AUGUSTA—The Waynflete boys’ basketball team opened its 2011-12 season by beating Old Orchard Beach, 53-35. The Flyers beat them again Jan. 10, this time on the road, by a score of 54-41. After that loss, Old Orchard went on to win 10 of its next 12 games, going into Thursday night’s Western Class C semifinal round game with momentum.
Momentum that made the Seagulls a different team than the one Waynflete had dispatched twice in the regular season already and it helped sixth-seeded Old Orchard Beach to a 63-42 win over second-seeded Waynflete at the Augusta Civic Center.
“All of the coaching adages about beating a team three times in a season ran through our heads tonight,” said Waynflete coach Rich Henry. “We just did not pass the ball very well at all. It might have been jitters, I think it was a combination of their great defense and the jitters we might have had. Kids were making nervous mistakes, way into the first quarter, and you have to tip your cap to Old Orchard, they played very well.”
“Waynflete’s a quality team and we have a lot of respect for them,” said Old Orchard Beach coach John Regan, whose team is making their first regional finals appearance since 1994. “We just came out hot, forced them to take some shots they didn’t want to take, and we were able to fight them off.”
Old Orchard Beach came out in a 2-1-2 zone defense and Waynflete had no answer for it early. The Flyers finished the first quarter with nine turnovers and eight points, a ratio that is never conducive to winning games, especially when they are being played in Augusta during February vacation.
Down 18-8 going into the second quarter, Waynflete settled down a little bit and forced some turnovers, but was still down 34-18 at the half.
“We talk about trying to be patient against the zone,” said Henry. “We were patient, but then we didn’t take open shots that we had. Hopefully, what will happen is the kids that are coming back next year will remember this and learn from it.”
The second half started the same way as the first half, with Waynflete struggling to find its way offensively.
Jack Cutler, who was the key in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round win over Wiscasset, finally notched his first points of the game to make it 34-21 with 6:40 remaining in the half, but the Seagulls went on a 7-0 run over the next minute and 10 seconds, with Old Orchard big man Quincy Grace (23 points and eight rebounds) scoring all seven points to extend the lead to 41-21. From there, the teams exchanged points and turnovers and the third quarter ended with Waynflete still down by 16 points, 46-30.
“I think their initial reaction when someone was close to them was to hesitate,” said Henry, of his team’s offensive performance. “If they had gone around their defender, it might have been different, but like they say, he who hesitates (is lost).”
Waynflete could never seem to find a groove. With four minutes left in the fourth quarter, down 52-34, Mohammed Suja hit a 3-pointer and Abshir Horor followed it up with a rebound and follow for two points on the ensuing possession, getting the Flyers to within 13. Even though the Flyers had settled down in the second half, it wasn’t enough.
“We just couldn’t manage to dig into that lead in the second half,” said Henry. “Grace played really well. They shot the ball really well. They passed the ball really well. That’s a team that has come together at the right time.
“The first time we played them this year, I think our kids were on a kind of a high. It was the first game of the year. Old Orchard Beach played us man-to-man, which really plays to our strengths. In the second game, they played zone and it was closer, but they got into foul trouble. That didn’t happen this time. We’re the ones that picked up some fouls inside, and that hurt us.”
Juniors Cutler and Max Belleau each had four points. Paul Runyambo got into early foul trouble and was limited to five points. Sophomore Segre Nyirikamba led the team with nine points and six rebounds, and Mohammed Suja added seven points and three rebounds.
Old Orchard Beach advances to play the top seed and defending region champion Dirigo Cougars, Saturday.
For five Waynflete seniors, this was the final game they would play. Abshir Horor finished with eight points and five rebounds, Mitch Newlin had two points and five rebounds and Chris Burke finished with four points and five rebounds. It was also the final game for Raymond Bliss and Abdulaziz Yousaf.
“It’s a great group of seniors,” said Henry. “Ray Bliss, this was his first year on varsity after being on junior varsity. It’s quite a range. Mitch Newlin has played with me for four years, as a starter for two or three. He’s just a coach’s dream. He’s the one taking charges, diving on the floor. So in different ways, they all meant a lot and that’s we went spent time on in the locker room. I had each senior stand up and tell us what being on the team has meant to them. It was very poignant. Each kid was very eloquent. They did a great job of showing the underclassmen what all of this means.”
When asked about his team’s future going forward, Henry smiled.
“We have talented juniors and sophomores who aren’t bad,” said Henry. “I am really intrigued by this group of eighth graders we have coming up, really looking forward to working them. The cupboard is not bare for next year.”
The end of the season is tough, but it is generally time to reflect a little bit after the loss has sunk in. Waynflete went 15-4 and made it to the regional semifinals for the second year in a row.
“I think on the positive side, I’ll think about the team chemistry and the camaraderie we had,” said Henry. “This team was really, really close. As a coach, I’m going to think about things we need to work on like strength under pressure and being a little more aggressive on the offensive end.”