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Waynflete seniors Abel Alemayo (2) and Willy Burdick exult as their teammates rush the court after the Flyers held off Winthrop, 43-41, in overtime, to win the Class C South title Saturday night. Waynflete will seek its first championship Saturday when it battles George Stevens Academy in the Class C Final in Augusta.
Brian Beard photos.
More photos below.
The Waynflete boys’ basketball team hasn’t gotten the attention it deserved this winter, but there’s no denying the Flyers’ greatness any longer.
Last week, Waynflete navigated the brutally tough Class C South in a thrilling regional tournament in Augusta and as a result, for the second time in three years, the Flyers have a golden opportunity to win the program’s first Gold Ball.
Waynflete had a superb 16-2 regular season, which included a buzzer-beating win over Class A South champion Falmouth and losses to Class B South finalists Lake Region and Yarmouth. Despite that mark, the Flyers were only seeded fourth in Class C South, but Waynflete proved to be the region’s best team.
The Flyers met No. 5 Wiscasset in a quarterfinal last Monday and produced an impressive 66-47 victory behind 23 points from senior Abel Alemayo, 19 from senior Milo Belleau and 11 from senior Will Nelligan.
Waynflete moved on to meet top-ranked Dirigo and its star, Riley Robinson, in the semifinals Thursday, where Waynflete put forth another strong effort and avenged last year’s loss to the Cougars in the semifinals.
The Flyers trailed much of the first half and were down, 18-11, but they answered with a 10-0 run and junior Yai Deng hit a clutch 3 at the horn to put Waynflete up, 24-23, at halftime.
The Flyers then produced a phenomenal second half and gradually pulled away to prevail, 60-45.
“The guys were keyed up, you could kind of tell in the first quarter, but they did a magnificent job in the second quarter and the second half,” Waynflete coach Rich Henry said.
Deng led Waynflete with 14 points. Alemayo added 13 points, six assists and four steals. Nelligan notched 10 points. Burdick drained six free throws in the fourth quarter and finished with nine points. Sophomore Christian Brooks contributed six of his eight points in the third period and led the defensive charge with Belleau against Robinson (19 points).
“It was just intensity, Robinson is a hell of a player,” Deng said. “Christian Brooks showed out as a sophomore. He tried his hardest and we just preach help side and team defense.”
Waynflete met No. 2 Winthrop in the regional final Saturday night had to win ugly, overcoming 25 turnovers and a late Ramblers’ rally to prevail.
Waynflete led by as many as a dozen in the third quarter and by eight, 32-24, with 4:30 left in the fourth, but after the Flyers failed to hit free throws late, Winthrop drew even at 36-36 to force overtime, then scored the first three points of the extra session.
After Alemayo cut the deficit to one, Belleau found Nelligan for a go-ahead 3-pointer, sank two free throws, then blocked a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer to seal the 43-41 win.
“It only made sense you have to deal with that type of intensity,” Belleau said. “You’re playing in a regional final. It’s not going to be easy.”
Belleau led the Flyers with 12 points. Nelligan added 11. Deng also scored 11 points to go with 16 rebounds. Waynflete improved to 19-2, gave Henry his 150th career victory and won Class C South for the second time in three years.
“This year’s group of seniors has been as locked in as any I’ve had during my coaching tenure and it has really set the tone for the underclassmen, who have also displayed a maturity beyond their years,” Henry said. “During our pregame talk, I reminded the team that we started this season with the coaching staff explaining our expectations of the team, how we would play, what’s important to the program and so on and we’re at a point now where the players have expectations of themselves and their teammates, so in a way, reaching this point of the postseason also represents that sort of development and I’m proud of how the team has been able to do that.
“I also think about the arc of the season. The first month-and-a-half was unlike any other I’ve experienced. We had several key players out with illness or injuries from soccer season and I don’t think it we had our full group together, physically in practice, until the second week of January. I’m a big believer in team chemistry, and for me, there was a palpable ‘click’ once we had everyone there. So I guess the good fortune we’ve had this year, reaching the state game, is also a bit of a testament to that dynamic. We had the most challenging regular season schedule that I recall and we learned a great deal about ourselves. There’s also a sense of pride when the guys see upper echelon programs we played, like Yarmouth, Lake Region and Falmouth and what they have been able to accomplish this year. It was a trial by fire that has really set the tone for us.”
In the Class C state final, the Flyers will battle George Stevens Academy (20-1) Saturday at 8:45 p.m. in Augusta for the Class C crown. The Flyers have never played George Stevens Academy.
In its only other state game appearance two years ago, Waynflete dropped an overtime heartbreaker to Houlton, 58-56.
“We’ll be learning a bit more about GSA over the course of the week, but we know they’re a very strong team, extremely well-coached and have several dynamic players, led by their point guard, Taylor Shildroth,” Henry said. “They had a very impressive 30-game win streak over the course of the last two seasons and we know we’ll need to play a great game and have some things bounce our way to have an opportunity to win.
“We had a team meeting at some point in January. I wanted to have the players who were a part of the team that played in the state championship game two years ago talk about that experience. They described that last week of practice leading up to the game and really communicated how special it was and now we’ve reached that point. My advice to these guys has been to really soak it all in, to understand how fortunate they are to experience this. Now, we’re down to two boys’ Class C teams in the state and we’re playing in the last game possible, so it’s important to reflect on that and appreciate it. There are a lot of great players and teams that would gladly trade places with us, and it’s important to remember and respect that.”
Sun Journal staff writer Kalle Oakes contributed to this story.
Waynflete senior Abel Alemayo is all smiles after the traditional cutting down of the nets.
Waynflete senior standout Milo Belleau, whose late block preserved the win, celebrates with a net of his own.
Waynflete sophomore John Veroneau, left, senior Abel Alemayo and junior Yai Deng raise the championship plaque.