PORTLAND—Two of the more exciting boys’ basketball teams in the Western Maine Conference met up Wednesday afternoon.
The host Waynflete Flyers, who have emerged as one of the best teams in Western Class C, having already slain Western B contender Cape Elizabeth as part of a season-opening eight-game win streak, welcomed the Yarmouth Clippers, Western B finalists a year ago, who were coming off a painful loss.
While Waynflete was its usual pesky self, the Clippers set the tone, racing to a first quarter lead they’d never relinquish, forcing nine turnovers in the first eight minutes. Down the stretch, Yarmouth got clutch production from several sources and held on for a 52-45 triumph, its ninth win in 11 games, dropping Waynflete to 8-2 in the process.
Clippers senior sharpshooter Josh Britten was held relatively in check with 14 points, but senior Chris Knaub and sophomore Nathaniel Shields-Auble both had a dozen and senior Sam Torres added eight, as well as several plays that couldn’t be quantified in the box score, to help Yarmouth hold on for the victory.
“In the games we won, we didn’t play as well as we wanted to,” Torres said. “That was a big thing tonight, to play hard, play mentally strong and mentally tough down the stretch and that’s what we were able to do.”
Waynflete has been one of the reigon’s feel-good stories this winter. After last year’s inspirational run to the Western C semifinals, where they lost to Dirigo, the Flyers have turned heads over the past five weeks.
They opened with a 53-35 win over Old Orchard Beach, beat visiting Traip, 77-45, and after a narrow 41-40 triumph at Lake Region, routed visiting Sacopee (86-41) and North Yarmouth Academy (57-18). Next came the statement win, a 52-36 home triumph over Cape Elizabeth. The Flyers won at Fryeburg (54-38) and Traip (54-41) before finally falling from the unbeaten ranks Friday, when visiting Hyde scored at the horn for a 50-48 victory.
Yarmouth made it to the regional final a year ago for the first time since 1974, losing to Cape Elizabeth. This year’s team is continuing the program’s recent resurgence. After opening with a 70-34 romp at Gray-New Gloucester, the Clippers dominated visiting Lake Region, 85-40, visiting Wells, 57-33, then rallied past host York, the preseason favorite, 49-48. Yarmouth stumbled at Falmouth, 46-42, Dec. 20, but bounced back to down visiting Fryeburg (65-35), host Freeport (83-42), visiting Greely (53-52) and visiting Poland (63-56, in a game where Britten reached the 1,000 threshold for his career). Friday, however, the Clippers dropped a tough one at Cape Elizabeth, 40-39.
The teams haven’t played much over the years. In 2007-08, host Waynflete upset Yarmouth, 69-54. The following year, the host Clippers downed the Flyers, 69-49.
This time around, Yarmouth got the early lead and never relinquished it.
After the teams got the measure of the other for three scoreless minutes, Waynflete broke the ice when junior Jack Cutler fed senior Mitch Newlin for a layup. When sophomore Serge Nyirikamba followed with a leaner 28 seconds later, the hosts appeared in good shape, up 4-0, but the Clippers would embark on a 12-0 run to seize control.
After 4 minutes and 10 seconds of futility, a putback from Knaub put the visitors on the board. Knaub followed with a 3-pointer and Yarmouth was ahead to stay. Britten got in on the long range shooting act with a 3-ball, Knaub fed Torres for a layup after a steal and with 1:48 left in the opening stanza, Britten made a layup after a steal for a 12-4 lead.
Before the quarter was over, the Flyers got back within four, thanks to a Nyirikamba putback and a Nyirikamba layup (set up by junior Mohammed Suja).
Waynflete was hampered by nine turnovers in the first period.
Early in the second, Clippers sophomore Nathaniel Shields-Auble made a layup, but Flyers senior Chris Burke answered with a jumper. Yarmouth then went on an 8-0 run, as Torres fed sophomore David Murphy for a short bank shot, Britten took a pass from Torres and made a layup in transition, Murphy passed to Shields-Auble for a layup and Shields-Auble hit a turnaround jumper for a 22-10 bulge.
Off a timeout, Cutler answered with a jumper, but Britten drained a 3 to make it 25-12.
Cutler scored on a floater, but at the other end, Murphy hit a long jumper. Shields-Auble followed with a layup for a 29-14 advantage. Waynflete crawled back within 11 on a jumper from senior Ray Bliss and a jump shot from senior Abdul Yousaf, but as time expired, Knaub delivered a dagger of a 3 from well behind NBA distance to make it 32-18 Clippers at the half.
“It was a huge momentum swing,” Knaub said. “The biggest thing tonight is that we played together as a team and that was huge.”
“Chris is a captain, a leader,” added Yarmouth coach Adam Smith. “He’s had games where he hasn’t been around. He’s always there for us verbally, vocally, effort-wise. Now he knows he has to put some numbers on the board for us. He did that tonight for sure. It was nice to see him step up and be forced to take some difficult shots. That’s part of his growth.”
The Flyers would attempt to rally in the second half, but while Yarmouth bent, it never broke.
After a steal, Britten hit a leaner to open the third period scoring. Waynflete junior Max Belleau answered with a leaner of his own, but Torres made a layup for a 36-20 lead, the Clippers’ biggest of the game.
The hosts countered with a floater from junior Paul Runyambo and a 3 from Newlin, which hit the rim, bounced high in the air, then fell through the net to cut the deficit to 36-25.
After Shields-Auble made a jumper, Burke made a layup, was fouled and hit the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play. Late in the quarter, however, Torres raced to the rim, grabbed an offensive rebound while in midair and laid it home to make it 40-28 Yarmouth with eight minutes to play.
A jumper from Bliss and a layup by Burke (on an assist from Suja) drew the Flyers within 40-32 early in the fourth. After Britten made two foul shots, Newlin sank a jumper. Knaub answered with two free throws, but Nyirikamba scored on a putback (he was fouled and had a chance to draw Waynflete closer, but missed the free throw).
With 3:43 to play, Torres put on a show, switching into another gear to blow past a defender en route to a layup. Forty seconds later, junior Christian Henry made a layup after a steal and the Clippers appeared in good shape, up 48-36.
“We’ve been predictable down the stretch, getting it to Josh, but tonight, we worked it around and got layups,” Torres said. “We played good team defense and that translated to our offense.”
To their credit, the Flyers didn’t wane as Runyambo cut the deficit to nine with a 3-ball. The next time down, Yarmouth somehow got possession when Torres grabbed a rebound, fell to the floor, but managed to call timeout before being whistled for traveling.
Regardless, after Nyirikamba kept hope alive with two offensive rebounds, Suja hit a bank shot with 2 minutes to play to make it 48-41. Knaub countered with a bank shot, but Cutler scored on a putback, then hit a leaner with 53.1 seconds to play and suddenly, Waynflete was only down five, 50-45.
The Flyers would never get closer.
After running time off the clock, Henry spotted an open Shields-Auble, who made a layup. A last-ditch 3-point attempt from Runyambo was no good, Shields-Auble got the rebound and the Clippers held on for the 52-45 win.
“It’s not a big win because it’s after a loss,” said Knaub. “It’s big because we had the energy, we played as a team.”
“The guys expend a lot of energy,” Smith said. “We’ve talked a lot about doing things together. When we were tired, we were tired together. When we were going hard, everyone was going hard together. It was good to see all the guys contributing. It was a team effort no matter what was going on tonight.
“We have dips in the season. When Cape played great defense, we scored 39 points. Waynflete played tremendous defense, with tremendous effort and we scored 52 tonight. What we’re capable of and what we put out isn’t the same thing. We’re trying to be more consistent. “
Britten led all scorers with 14 points (he also had a game-high five steals). Knaub had 12 clutch points and a game-high nine boards.
“The simplest thing is to just put a body on someone,” said Knaub, who also had three steals and an assist. “They can be as big as they want, but if you put on a body on them and take them out of a play, there’s nothing they can do.”
Shields-Auble also had 12 points (to go with three rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals) and Torres finished with eight points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal.
“Chris and Sam, the wow factor isn’t there, but when they walk off the floor, you realize, wow, they gave a great effort,” Smith said. “The other guys are catching on.”
Murphy added four points, Henry (who had four boards and three steals) two. Freshman Adam LaBrie also saw some key minutes off the bench, filling in for junior Adam Wriggins, who is out with injury.
“We’re trying to get Adam (LaBrie) some playing time,” Smith said. “It’s baby steps. I don’t like to put freshmen in that kind of pressure against bigger bodies, but he’s a talent. He’ll help us when he’s comfortable in a varsity game. I hope it’s sooner than later.”
Yarmouth committed 13 turnovers and made four of its six free throw attempts. It registered 16 steals to just four by the hosts.
Waynflete was paced by eight points each from Cutler (who also had four rebounds and three steals) and Nyirikamba (eight boards). Burke (three rebounds) and Newlin (five boards) both finished with seven points. Runyambo had five points (and five rebounds), Bliss four, Belleau, Suja and Yousaf two apiece.
The Flyers took much better care of the ball in the second half, but still gave it away 20 times. They only got to the charity stripe for two attempts, and made just one. They did dominate the glass, to the tune of a 35-21 rebound advantage.
“We were trying to compare and contrast the first and second halves,” said Waynflete coach Rich Henry. “We really didn’t deal with their pressure well in the first half. I was really proud of how we battled back. Hopefully that’s something we can reinforce. What I’ve found with these guys is when there’s some pressure on them, they get out of fundamentally sound position. It took us the first half to learn to trust fundamentals again. Yarmouth’s a very good team. We expected a battle and we got it. (The guys are) pretty disappointed in (the locker room).”
Waynflete (second to Dirigo in the latest Western Class C Heal Points standings) is back in action Friday at Traip. In fact, six of the Flyers’ final eight games are away from home, including tests at Western B contender Wells and a rematch with Hyde.
Waynflete knows it can garner one of the top spots in the Heals if it finishes strong.
“We’re looking forward to getting back to C competition,” Henry said. “Yarmouth’s in the upper echelon in B. They were a great opponent. We learned a lot from playing them. If we don’t turn the ball over, we’re in good shape. If we shoot well and defend well, we’ll be fine. If we have turnovers and give up layups, we’re in trouble.”
Yarmouth (now second to Falmouth in Western B) welcomes Gray-New Gloucester Friday and visits Traip Tuesday. The Clippers still have big tests looming at Greely and Poland and close the regular season at home versus Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth.
It’s safe to say that Yarmouth will be battle tested by the second week of February, but the Clippers expect to rise to the challenge.
“We know Western B is so competitive,” Torres said. “There are so many good teams out there. For us, it’s coming in during practice, working hard and getting every ounce of determination and wanting to work hard out of every player of our team. That’s huge for us. We lost it a few games ago. Going forward, we want to keep working hard and coming into the gym with a fresh mind, work hard every practice and make sure no one’s working harder than us.”
“We look to play hard every night,” Smith added. “Our conference makes us do that. This Class C team was one of the toughest games we’ve had all year. That tests us and it’s good for us. We like that about our schedule and our competition. It makes us better. The Heal Points will shake out how they shake out and we’ll play who we have to play and look forward to that. Top to bottom, we have unbelievable teams we have to play against. They never give up against us. It’s always a good test for us. Night in, night out, regardless of who we’re playing. I love that about the conference.”
Y- 12 20 8 12- 52
W- 8 10 10 17- 45
Y- Britten 5-2-14, Knaub 4-2-12, Shields-Auble 6-0-12, Torres 4-0-8, Murphy 2-0-4, Henry 1-0-2
W- Cutler 4-0-8, Nyirikamba 4-0-8, Burke 3-1-7, Newlin 3-0-7, Runyambo 2-0-5, Bliss 2-0-4, Belleau 1-0-2, Suja 1-0-2, Yousaf 1-0-2
Y (4) Britten, Knaub 2
W (2) Newlin, Runyambo
Y (21) Knaub 9, Henry 4, Shields-Auble, Torres 3, Britten, Murphy 1
W (35) Nyirikamba 8, Newlin, Runyambo 5, Cutler 4, Belleau, Bliss, Burke, Suja 3, Yousaf
Y (16) Britten 5, Knaub 4, Henry 3, Shields-Auble 2, Murphy, Torres 1
W (4) Cutler 3, Nyirikamba 1
Y (3) Shields-Auble 2, Henry 1
W (2) Newlin, Nyirikamba 1