PORTLAND—The 2014-15 Waynflete boys’ basketball team remains a work in progress, but there are signs that this squad, like last year’s edition, could evolve into something quite special.
Friday afternoon, the defending Western C champion Flyers hosted rival Old Orchard Beach and while they never trailed, they never got comfortable either, but they found a way to get the job done.
Waynflete raced to a quick 11-3 run, sparked by the defense and energy of senior Harry Baker-Connick and the shooting of junior Milo Belleau.
The Seagulls would rally, however, as their sharpshooter, junior Zach Hirst, scored 13 of his team’s first 16 points, helping the visitors pull within a basket, 18-16. Five quick points from Belleau answered that threat and when Baker-Connick buried a long 3-pointer in the final second, the Flyers took a 29-18 lead to halftime.
In the second half, Old Orchard Beach got as close as five points, on a Hirst 3 late in the third period, but Waynflete closed that stanza on an 8-1 run and never looked back in the fourth as it went on to a 51-37 victory.
Belleau led all scorers with 23 points and Baker-Connick added 10, but that was only the beginning of his story, as the Flyers made it five straight wins to start the season and dropped the Seagulls to 1-3 in the process.
“It was a great test for us, especially before break,” said Baker-Connick. “I think OOB did a good job trying to push us into our weaknesses, but we did a good job responding. Ever since I’ve been in high school, they’ve been one of our rivals. It’s always fun to play them. I’m glad we got the win.”
So far, so good
Waynflete enjoyed the best season in program history last winter, but still fell two points of its ultimate goal after an agonizing 58-56 overtime loss to Houlton in the Class C state final.
Despite graduating standout Serge Nyirikamba and team leader Henry Cleaves to graduation, the Flyers have come back as strong as ever this season and got off to a sizzling start with victories over visiting Greater Portland Christian School (79-29), host Sacopee Valley (83-33), visiting North Yarmouth Academy (82-37) and host Traip Academy (59-51).
Old Orchard Beach lost at Traip in its opener (74-62), then fell at home to Sacopee (50-41) before beating visiting NYA (66-41).
Last year, Waynflete won both meetings, 67-51 at home and 72-43 in Old Orchard Beach.
Friday, the Seagulls were hoping to end a four-game skid at the hands of the Flyers (dating to a 42-41 victory in Portland, Jan. 10, 2012), but Waynflete did enough to prevail.
Belleau broke the scoring ice with two free throws. Baker-Connick then stole the ball and made a layup.
“We definitely take pride in our defense,” Baker-Connick said. “It’s easy to get layups if we cause turnovers. We got steals and we got easy buckets.”
With 5:25 remaining in the first quarter, in a play that was as easy as 1-2-3, Baker-Connick (who wears number 1) fed junior Abel Alemayo (who wears number 2) for a 3-point shot and a quick 7-0 advantage.
Hirst got Old Orchard Beach on the board 55 seconds later when he was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three subsequent free throws.
Belleau answered with a driving layup, then he made another after a Baker-Connick steal for an 11-3 lead, but Hirst hit a 3 to make it 11-6. A Baker-Connick layup after a steal and a jumper from sophomore Yai Deng pushed the lead to nine before Hirst answered with another 3.
It appeared the Seagulls would have momentum going into the second quarter, but as the horn sounded, Belleau banked home a long 3 to push the lead back to nine, 18-9.
Belleau and Hirst each had nine points in the first period, while Baker-Connick registered four points, three steals and two assists.
Old Orchard Beach then opened the second quarter on a 7-0 run to make things very interesting.
First, sophomore Evan Christensen scored on a putback. After Hirst made two foul shots, Christensen made a free throw and with 3:35 left in the half, Hirst scored on a putback to pull the Seagulls within two, 18-16.
Belleau put a stop to the rally when he canned a 3. He then drove the baseline for a layup, pushing the lead back to seven. After Christensen answered with a layup, Waynflete freshman Christian Brooks converted an old-fashioned three-point play, scoring on a leaner while being fouled and adding the free throw and as time wound down, Baker-Connick hit a clutch 3 to extend the lead back to double digits, 29-18, at halftime.
Hirst had 13 first half points, but that was neutralized by 14 from Belleau and seven points, five assists and four steals from Baker-Connick.
Old Orchard Beach would hang tough in the third period.
Hirst got things started with a 3. After Deng scored on a leaner, Christensen scored on a putback and Christensen set up junior Sam Custeau for a layup, making the score 31-25.
Baker-Connick and Belleau each made one free throw, but with 2:04 left in the third, Hirst sank his final 3 and the Seagulls were within five, 33-28.
The Flyers would close the period strong, however, as Belleau hit a runner off the glass, Baker-Connick set up Brooks for a layup, Belleau made two free throws and after Christensen got a point back at the line, Waynflete junior Willy Burdick scored on a nice runner in the lane to push the lead to 41-29 with eight minutes to go.
Old Orchard Beach began the fourth quarter with a 3 from Christensen, but Brooks answered with two foul shots. Two free throws from junior Eric Hogan pulled the Seagulls within 43-34 with 5:43 to play, but Belleau scored on a leaner and junior Tom Silk took a nice pass from Belleau and made a layup to push the lead to 47-34 with 3:55 left.
A three-point play (layup, foul, free throw) from Christensen with 3:11 remaining proved to be Old Orchard Beach’s final points. An off-balance leaner from Belleau and a layup after a steal from Baker-Connick closed it out and the Flyers prevailed, 51-37.
“Overall, we brought intensity we needed to bring against a good OOB team,” said Belleau. “I thought we played well. We had adveresity, but we stayed calm and stayed composed. I knew they were a good team. They play us tough. We had the mindset to play well to win.”
“I’m not surprised we got pushed,” said Waynflete coach Rich Henry. “I think the kids were a little mentally fatigued coming off exams. It was a good game. Old Orchard played well. They’re well coached.”
Belleau was a steady presence, leading all scorers with 23 points, while adding four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“Milo’s a heck of a player,” Baker-Connick said. “His arms are ridiculously long. His hands are huge. He has a great shot. I love to give him the ball and I know he’ll do something good with it.”
“Milo has a lot of offensive skill and he plays very relaxed,” Henry said. “You can tell he’s just ready to play. It’s fun to watch him. “
Baker-Connick did it all, scoring 10 points, adding eight steals and seven assists.
“Harry is the straw that stirs the drink,” Henry said. “You give him the ball, tell him the game plan and he executes.
“We’re very dependent on (Harry and Milo) right now. I hope as we get into the season we’ll get a little more diversified, but if I had to pick two guys to depend on, they’d be atop my list.”
Brooks had seven points, Deng four (to go with five rebounds and a steal), Alemayo three and Burdick and Silk two apiece. Silk also grabbed nine rebounds and had two steals.
“Tommy we knew would have a big impact on the team,” Henry said.” We put him in at strategic times. He brings rebounding and energy. He’s a smart player.”
Waynflete committed 13 turnovers, but forced 18, and hit 9 of 17 foul shots.
Old Orchard Beach was paced by Hirst’s 19 points (12 of which came on 3-pointers). He also had seven rebounds. Christensen added 14 points and 10 boards. Custeau (a game-high 12 rebounds and three blocked shots) and Hogan both scored two points.
The Seagulls enjoyed a 39-27 rebounding advantage. They made 10 of 18 free throws.
Wait til next year
While Old Orchard Beach returns to action Dec. 29 at Gould, Waynflete won’t take the floor again for a countable game until 2015 (the Flyers will compete in a holiday tournament in York). On Jan. 3, Waynflete goes to Wells. Three days later, top Western B contender Yarmouth pays a visit.
This group will only get better, which is a scary thought indeed for the rest of the league.
“When we come back, we’ll play tough Class B teams,” said Belleau. “It’s good to have games like this to get ready for it. We’ve done a good job so far.”
“I’m really excited,” Baker-Connick said. “We can always get better, but I love the way we play together. We have a lot of unfinished business from last year. We’re looking toward that goal. We can still work harder. I think our rebounding can get better. We can want it more than we do. That’s something that’s easily fixable.”
“I think we’re doing really well,” Henry added. “The chemistry’s really good. That’s most important to me. We share the ball well. The defensive intensity I’d like to see a little bit higher, but that comes with time. The way the schedule goes, we ramp up in January. We’ll see what we’re made of.”
Waynflete 51 OOB 37
OOB- 9 9 11 8- 37
W- 18 11 12 10- 51
OOB- Hirst 5-5-19, Christensen 5-3-14, Custeau 1-0-2, Hogan 0-2-2
W- Belleau 8-5-23, Baker-Connick 4-1-10, Brooks 2-3-7, Deng 2-0-4, Alemayo 1-0-3, Burdick 1-0-2, Silk 1-0-2
OOB (5) Hirst 4, Christensen 1
W (4) Belleau 2, Alemayo, Baker-Connick 1