By Michael Hoffer
PORTLAND —The Falmouth boys’ basketball program won three straight Class C state championships in the late-1990s before moving up to Class B.
The Yachtsmen’s first Western B title appeared within reach Saturday in the regional final against Cape Elizabeth as Falmouth raced to an early nine-point lead, but the defending champion Capers came to life and denied the Yachtsmen yet again. Falmouth fell in the regional final for the third time in five years, this time 58-48.
Cape Elizabeth, perhaps playing with house money after Thursday’s improbable buzzer-beating win over top-ranked Greely (please see story, page ?), made just enough plays down the stretch to end the Yachtsmen’s season at 17-4.
“We lost to a very good team,” longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan said. “I don’t like the result, but I’m pleased with the effort. I’m really proud of my kids. The community should be too.”
Falmouth started the year 9-0 and despite a couple late hiccups, wound up 15-3 to earn the No. 2 seed. The Yachtsmen toyed with No. 7 Lincoln Academy in a quarterfinal round romp, then held off No. 6 Lake Region 52-49 in the semifinals thanks to 17 points from junior standout Stefano Mancini.
Cape Elizabeth wound up 14-4 and earned the No. 4 seed. The Capers edged No. 5 Yarmouth in the quarterfinals before shocking Greely in the semis.
The teams split in the regular season. On Dec. 16, Falmouth won 55-53 at Cape Elizabeth on Mancini’s late bomb. On Jan. 30, the Capers held on for a 73-70 victory in Falmouth.
The teams met thrice prior in the playoffs. The Yachtsmen won in the 1965 quarterfinals. Back in 2004, in one of the more memorable upsets in tournament history, No. 8 Cape Elizabeth beat the top-ranked Yachtsmen on a buzzer-beater in the quarterfinals. Three years ago, in the semifinals, Falmouth cruised to an easy win.
Saturday, the Yachtsmen got off to a great start, but in the end, the Capers simply had too much.
Mancini got the party started with a layup after a steal. Junior Jahrel Registe followed with a layup and classmate John Roberts, on a pass from junior Sam Horning, scored on a dunk for a quick 6-0 lead.
The Capers finally scored with 3:57 to go when senior Johnny Messina fed classmate Conor Lawler for a layup.
Mancini assisted on a layup by freshman Jack Cooleen for an 8-2 advantage. After senior Alex Bowe made a pair of free throws for Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth got a layup from Registe, a foul shot from Cooleen and a tip-in at the horn from Cooleen for a 13-4 lead after one.
Then, the Yachtsmen went cold. The Capers rallied in the second quarter, taking advantage of several Falmouth turnovers.
A pair of foul shots from Dickey and a layup from Messina made it 13-8. After junior Ryan Rogers hit a leaner for Falmouth, Dickey made a layup and Bowe canned a jumper to pull Cape Elizabeth within, 15-12. Horning responded with two free throws, but Cam Brown fed Bowe for a layup and junior Conor Moloney made a foul shot. Roberts made a layup to make it 19-15, but junior Will Pierce made a short jumper and Bowe hit a foul shot.
The Capers took the 21-19 lead before the half on a 3 from Bowe.
“We had trouble all season long keeping it going and finishing,” Halligan said. “That’s inexperience and youth.”
Cape Elizabeth kept up the pressure in the third.
Lawler opened the quarter with a layup and Moloney buried a 3. After Roberts and Registe each made a foul shot for Falmouth, Bowe made a jumper and sophomore Cam Brown hit a runner for a 30-21 advantage, capping a 22-6 run.
The Yachtsmen crawled back within five on a pair of free throws and Mancini’s tip-in of his own missed shot. But Lawler scored on a putback. With his brother on the bench with three fouls, sophomore Theo Bowe made his presence felt by calmly draining a 3-pointer from the wing. Two Mancini foul shots got Falmouth back within eight, 35-27, heading for the fourth.
Things heated up quickly in the final period.
Mancini started it with a leaner. Alex Bowe answered with a 3 from the corner. Mancini hit a jumper at the other end and Rogers added two foul shots, but Lawler responded with a layup. After Cooleen made a layup to make it 40-35, Bowe banked home a 3 to stretch the lead to eight. Wyman answered with a jumper and Mancini made a leaner to make it 43-39. After a Capers’ turnover, their fifth of the quarter, the Yachtsmen gave the ball right back and Dickey made them pay, grabbing an offensive rebound, getting fouled, then making both free throws.
At the other end, with 3:32 to go, Mancini made a tough-angle leaner while being fouled, then completed the three-point play to pull the Yachtsmen within, 45-42.
Dickey answered again, making a layup and following an ensuing Falmouth turnover with a baseline layup for the 49-42 lead with 2:49 to play.
“We had to take some chances and leave someone open and they made us pay,” Halligan said.
With 2:14 left, Cooleen made two free throws. Dickey hit a free throw to make it 50-44.
After Rogers was short on a 3, Messina was fouled and hit both ends of a 1-and-1. Mancini then missed two foul shots with 1:11 left and Dickey hit a foul shot 10 seconds later to make it 53-44.
With 35 seconds to play, Cooleen made a layup, but Messina got one back at the line. Mancini made a layup with 23.4 seconds left to make it 54-48, but Bowe hit four foul shots to lower the curtain. The Capers then celebrated their second straight regional championship.
Bowe led all scorers with 22 points and was named regional tournament MVP.
Dickey added 12 points, eight in the fourth period.
For Falmouth, Mancini capped his season with a 19-point performance, 17 coming in the second half.
“Big-time players step up in games like this,” Halligan said. “He did in the second half. I think he’ll build on this. He’ll be an exciting player to watch next year.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Falmouth junior Jahrel Registe went up for two during the Yachtsmen’s loss to Cape Elizabeth in Saturday’s Western Class B Final. (Jason Veilleux photo).