By Michael Hoffer
FALMOUTH — One season after graduating 1,000-point scorer and three-time Winter Female Athlete of the Year Margaret Veroneau, the Waynflete girls’ basketball team might be better than ever.
After three easy wins to start the 2008-09 campaign, the Flyers made an emphatic statement Saturday afternoon, riding a fourth quarter rally to a stunning 58-50 win at the Falmouth Yachtsmen, a team which has played in the Western B final each of the past two years and is a favorite again this winter.
Waynflete, which led much of the way, appeared dead in the water down 43-37 with just over five minutes to play, but the Flyers closed the game on a 21-7 run, getting huge contributions and clutch foul shooting from several sources to improve to 4-0 on the year.
“It was a big win for us,” said Waynflete’s second-year coach Brandon Salway. “I wasn’t sure we were going to get it. I don’t think it was our best game, but credit Falmouth for making it like that. They caused us all kinds of problems. We slugged it out. We fought through some foul trouble.”
SUBHEAD-Better than expected
Waynflete went undefeated during the 2006-07 regular season, then lost in the Western C quarterfinals. Last winter, the Flyers, playing a much more challenging schedule, posted a 15-3 mark, then downed Dirigo and Mt. Abram in the tournament before falling to Monmouth in a close game in the semifinals.
While Veroneau departed, Waynflete was bolstered by the return of senior Annie Cutler, who was away last school year. She’s stepped right in and become a star this season and has provided another option for an offense which also features post player extraordinaire, junior Morgan Woodhouse, and senior sharpshooter Mariam Qazi.
The Flyers opened with one-sided wins over St. Dom’s (65-30), Old Orchard Beach (61-25) and North Yarmouth Academy (62-30). Saturday brought a much sterner test.
Falmouth was 3-2 entering the contest, with wins over Poland, Cape Elizabeth and Fryeburg and close road losses to Greely and Yarmouth.
Waynflete, which fell 61-44 at home to the Yachtsmen last Dec. 21, wasted little time making it clear it had come not just to compete, but to win.
Cutler got things going with a free throw and a 3-point shot. After the hosts got on the board on a foul shot from senior Andie Doyle, Woodhouse made a rebound layup, then on the next possession, got an offensive rebound, scored while being fouled, then hit the free throw for a 9-1 advantage with 4:11 to play in the opening quarter.
Falmouth answered on a long jumper from senior standout Haley Jordan and senior Kelsey Graffam followed with two free throws, but Woodhouse closed the period in style with a foul shot for a 10-5 lead.
Qazi opened the scoring in the second quarter with a layup. After junior Katie McCarthy answered with a layup for the Yachtsmen, promising Flyers’ sophomore Samantha Oakland made a layup and Cutler hit two free throws for a 16-7 advantage.
Falmouth then turned up the defensive pressure and went on an 11-0 run to take the lead.
Sophomore Jess DiPhillippo got it started with a jump shot. After senior Sara Bachman made a turnaround jumper, Jordan made a left-handed layup and senior Erika Penrod converted a layup. After senior Zoe Sobel missed the front end of a one-and-one foul attempt for Waynflete, Doyle buried a 3-ball for an 18-16 lead with 3:20 to play in the half.
“The hot start was good, but I think it lulled us into a false sense of security that it would be like the other games,” Salway said. “They have too many kids they can throw at you. They scrap.”
With 1:34 left before halftime, Cutler made a free throw to end the run and a 4 minute, 14 second drought. Twenty-three seconds later, Sobel made a layup to put the Flyers back on top, 19-18. Cutler and DiPhillippo then traded hoops in the final minute to give the visitors a 21-20 edge at the break.
Waynflete started the second half the way it began the game as Cutler made a 3-pointer, then hit a leaner for a 26-20 advantage, but at the other end, Woodhouse picked up her third foul and Doyle made a free throw. Qazi made a layup for a 28-21 lead, but again, the Yachtsmen responded, ending the quarter on a 15-2 run to seemingly seize control.
Junior Alison DerHagopian made two free throws, Jordan followed with one. Bachman made a layup after a steal and Jordan hit two foul shots to tie the game at 28-28. After Qazi momentarily put her team back on top with two free throws, DiPhillippo made two for Falmouth and Jordan made a layup for a 32-30 advantage with 2:12 to go in the third.
Salway hoped to wait until the start of the fourth quarter to put Woodhouse back in the game, but feeling his team was in trouble, he rolled the dice and put her back on the floor.
“I thought the game was slipping away with Morgan on the bench,” Salway said. “We wanted to wait until the fourth, but we couldn’t.”
“It was really frustrating, but I knew if we played strong defense without me, we’d pull through,” Woodhouse added.
Jordan hit a long jumper, then made a rebound layup in the waning seconds to give the Yachtsmen a 36-30 lead after three.
Woodhouse made a layup, her first points since the opening period, 25 seconds into the fourth, but Doyle answered with a jumper. After Qazi made a jump shot, Graffam did the same and it was 40-34. Cutler converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 6:31 left, but Bachman made one foul shot and DerHagopian buried two with 5:42 to go to send the Flyers back down by six, 43-37.
Waynflete then roared to life.
The rally began quietly when Cutler made a free throw. Then, with 4:50 to play, Cutler hit a 3-ball and it was 43-41. After Graffam made a layup to push the lead back to four, Qazi made two foul shots to get the Flyers back to within 45-43. With 3:59 remaining, Jordan buried a long jump shot, but senior Nina Russem (who had been out with injury) made a layup and Woodhouse hit two free throw to tie the game at 47-47 with 3:24 to go.
Just 21 seconds later, Waynflete went ahead to stay when Woodhouse scored on a rebound putback, was fouled and drained the free throw. Russem and Woodhouse then each hit one-of-two foul shots to make it 52-47 with just under two minutes to play.
The Yachtsmen made things interesting when DerHagopian hit three of four free throws, but Russem calmly drained two foul shots to make it 54-50. With 52.8 seconds to play, the Falmouth bench was called for a technical foul and Cutler hit one free throw to push the lead to five. With 35.2 seconds left, Russem made the second of two foul shots and after the hosts missed three straight shots, Woodhouse grabbed the rebound and fed Qazi who was fouled with nine seconds left. She calmly drained both free throws and the Flyers were able to celebrate their 58-50 win.
“It’s sort of like a mark in our season,” Cutler said. “We knew it would be a tough game and we were prepared. I think it says a lot about us. I don’t think anyone thought we could beat them. We got a little frantic, but I think the key was to keep our composure and know that if they kept pressing, we’d get fouls and when we got to the line we did what we had to do to win the game.”
“It wasn’t our best day, but we could have easily folded,” Salway added. “I’m pretty proud of them for showing some grit and for gutting it out. The first three games went kind of easy. We knew this one would be difficult. I didn’t know it would be this difficult. It was a well earned victory.”
Cutler continued to turn heads by leading all scorers with 22 points.
“It’s nice to have her back,” Woodhouse said. “She brings everything on the court. She brings offense, defense, and good spirit.”
“I had no idea how good she was,” Salway added. “I’d have been more disappointed last year if I knew how good she was and she wasn’t there. She’s tough, she’s smart. She can play inside or outside and is a handful to defend.”
Woodhouse added 14 points and was a dominant factor on the boards and in the passing lanes.
“Morgan’s smart too,” Salway said. “She’s learning to play with fouls. She changes the game when she’s on the floor. Teams basically game plan to stop her. She’s very competitive.”
Qazi was also in double figures with 12 points. Russem added six and Oakland and Sobel both had two.
Falmouth was paced by Jordan’s 15 points. DerHagopian and Doyle both had seven.
SUBHEAD-Keeping the good times rolling
As big as Saturday’s victory was, there is plenty of season to go and plenty of improvement to be had. Waynflete’s confident it will continue to grow.
“It’s early, but we have big goals,” Cutler said. “We want to get to the (Augusta) Civic Center and go far there.”
“I think we’ve progressed so much this year already and it’s just the beginning,” Woodhouse added. “We’ve come so far already. We have the potential to go even further this year and represent our school well.”
The Flyers take part in the Gray holiday tournament, then return to league action Tuesday at Fryeburg Academy.
“Fryeburg’s going to be tough,” Salway said. “We’ll be playing without Annie that day. I think we’ll be challenged (at the holiday tournament). Second semester, Traip will be much improved. We’ll get everyone’s best shot now, that’s for sure.
“We’re very different this year. We miss Margaret, but a lot of kids can do different things. The kids who played last year have improved and have a lot more confidence.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com