By Michael Hoffer
So far, so good for the Falmouth and Greely girls’ basketball teams in their title quests.
The Yachtsmen and Rangers began Western Class B tournament play Tuesday at the Portland Expo.
Second-ranked Greely rode a superb defensive effort to gradually pull away from three-time defending regional champion, No. 7 Lake Region, 39-27, and will next meet No. 3 Mountain Valley (16-3) in the semifinals Thursday at 3 p.m. at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.
No. 4 Falmouth continued its late-season surge with a hard-fought 58-49 win over plucky No. 5 Lisbon to set up a semifinal showdown with top-ranked York (19-0) in Thursday at 4:30 at the Civic Center.
North Yarmouth Academy was eliminated in the preliminary round in Western C, but the Panthers enjoyed their first playoff trip in five years.
The Rangers welcomed new coach Billy Goodman this winter and produced a stellar 16-2 season (losing only to York and Falmouth), which gave them the No. 2 seed.
Greely swept Lake Region this year, 53-49 on the road and 59-27 at home. The Rangers split four prior playoff meetings with the Lakers.
Tuesday, Greely raced to an early 5-0 lead behind a layup from junior Nicole Faietta, a foul shot from junior Megan Grondin and a jumper from senior Danielle Slocum and held a 9-6 advantage after one quarter.
In the second, Lake Region punctuated an 8-2 run with a 3-pointer from junior Meghan Craffey for a 14-13 advantage, but that would be its lone lead. The Rangers went ahead to stay with 5:17 to go in the half when junior Abby Cornish hit a 3. Junior Abby Young added a layup, but neither team scored in the final 4 minutes, 33 seconds and Greely took an 18-14 lead into the break.
The Rangers opened it up in the third. With 5:39 to play, Grondin ended a 7 minute, 4 second drought with a layup. A minute later, she made another layup and with 4:06 to go, Faietta buried a 3 for a 25-14 lead.
“Defense is what we do best,” Grondin said. “We shut down their three guards. We packed it in. We shut them down and went on a run. We handle pressure well. We were ready to play. We knew they’d be ready to bring it. We had confidence.”
Lake Region finally ended a 12 minute, 10 second drought with a 3 from Craffey and pulled within 27-21 after three, but a 3 from Faietta and a layup from Cornish pushed the lead back to 11. After the Lakers got back within seven at 32-25, Greely got a three-point play from Young and pulled away to win 39-27.
“I knew this would be more like the first game we played them,” Goodman said. “The last time everything went right. The three-time champions weren’t going to go down easily in the playoffs. They’re well coached.
“My girls played defense and were patient in their attack. We play a lot of girls and spread it out. That’s what we did all year. I’m proud of them.”
The Rangers were led by Grondin and Faietta, who had 10 apiece. Cornish, Slocum and Young had five points apiece. The Lakers got 10 points from Craffey as their season ended at 11-9.
Greely and Mountain Valley (which downed No. 6 Gray-New Gloucester 47-34 in the quarterfinals) didn’t meet in a countable game this winter, but did square off in a holiday tournament (the Rangers won 36-34). Last season, in the quarterfinals, Greely beat the Falcons 43-40.
“We played them in the Christmas tournament and they’re tough,” Goodman added. “We’ll do our thing and hopefully keep the defense up.”
SUBHEAD-Surviving and advancing
Two-time defending regional finalist Falmouth, under new coach Kristi Ouellette, was 5-6 after losing at Gray-New Gloucester Jan. 13, but closed year with wins in six of seven games, including stirring victories over Greely and Lake Region, to shoot all the way to the No. 4 seed.
“We struggled in the beginning, but we came together as a team and started doing the things we should have done all season, which are rebounding, playing tough defense, driving to the hoop, getting fouls and making shots,” said senior Kelsey Graffam.
“I am very happy with the progress the team made during the regular season,” Ouellette added. “I think having a new coach step into a program with a lot of veteran players is a hard adjustment for everyone to make. Our run at the end of the season just proves how well we have adjusted to building our team and figuring out how to win together.”
Falmouth didn’t face No. 5 Lisbon in the regular season, but beat the Greyhounds 62-35 in the 2007 quarterfinals in the only other playoff meeting.
Early on, the Greyhounds made things interesting, taking a 6-1 lead before Falmouth settled down. Senior Haley Jordan and sophomore Jess DiPhillippo sandwiched jumpers around a pair of free throws from Graffam to put the Yachtsmen ahead. A free throw and a putback from junior Annalise Keeler late in the quarter put Falmouth on top 12-11 after one.
The Yachtsmen started to open things up in the second. A jumper from Jordan and a three-point play from senior Andie Doyle opened a 19-13 advantage. Late in the half, Falmouth still clung to a 22-19 lead, but Keeler scored on a putback and added a layup. After a Lisbon free throw, Jordan made a free throw, then hit a jumper with 20.2 seconds left to give the Yachtsmen some breathing room and a 29-20 lead at the half.
The Greyhounds hung around in the third, pulling within seven on four different occasions, including 42-35 at period’s end. A layup from Doyle, a jumper from Jordan and a putback from Keeler gave Falmouth a 48-37 lead with 4:35 to go and the Yachtsmen appeared home free, but Lisbon ripped off eight points in a 1:03 span and pulled to within 48-45 on a floater from senior Stephanie Smith with 2;57 to play.
“We made a couple turnovers we shouldn’t have,” Graffam said. “We got comfortable. They made a really good comeback.”
After a Yachtsmen timeout, Jordan made two free throws, but Smith made a jumper to make it 50-47. With 2:19 to play, Graffam made a foul shot, but 22 seconds later, senior Samantha Purcell (15 points) hit a jumper for the Greyhounds to pull her team within two, 51-49.
With the game on the line, Falmouth’s seniors rose to the occasion.
First, Graffam grabbed an offensive rebound, was fouled, then hit a free throw. After a potential game-tying 3-point attempt by Lisbon junior Amber Cloutier fell short, Doyle was fouled and made a free throw for a 53-49 lead with 48.4 seconds to go. The Greyhounds then missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Graffam made them pay with two free throws. After two more missed 3’s by Lisbon, Jordan hit two foul shots and Doyle made one in the waning seconds to finally put the finishing touches on the 58-49 victory.
“We didn’t know much about them, but we expected them to be scrappy on defense,” Graffam said. “I wasn’t that nervous. Four of our starters are seniors.”
“It was an adrenaline rush at the end,” Ouellette added. “We hadn’t seen that much pressure recently. You never know what’s going to happen. I’m very happy with our composure at the end, hitting big foul shots. That’s something we’d struggled with. They stepped up to the line and sent them home.”
Falmouth was led by 18 points from Jordan.
“I think this was one of (Haley’s) best games of the season,” Ouellette said. “She had patience offensively and stepped it up defensively. She did a great job denying the ball.”
Graffam and Keeler both had double-doubles. Graffam had 12 points and 10 rebounds (including six on the offensive glass). Keeler finished with 12 points and 11 boards (including nine on offense).
“Anna Keeler did an awesome job on the boards,” Ouellette said. “She’s a fighter and found a way to get the ball.”
The Yachtsmen had a 42-22 rebounding advantage for the game.
York followed Falmouth’s win with a 36-21 triumph over No. 8 Wells to set up a semifinal round showdown.
Falmouth lost both regular season meetings with York, 48-33 on the road Jan. 6 and 50-47 at home Feb. 3.
The only previous playoff meeting came in the 2004 preliminary round (a 32-24 victory for the Wildcats).
“They’re really good,” Graffam said. “They have size. We’ll have to play really good defense and get them in foul trouble.”
“I think that the bracket we fell into at No. 4 is a great spot for us,” Ouellette added. “I think we know York well. I think my girls are confident after the last game that they’re beatable and that we can do a good job defending their post. It’s a tough task.”
The Western Class B Final is Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Civic Center. If Falmouth and Greely square off, it would be the rubber match this season. On Opening Night, Dec. 5 in Cumberland, Greely won 62-59. The host Yachtsmen returned the favor Jan. 27, riding a second half to a 58-40 triumph.
The only previous playoff meeting between the schools came a year ago when Falmouth survived 47-44 in overtime in the semifinals.
The Class B state game is Friday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center.
SUBHEAD-One and done
North Yarmouth Academy went 3-15 and missed the playoffs each season from 2005 through last year. This winter, the Panthers doubled their win total and eked into the Western C playoffs as the 15th and final seed.
NYA’s stay wasn’t a long one as the Panthers lost 53-24 at No. 2 Jay in the preliminary round, but there was plenty to be excited about this year.
“It meant a great deal for us to be in the playoffs this year,” said coach Danielle Gagnon. “It’s a greater accomplishment than most onlookers may even realize. The girls have made huge strides in the areas of scoring, rebounding and playing as a team. We scored consistently between 40 and 60 a game. I told the girls they are giving me gray hairs due to the increased number of one- and two-point games we’ve had. A few years ago, those nailbiters were blowouts for our opponents. Our six wins might not have reflected it, but we were a force to be reckoned with.”
NYA graduates just two seniors and could be even stronger next winter.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com