PORTLAND—The Waynflete boys’ basketball team has operated in relative anonymity this season, but rest assured, that’s about to change.
While the Flyers counterparts on the girls’ side are defending Class C state champions and Waynflete plays in a city that boasts bigger, more heralded powers, it might just steal headlines come February and March if its first effort of 2014 is any indication.
Saturday afternoon, the Flyers welcomed Wells, an expected Class B contender, to the “Flete Center” and took just a couple minutes to seize control behind a smothering defense and balanced offense.
Waynflete got strong play early from senior standout Serge Nyirikamba, senior Henry Cleaves and junior Harry Baker-Connick and raced to a 23-4 lead after eight minutes. The Flyers pushed that advantage to 37-16 at halftime, then ended all doubt in the third period with a 19-5 run. Waynflete then ensured that Warriors senior Jake Moody wouldn’t celebrate his 1,000th career point in its building, holding him one point shy, as it went on to a 64-36 victory.
Nyirikamba led all scorers with 22 points, Baker-Connick added 11 to go with six steals and five assists and the Flyers improved to 6-0, dropping Wells to 2-5 in the process.
“We hadn’t played in a week,” said Baker-Connick. “We had a couple shoot-arounds which helped. We were excited to get back on the court, especially at home. The building was full. We moved the ball well and finished. It was a good start.”
Waynflete is easily in the midst of the best run in program history. The Flyers won 44 total games over the past three seasons and last winter, reached the Western C Final for the first time, the program’s first regional final at any level in 30 years, before losing to Boothbay.
This year, Waynflete might be even better.
The Flyers opened with an emphatic 92-35 home win over Greater Portland Christian School and haven’t looked back, following that victory up with a 77-23 home romp over Sacopee Valley, a 66-42 triumph at North Yarmouth Academy, a hard-fought 67-51 home win over Old Orchard Beach and a 52-38 victory at Traip.
Wells, meanwhile, hoped to be a top Western B contender this winter, but so far, the Warriors have struggled. After losing at home to Cape Elizabeth in the opener, 57-39, Wells lost at home to York, 72-60, and to defending Class B champion Falmouth, 80-26, before getting in the win column with a 57-51 decision at Lake Region. After falling at home again, this time to Gray-New Gloucester, 74-57, the Warriors closed 2013 with a 74-61 win at Freeport.
Waynflete won three of the previous four meetings against Wells. The Flyers won in Wells, 42-39, in 2009-10, beat the Warriors at home, 38-36 three years ago, and after falling, 49-45, at Wells two seasons ago, prevailed again last winter, 67-60, at home.
Saturday, in front of one of the biggest crowds to ever fill the undersized Waynflete gymnasium, including a sea of red which made the trip from Wells, the Flyers spoiled the party quickly and emphatically.
Moody entered the game needing 14 points for 1,000 in his career and two free throws 11 seconds in got him (and his team) off to a fast start, but before the Warriors knew what hit them, they were down by a dozen.
A leaner from sophomore Milo Belleau tied the score and a runner from sophomore Abel Alemayo put the hosts ahead to stay.
Then, Waynflete erupted.
After Aleymayo made a free throw, Belleau set up Cleaves for a layup, Baker-Connick set up Cleaves for a short baseline jumper, Baker-Connick, after collecting a rebound on his knees, passed to Nyirikamba for a layup, Baker-Connick found Cleaves for another layup and with 3:29 to go in the first quarter, Belleau sank a free throw to stagger the visitors and make it 14-2.
“Everyone shares the ball,” Nyirikamba said. “We came out and moved the ball. We came out to prove we’re a good team and that we can play with the best competition in the state. We had a close game with Wells last year. We were fired up.”
Two foul shots from Wells junior Chris Carney ended the surge and a 5 minute, 12 second drought, but Nyirikamba knocked down a 3-pointer, Baker-Connick made a layup after a steal, junior Pace Hutchinson scored on a putback and Nyirikamba made a leaner for a 23-4 lead after one period.
“I thought we played really well,” said Waynflete coach Rich Henry. “I was interested to see how we’d come out with the weather and everything. There was a little hype associated with this game. I suspected that they’d have trouble against our press. I wanted to play up-tempo anyway. Our 1-3-1 trap worked well.”
After forcing 11 turnovers and seemingly playing close to perfectly for eight minutes, the Flyers not surprisingly, weren’t quite as potent in the second quarter.
After Nyirikamba took a pass from sophomore Willy Burdick and made a layup and Hutchinson sank two foul shots, Waynflete went cold for over three minutes, but Wells was only able to cut seven points off the 23-point deficit.
With 6:57 to go before halftime, a Carney up-and-under layup gave the Warriors their first field goal of the day. Carney made two free throws, then scored on another layup before Moody made a free throw to make it 27-11.
A putback from Nyirikamba ended Waynflete’s short drought, Baker-Connick knocked down a 3, Nyirikamba hit two foul shots and Alemayo made one to restore order and make it 35-11.
After a layup from Wells senior Matt Ingalls, Moody buried an NBA-range 3, but in the waning seconds, Nyirikamba took a pass from Baker-Connick and made a layup for a 37-16 halftime advantage.
If there was any lingering doubt, the Flyers ended it with 19 straight points to start the second half.
A Baker-Connick layup got things started. Belleau then somehow managed to direct home a left-handed layup, then converted a leaner. After Cleaves made two foul shots, Belleau did the same, then Belleau hit a 3. Alemayo made a layup after a steal, then sank two foul shots. With 1:45 left in the third period, a Baker-Connick driving layup ended the run and made it 56-16.
Late in the frame, a bank shot from senior Kyle Goodale and an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw) from Carney pulled Wells within 56-21.
In the fourth period, the only remaining drama centered around Moody’s quest for 1,000 points.
That drama would linger until the final horn.
After Goodale got the final stanza started with a layup, Hutchinson countered with a free throw. Moody made two free throws, then sank a pullup 3. Goodale added a putback, but Nyirikamba scored on a putback and Alemayo scored on a driving layup to make it 61-30.
Goodale scored on a putback and Moody set up Carney for a layup to cut the deficit to 61-34.
Then, with 1:28 to go, Moody scored a layup for points 998 and 999, but despite several shots down the stretch, he wouldn’t reach that 1,000 threshold.
“Help defense was the key,” Nyirikamba said. “We didn’t let him pull up from 3. We did a great job to keep him to 13 points.”
“As players, we didn’t want to be the team that got 1,000 points scored on us,” said Baker-Connick. “We focused on that at the end.”
“We talked a little about there possibly being a ceremony here,” Henry added. “Jake Moody’s a first class player and a first class kid. It will be a great accomplishment when it happens. We didn’t do anything crazy. We were aware of him.”
A Baker-Connick runner and a Belleau free throw gave Waynflete it’s final points and the Flyers slammed the door on their 64-36 triumph.
“This was fantastic,” Nyirikamba said. “It was nice to play in a loud gym.”
“We’re definitely different this year,” Baker-Connick said. “We lost a lot of talent, but we have a lot of chemistry. Coach has done a nice job telling us what we need to do to succeed. We listen well and we play well together.”
Nyirikamba had a game-high 22 points, as well as 10 rebounds, which tied Cleaves for top honors.
Baker-Connick was a stellar performer with 11 points, but that only began to quantify his impact.
“There’s a big difference when Harry’s on the floor as opposed to when he’s not, so I like to have him on the floor,” said Henry. “He does a lot of things. He’s inspirational. He’s so fast and selfless when he plays.”
Alemayo quietly produced 10 points, Belleau and Cleaves each had eight and Hutchinson finished with five.
“Pace has been coming on,” said Henry. “He’s really tall and is very smart. He’s learning how to play with his size. That will be big for us going forward.”
Waynflete outrebounded Wells, 36-20, had 14 steals, got four blocks from Hutchinson and forced 26 turnovers while only committing 17. The Flyers shot 15 of 21 from the free throw line.
Wells got 13 points apiece from Carney and Moody. Goodale added eight and Ingalls had two. Moody had a team-high seven rebounds and also had three steals. The Warriors made 10 of 15 foul shots.
Shooting for a top seed
Wells (12th in Western Class B) is back in action Tuesday at Cape Elizabeth.
Waynflete, meanwhile, has its biggest test to date when it goes to talented Western B contender Yarmouth Tuesday night.
“We have to come out strong (against Yarmouth),” Baker-Connick said. “We have to keep mentally focused the whole game. The guards have to be tough against their press, but I think with this team, we can do it.”
“Yarmouth is a real step up,” Henry added. “We’re a definite underdog. We hope to deal with their pressure and intensity. We’ll see how it goes.”
After visiting A.R. Gould Thursday, the Flyers (now third in the Western C Heal Points standings) return home Saturday to do battle with NYA.
This team will only garner more and more admiration as the season progresses.
If it continues to play hard.
“We don’t really focus on getting recognition, but it will come if we do what we want to do,” Baker-Connick said.
“These kids, and this has been a trademark of the teams I have, they like playing for each other,” Henry said. “The stuff from the outside will take care of itself. We try to not get too high or too low and that’s a testament to these kids. I hope we can be as good as last year. We’re younger, but the younger kids are really stepping up, which is great to see.”
Waynflete 64 Wells 36
We- 4 12 5 15- 36
Wa- 23 14 19 8- 64
We- Carney 4-5-13, Moody 3-5-13, Goodale 4-0-8, Ingalls 1-0-2
Wa- Nyirikamba 8-4-22, Baker-Connick 5-0-11, Alemayo 3-4-10, Belleau 3-2-8, Cleaves 3-2-8, Hutchinson 1-3-5
We (2) Moody 2
Wa (3) Nyirikamba 2, Baker-Connick 1
We (20) Moody 7, Goodale, Ingalls 4, Carney 3, Chase, Moore 1
Wa (36) Cleaves, Nyirikamba 10, Aleymayo, Belleau 4, Baker-Connick 3, Burdick, Hutchinson 2, Nelligan 1
We (10) Moody 3, Booth, Carney, Moore 2, Ingalls 1
Wa (14) Baker-Connick 6, Alemayo, Belleau 2, Burdick, Cleaves, Hutchinson, Nyirikamba 1
We (1) Goodale 1
Wa (4) Hutchinson 4