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- The Forecaster
PORTLAND—Every once in awhile, a player produces a performance that you just have to salute.
Falmouth senior Jack Simonds put on such a show Friday evening at the Cross Insurance Arena.
Leading his underappreciated third-ranked Yachtsmen into their Western Class A semifinal round showdown against tall and talented No. 2 South Portland, Simonds made sure his team would march on.
Simonds set the tone 16 seconds in with a jumper and his 3-pointer just before the buzzer capped a 13-point first period and gave Falmouth an early 18-13 lead.
After the Red Riots got their inside game going in the second quarter, they were on the verge of taking control, but momentum turned for good when Simonds canned a 3 at the horn, giving him 21 points at the half and his team a 31-30 advantage.
Just 12 seconds into the second half, South Portland senior Jaren Muller picked up a technical foul and he wouldn’t return and the Yachtsmen took advantage, riding Simonds’ shooting to what eventually proved to be a 15-0 run and a 43-30 lead.
The Red Riots crept back within six, 48-42, on a jumper from senior Kam Harper heading for the fourth quarter, but there, Falmouth made its free throws and when Simonds sank two with 49.6 seconds remaining, he tied a 39-year scoring record.
Falmouth then put the finishing touches on a 67-57 victory.
Simonds finished with 42 points, tying Cheverus’ Kenneth Rowe (1976) in the Western A record books and the Yachtsmen improved to 17-3, ended South Portland’s season at 16-4 and advanced to battle top-ranked Portland (18-2) in the Western Class A Final Saturday at 9:05 p.m. at CIA.
“My teammates got me good looks and we executed the game plan,” Simonds said. “(South Portland) went man-to-man most of the game, which we weren’t expecting because they’re so big, but we just ran our man stuff and I was able to get looks. Shooters have to shoot and my shots were falling. I knew coming in I had to be aggressive if we were going to win.”
Prior to Friday, Falmouth and South Portland had never met in a countable game and there’s a good chance with the sport being split into five classes next year that may never do battle on the hardwood again.
Both teams were among the best in the state this winter.
The Red Riots, after not even making the playoffs in 2013-14, won 15 of 18 games (losing only to Portland, Bonny Eagle and Gorham), earned the No. 2 seed and soared past No. 7 Cheverus with a second half rally in the quarterfinals, 65-45.
The Yachtsmen, who lost by a point to Bonny Eagle in last year’s semifinals, raced to the finish line, winning 11 in a row after a 4-3 start to earn the No. 3 seed, then rallying to edge No. 11 Westbrook in a thrilling quarterfinal Monday, 48-47, in overtime.
Friday, Falmouth, behind its standout, put on a show and proved once and for all that it belongs in Western A.
The Yachtsmen started fast, getting the game’s first six points, as Simonds knocked down a jumper, sophomore Colin Coyne made a layup after a steal and junior Thomas Coyne drove for a left-handed layup.
With 5:35 to go in the first, a driving layup from sophomore Ruay Bol got South Portland on the board, but Simonds hit a jumper, then took a pass from Thomas Coyne and drained a leaner for a 10-2 lead, forcing Red Riots coach Phil Conley to call timeout.
Muller, who didn’t start, then took a pass from junior Jack Fiorini and made a layup, but Thomas Coyne countered with a free throw. Fiorini made a layup, but Simonds drove for a layup and a 13-6 lead.
After Muller made a layup, then scored on a putback, Simonds hit a jumper, but an old-fashioned three-point play by Harper (leaner, foul, free throw) pulled South Portland within two.
The Red Riots lost their momentum, however, when a Simonds 3 gave Falmouth an 18-13 advantage after eight minutes.
South Portland would be much stronger in the second period, but a late turn of events put the Yachtsmen ahead to stay.
A free throw from senior Luke Velas, who hurt his ankle in the Yachtsmen’s quarterfinal round win over Westbrook, but was good to go Friday, started the second quarter, but Fiorini scored on a putback, Muller scored on a putback and Muller added another putback while being fouled and hit the free throw for the Red Riots’ first lead, 20-19, with 5:20 to go in the half. A feed from Muller led to a Fiorini layup seconds later, capping a 9-0 surge.
Falmouth came right back, as Thomas Coyne set up junior Matt Wuhlbrecht for a layup and Velas banked home a shot for a 23-22 lead.
The back-and-forth continued, as Fiorini set up Muller for a layup, but Simonds countered with a leaner.
After Muller made two free throws, Simonds hit a floater to put the Yachtsmen back on top, 27-26.
A leaner from Fiorini gave South Portland the lead back, but a Simonds foul shot tied the score.
With 22.3 seconds to go before halftime, junior Jordin Jackson made two free throws to seemingly give the Red Riots a lead going into the break, but as time wound down, Simonds stepped back and buried a long 3, giving himself 21 points and Falmouth a 31-30 advantage.
“All those points are huge,” Simonds said. “I remember beating Greely my junior year by six, thanks to two 3s at the end of quarters.”
Despite Simonds’ brilliance, South Portland was very much in the game, but just 12 seconds in, the dynamic changed.
After picking up his third foul, Muller was immediately whistled for a technical, which was his fourth.
South Portland’s team policy dictates that a player can’t return to a game after receiving a technical, so for the final 15 minutes and 48 seconds, the Red Riots were without their post standout.
And the Yachtsmen pounced.
Simonds made the two technical free throws and the fun was just beginning.
Simonds hit a leaner, Colin Coyne scored on a putback and Simonds drove for a layup and a 39-30 lead, forcing Conley to call timeout.
It didn’t help, as Simonds floated a shot over the imposing Fiorini and with 4:59 to go in the third period, Thomas Coyne made two free throws to cap a 15-0 run and push the advantage to 43-30.
With 4:30 left in the third, a Jackson free throw snapped a 3:52 drought, but the damage was done.
Consecutive layups from Fiorini pulled South Portland within eight, but Simonds made a free throw, Velas sank two more and Simonds hit a couple to make it 48-35.
The Red Riots finished the third quarter strong and drew within six, as Harper hit a 3, Fiorini made a layup and Harper buried a jumper to cut the deficit to 48-42.
The Yachtsmen weren’t about to fold, however, and salted away their victory at the foul line.
Simonds, who entered the fourth quarter with 32 points, opened the scoring in the final stanza with two free throws. Fiorini countered with a leaner, but Thomas Coyne drove for a layup.
After Harper hit a floater to make it 52-46 with 6:49 to play, Thomas Coyne set up junior Sam Skop for a layup and Simonds added two free throws to push the lead to 10.
Jackson scored on a bank shot with 4:15 remaining, but Simonds hit two more foul shots.
After senior Silas Zechman got a point back for South Portland, each Coyne brother made one foul shot and with 1:34 to go, Fiorini was called for a technical foul and Simonds hit two more free throws. A foul shot from Colin Coyne with 1:30 remaining made it 63-49 Falmouth.
The only remaining drama was whether or not Simonds would reach the record.
After Bol drove for a layup, Simonds was fouled and with 49.6 seconds left and all eyes upon him, he hit both free throws to tie Rowe with 42 points.
Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan pulled Simonds before he had a chance to break the record and he left to a rousing ovation from the Falmouth fan section.
Down the stretch, the Red Riots got three-point plays from senior Makenzie Baker and junior Mike Kilmartin, while the Yachtsmen got a pair of free throws from junior Nick Wissemann which accounted for the 67-57 final score.
“You have to execute down the stretch,” Simonds said. “We shot well at the free throw line. We didn’t turn it over too much. We just executed the game plan. We can beat anybody. We’re confident. You can’t ever overlook Falmouth. South Portland might have overlooked us because they’re such big rivals with Portland.”
“We knew they’re a really good team,” Velas said. “We were a little undersized at a couple positions, but we prepared well for them. The lead we had gave us a padding, but we knew we had to keep battling to the end. We didn’t give up the whole game against Westbrook and this helped us in this one.”
“The kids worked hard,” Halligan added. “I think they earned it. This is what we’ve been aiming for. Anything can happen. We tried to keep the ball in our shooters’ hands. We executed the game plan and played well together. It’s a great team win. I was very concerned with their size. We tried to mix it up and play zone, but we found out man-to-man was our best defense and we went after it.”
Simonds made 10 two-point field goals, two 3s and sank 16 free throws for his 42 points.
“I have a competition with my Dad (Michael), who’s the all-time leading scorer at Scarborough,” said Simonds. “His record was 36 points in a game and my previous record was 31. I got him on that one.”
For good measure, Simonds produced a double-double, thanks to 10 rebounds.
He had plenty of admirers afterwards, friend and foe alike.
“Jack’s ridiculous,” Velas said. “He’s not just a great basketball, but as a person. He’s just great to have around. It’s great he put us on his shoulders tonight.”
“Jack was in foul trouble, but he played smart,” Halligan said. “He’s a special player who make players around him better. He’s probably the best shooter. He’s got a sweet stroke. Michael Mastropaolo was a good shooter, Bryant Barr was a good shooter, Stefano Mancini shot a lot. Big time players have a way of doing that. You can’t coach that. That was his heart.”
“Simonds did a great job,” Conley said. “He had a heck of a game. We tried everything on him, but he’s a very good player.”
Thomas Coyne added eight points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Colin Coyne had six points, three boards and two steals.
Velas played a key role with five points, but he also, despite his lack of size, was very active on the glass.
“I sprained my ankle last year and I’ve been wearing a brace, but luckily, the brace prevented it from getting sprained again Monday,” Velas said. “I had several days rest. I came out and played pretty well. I just got to a checkout position and had to battle. It’s all in your head.”
“Luke’s a competitor,” Halligan said. “He’s kind of our glue. The other guys get the accolades, but he does the dirty work. He was going up against 6-5, 6-6, 6-5 and he’s 5-6 and he won. That’s a competitor.”
Skop, Wissemann and Wuhlbrecht all added two points.
Falmouth only turned the ball over seven times and made 27 of 39 free throws.
South Portland was paced by 16 points from Fiorini (he also had six rebounds). Muller had 15 points (seven boards and two blocks) in his swan song. Harper added 10 points, Jackson had five, Bol four, Baker and Kilmartin three apiece and Zechman one.
The Red Riots had a 30-24 rebounding advantage, committed 12 turnovers and shot 10 of 15 from the charity stripe.
“It’s always disappointing when you end,” Conley said. “I didn’t think we rebounded well. We gave them too many second chance opportunities and our shots didn’t fall tonight, but our kids battled to the end, which I’m proud of. They gave me everything they had and the better team won.
“We accomplished a lot. We weren’t picked to be in the top echelon of teams, but we had a great season, so I’m proud of the accomplishment. I wish we could have gone further, we just ran into a good team tonight.”
South Portland graduates eight, including Harper and Muller, but will return a strong nucleus in 2015-16 and should be a top contender again.
“We have a good core group of sophomores and juniors who will work hard to get us back here,” Conley said.
Falmouth won’t have much time to prepare for Portland.
The teams have no history, but provide a compelling matchup.
“We’re already on to Portland,” Simonds said, channeling his inner Bill Belichick. “They’re a number one seed for a reason. They’ve been there before and won it last year. I’m sure (Coach) will have a game plan. We just have to execute. We have to keep an eye on Steve Alex and (Liam) Densmore’s a great shooter. It’s a great opportunity for us. We’re the darkhorse.”
“I think Portland’s a great team, but I think we’ll be ready for them,” Velas said.
“We’ll be ready to play them,” Halligan added. “I think you can throw the classes away. The top teams in our league and the top teams in the SMAA, that’s good basketball. The year-round stuff makes it so there isn’t any difference.”
The winner will meet either defending Eastern A champion Hampden Academy (18-2) or Lewiston (13-7) in the Class A Final Saturday, Feb. 28 at 7:05 p.m., at the Augusta Civic Center.
South Portland junior Jack Fiorini leans in for a shot.
Falmouth junior Matt Wuhlbrecht defends South Portland senior Jaren Muller.
Falmouth junior Sam Skop wins the rebounding battle against South Portland junior Jack Fiorini.
Falmouth junior Thomas Coyne protects the ball from South Portland junior Jordin Jackson (33) and senior Kam Harper.
Falmouth senior Luke Velas, who did a little of everything Friday night, runs the offense.
South Portland senior Silas Zechman defends Falmouth junior Thomas Coyne.
Falmouth senior Jack Simonds is taken out of the game by coach Dave Halligan in the waning seconds as Simonds gets congratulations after tying a 39-year old regional scoring record.
Falmouth’s student section was boisterous and celebratory throughout Thursday’s contest.
South Portland’s fans tried to inspire a rally.
Falmouth senior Jack Simonds soars for two of his game-high, regional tournament record-tying 42 points during the Yachtsmen’s 67-57 upset win over South Portland in Friday’s Western A semifinals.
Ben McCanna photos.
More photos below.
F- 18 13 17 19- 67
SP- 13 17 12 15- 57
F- Simonds 12-16-42, T. Coyne 2-4-8, C. Coyne 2-2-6, Velas 1-3-5, Skop 1-0-2, Wissemann 0-2-2, Wuhlbrecht 1-0-2
SP- Fiorini 8-0-16, Muller 6-3-15, Harper 4-1-10, Jackson 1-3-5, Bol 2-0-4, Baker 1-1-3, Kilmartin 1-1-3, Zechman 0-1-1
F (2) Simonds 2
SP (1) Harper 1