams, is quite a group this year," Smith said. "I hope we go in and play well. The team that plays well will win. Hopefully we can keep up what we've done the last six games. We enjoy playing in the Expo. We've played there quite a bit lately."
The loss to Yarmouth brought a longtime coaching career to a close. Sickels led Buckfield to 153 victories, including three regional championships and the 1992 Class D title. He then won 107 games at Freeport and was named Coach of the Year after leading the Falcons to the Western B Final a year ago.
"(Senior) Jon Klages and I had several conversations throughout the year about going from the top of the mountain to our experience this year," Sickels said. "Last year was special. Things went our way and it was fun. Even this year was fun. The kids played hard and represented Freeport with class. Jon was the key. He set the tone in practice. The kids did a great job of not going through the motions."
"I'm going to miss (Craig)," Smith said. "It's been a pleasure coaching against him. His teams were always well prepared."
In Western C, NYA, which entered the season with just two players with varsity experience, managed to go 7-11 and wound up No. 14, leading to another date at No. 3 Traip. The Panthers opened the regular season with a 58-41 loss at the Rangers and dropped a 44-29 home decision to Traip Feb. 3. NYA and Traip had no prior playoff history.
"The third time's a charm," said Dutton. "We need to figure it out a little better than last time. We led at halftime, but had 11 turnovers in the third quarter. We've shown we can play with them.
"I'm still learning about the kids here. I've had kids who didn't even play JV last year see varsity time. Hopefully this year makes us better down the road. We still have a long ways to go."
If the Panthers were able to spring the upset, they'd battle top-ranked Dirigo (17-1) in the quarterfinals Monday at 8:30 p.m. at the Augusta Civic Center.
NYA did not face the Cougars in the regular season. The Panthers lost 42-23 to Dirigo last year in the quarterfinals.
The Western B semifinals will be held Feb. 19 at 7:30 and 9 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The Western B Final is Saturday, Feb. 21 at 3:45 p.m., at the Civic Center. The Class B state game is Friday, Feb. 27 at 9 p.m., also at the Civic Center.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org