The dream came to an end, but the memories of the finest season in Waynflete boys’ basketball history will linger.
Saturday evening at the Augusta Civic Center, the Flyers rallied after a slow start to catch up with pedigreed top-ranked Boothbay Region in the second half, but Waynflete never could wrest control and ultimately went down to a 70-52 defeat.
Despite 20 points from senior Jack Cutler in his swan song, the Flyers’ year came to an end at 17-2 as Boothbay improved to 20-1 and advanced to meet Penquis Valley in the Class C Final Saturday in Bangor.
“It’s hard to put into words, especially when you’re still stinging from a loss, but over time, I think the players will come to realize how successful of a tournament they had, for themselves and the program at large,” said Waynflete coach Rich Henry.
Waynflete had its best regular season to date this winter, winning 15 of 16 games (losing only to Western B semifinalist Cape Elizabeth) to garner the No. 2 seed. The Flyers handled No. 10 Monmouth in the quarterfinals, 78-47, then earned arguably the biggest win in program history Thursday, ending No. 3 Dirigo’s state championship reign with a scintillating 58-51 victory in the semis.
Boothbay won its first six games, lost by a point at Mountain Valley, then closed on an 11-game win streak to earn the top seed. After a 67-43 win over No. 8 Wiscasset in the quarterfinals, the Seahawks survived No. 4 Madison Thursday in the semifinals, 55-43.
The teams don’t play in the regular season and had one prior playoff meeting, which Waynflete captured, 54-42, in the 2009 preliminary round.
Saturday, as was the case in the semifinals, the Flyers started slowly. As they did in the previous round, Waynflete rallied, but this time, the Flyers couldn’t get over the jump and finish the job.
A tight first period ended with the Seahawks leading, 22-19. Boothbay then extended its lead to 12 at halftime, but Waynflete roared back and even drew even at 43-43. Ultimately, the Flyers had no answers for Boothbay senior Anthony DiMauro and sophomore John Hepburn (who won the Harry Edwards Award, as the regional tournament’s outstanding player/sportsman), who helped the Seahawks open it back up and Boothbay gradually pulled away for the 70-52 decision.
“We started slowly, which has been an issue for us, and struggled a bit against Boothbay’s zone,” Henry said. “Also, while DiMauro gets a lot of the accolades, Boothbay has a degree of balance in their offensive production too. In the third quarter, we finally had some success against their zone and were able to tie things at 43, but we had a poor shooting night. I think we missed five or six layups, which was uncharacteristic of us, and had a couple of three-point play opportunities that didn’t pan out, but you have to acknowledge how well Boothbay played. They were able to execute on their game plan and bounce back when we tied the score. They deserve the credit.”
In addition to Cutler’s 20 points, junior standout Serge Nyirikamba had 13 points, senior Paul Runyambo added 10 and senior Max Belleau had eight.
While the loss stung, there’s little doubt that the Flyers had a magical run, one that their coach won’t soon forget.
“It’s tough when it ends, there’s no gradual winding down of activities,” Henry said. “Things ramp up to such a degree, physically and emotionally, and then…nothing. On the other hand, when one looks back at our record and the things the team accomplished, there’s reason for a certain amount of pride and optimism going forward. I tend to forget our won/loss record pretty quickly once the season ends, but I believe we were 12-6, 15-4, and 17-2 over the past three years. That’s something our seniors should feel really good about. It’s also something that fosters a mental approach to the game that the younger players get exposed to and want to continue.
“When I think back about this season, I’ll reflect on how supportive the players’ parents were, how dedicated my assistant coaches (Brayton Chase and Mark Lockman) were and how committed the players were. We had a lot of fun and put in a great deal of hard work that goes unnoticed by most, but lays the foundation for success. Those are the attributes of athletics that really matter. The lessons that the players can apply in the future. Working with this group has been a singular pleasure.”
Waynflete will suffer come graduation, as captains Belleau, Cutler and Runyambo, along with Kevin Kanakan and sparkplug off the bench Mohammed Suja, all depart, but there is plenty of talent in reserve with more likely to come. Juniors Nyirikamba, Henry Cleaves and Joey Schnier have all seen ample playing time. Sophomore point guard Harry Baker-Connick was a hero of the Dirigo win.
The Flyers were thrilled to get to the regional final this winter. Next time, they’ll aim even higher.
“There’s no substitution for experience, so hopefully it’s something that each returning player can learn from and each graduating senior should feel a sense of contribution to the future of the team,” Henry said. “Next year, we’ll have two starters back, in Serge and Harry, which is a great nucleus to build around. Henry Cleaves and Joe Schnier are ready for increased roles and we have some underclassmen who have developed very nicely through our freshman and JV teams. The cupboard isn’t bare by any means and I’m getting excited to work with this group just talking about them.”
2009 Western Class C preliminary
Waynflete 54 Boothbay 42
Waynflete junior Serge Nyirikamba tries to fight past a Boothbay defender.
Waynflete senior Max Belleau dribbles upcourt.
Waynflete senior Paul Runyambo goes up for two points.
Waynflete seniors (from left) Jack Cutler, Max Belleau and Paul Runyambo receive the Western C runner-up trophy after the Flyers reached the regional final game for the first time in three decades.
Waynflete senior Jack Cutler soars to the hoop during the Flyers’ 70-52 loss to Boothbay in Saturday’s Western Class C Final.
More photos below.