YARMOUTH—If you haven’t been paying much thought to the Yarmouth boys’ basketball team, it’s time to start.
The Clippers, still riding high after a stunning 23-point victory at powerhouse Cape Elizabeth just before the holiday break, returned to league play Tuesday night and raced to a 14-0 lead, never trailed and went on to beat defending Class B state champion Falmouth, 50-33.
Yarmouth made life miserable for the Yachtsmen all over the court, displayed its ever-growing confidence and poise and improved to 5-1, dropping Falmouth to 4-2 in the process.
“We’ve really concentrated on coming out of the locker room and immediately having an impact on the game with our energy, our effort and our defense and the guys really stepped up and collectively showed leadership,” said Clippers coach Adam Smith. “It set the tone for us. I was pleased, but not surprised with our start.”
As is the case in many sports, Falmouth and Yarmouth have been rivals on the hardwood for years, but in basketball, the Yachtsmen have dominated for almost all of coach Dave Halligan’s 24-year tenure.
Since Smith took over as coach of the Clippers for the 2004-05 campaign, Yarmouth had beaten Falmouth just three times in 11 tries (which includes a sweep in the 2007-08 season).
Last year, the Yachtsmen took both meetings, 58-41, at home and 54-51 in Yarmouth.
So far, this winter, both teams have been a pleasant surprise.
Falmouth graduated almost everyone of note (save junior Jack Cooleen) from last year’s title team, but still managed to win its first three games, against Gray-New Gloucester (48-30), Freeport (63-29) and Waynflete (42-23) before losing to Greely (45-36). Four days before Christmas, the Yachtsmen bounced back and downed host Lake Region, 72-25.
At the Portland High holiday tournament, Falmouth lost to Deering (48-33), Susan Wagner of New York (47-35) and host Portland (55-38).
Yarmouth, which was ousted in the preliminary round a year ago, doesn’t have a lot of size this winter, but has proved deadly from the outside. After beating host Poland in the opener, 56-43, then losing at home to Greely (61-53), the Clippers closed 2010 with three straight victories, over Fryeburg (84-46), Wells (66-57) and with stunning ease at Cape Elizabeth (84-61).
That win gave the Clippers a ton of confidence.
“I’ve never seen us play that well,” said junior Josh Britten, who had 28 points in that game. “Cape’s a great team. It was great for us to come out on top.”
At the Portland holiday tournament, Yarmouth dispatched Westbrook (58-48), then lost to Deering (50-45) and Windham (49-48, in overtime).
Tuesday, prior to the game, Yarmouth honored its fall state champion football and boys’ soccer teams, as well as a sportsmanship award-winning volleyball squad, with a banner ceremony.
Then, the Clippers enjoyed a dreamlike start as their tenacity was unmatched and the young Yachtsmen were stunned. Yarmouth scored the game’s first 14 points and enjoyed a 16-4 advantage after one period.
“(Yarmouth’s) a good, strong team,” Halligan said. “Our kids came out a little scared and a little tentative and made too many mistakes. They had that spurt and had that lead the rest of the way.”
The Clippers could have had this win locked up by halftime, but they missed countless layups throughout.
“We came out pretty pumped up and we were pretty excited, that’s why we missed some easy layups, but we were ready to go,” said senior Matt Murphy, who had seven first half rebounds. “Most of it starts with our defense. It led to fast breaks. That’s what gets us pumped up. Defense and making blocks.”
“High school boys will hit a 3, then miss a layup,” Smith said. “It’s frustrating, but you have to keep attacking and keep playing defense. We immediately got back and played defense. We played through it and got back to a comfortable lead at the end.”
A layup from senior Luke Pierce gave Yarmouth a 23-10 lead with 3:21 to go before halftime. Falmouth answered on a pair of foul shots from senior Michael Lafond, but junior Sam Torres made a layup and Britten scored on a highlight reel layup for a 27-12 advantage with just under a minute to go.
To their credit, the Yachtsmen didn’t roll over and got a pair of free throws from junior Matthew Packard and a layup from Cooleen to pull within 11. A free throw from junior Chris Knaub gave the hosts a 28-16 lead at the break.
In the first half alone, Pierce had seven points, five offensive rebounds and five steals. He and his teammates would do enough to hold on in the second half.
A Murphy putback started the third period scoring. Cooleen then made back-to-back layups and junior Alec Cattell scored on a putback to cut the deficit to eight, 30-22, forcing Smith to call timeout.
The Clippers responded as Knaub made two free throws after being fouled on a 3-point shot, Murphy hit a short jumper and Britten sank a jump shot for a 36-22 lead.
Falmouth simply wouldn’t quit, however, and closed the third on a 7-0 run to make things interesting.
Cooleen made consecutive layups and with 4.9 seconds remaining, senior Brendan McDonnell sank a 3, pulling the Yachtsmen to within seven (the closest they’d been since the early minutes of the game), 36-29.
Yarmouth would close the game in style, but momentum turned for good just 25 seconds into the fourth when Pierce (naturally) brought the house down.
After a turnover, Falmouth appeared primed to pull within five when Packard broke free for a layup, but from nowhere soared Pierce to block the shot.
“Seniors never quit,” marveled Halligan, who’s seen more than his share of Pierce on the pitch in the fall. “They come at you all the time.”
“Luke’s just a great athlete, all sports,” Britten said. “That got our adrenaline back up and kept us going.”
“Luke is a huge part of our energy and effort,” Smith added. “He didn’t have a big offensive game, but it didn’t affect his impact. We don’t let down at any time in the 32 minutes of play.”
Senior Mike McCormack ended the Yachtsmen’s run and a 4 minute, 13 second drought with a free throw, Murphy added a jumper and with 5:23 to play, Murphy banked home a 3 to make it 42-29.
“I didn’t notice how close it got in the midst of the game,” Murphy said. “We didn’t let it bother us. We came out with strong intensity and got after it.
After Falmouth pulled within nine on a layup from sophomore Tom Wilberg and a putback from junior Jeremy Lydick (for what proved to be the visitors’ final points), Britten calmly sank two free throws with 3:45 to play to make it 44-33.
With 2:02 to go, Knaub made a free throw and with 56.2 seconds remaining, Britten delivered the dagger, a 3-ball.
“We have not shot well ths year,” Smith said. “That’s no secret. We’re coming around. The Cape game really gave the boys the feeling we could knock them down. We’re not afraid to put it up. It’s going in a lot better than it did earlier in the year. Scoring at a better clip takes pressure off the defense and allows us to play more free on defense.”
Two Britten free throws with 13.5 seconds to play brought down the curtain on Yarmouth’s 50-33 victory.
“It’s always fun to beat Falmouth,” Britten said. “It’s always a good game. We’ve always been a first half team. We kept it going. We got out, pressed, got some steals, went ahead by a lot and never looked back. We pulled it together in the fourth quarter. We always close out games well. We’re coming together as a team. We were all over the place at the start of the season. Now, we’re a tight-knit family.”
Britten continued his torrid scoring, leading everyone with 17 points (he also had four rebounds). Knaub added 10 points, Murphy had nine (along with 11 rebounds, a block and four steals), Pierce seven (to go with his epic block, six rebounds and a half dozen steals), McCormack five and Torres two.
“Everyone plays their role and does the best they can,” said Murphy.
Falmouth got 14 points from Cooleen. Lafond added six points, McDonnell had three and Cattell, junior Matt Kingry, Lydick, Packard and Wilberg all had two apiece.
“I think Yarmouth’s the best team,” Halligan said. “They’re a veteran team. They have all the pieces. They have ballhandlers, shooters, scorers, big guys. Some of the other teams, like us, have deficiencies. Good teams expose deficiencies.
“Someone (other than Jack) has got to step up for us. The younger kids need to play with more confidence. If they do, we’ll be fine. Last year, we didn’t have to worry about that.”
Falmouth plays host to Poland Friday, then has a huge home showdown against Cape Elizabeth, in a rematch of last year’s regional final, next Tuesday.
“We’ll take the positives and hope to make those last longer,” Halligan said. “If we learn, this loss will be a positive.”
The Yachtsmen and Clippers will square off again, Jan. 25, in Falmouth.
All eyes on Yarmouth
The Clippers return to action Friday with another stern test, at York. They host Gray-New Gloucester Tuesday of next week.
“We need to work on finishing,” Britten said. “Our defense always needs to improve. We want it this year.”
“I think we’re a great team,” Smith said. “I don’t know how that will translate to wins and losses and where we’ll end up. We come out every night and give a great effort. The guys have a lot of expectations this year. When we get to the Expo and beyond, if we do, I know we’ll be in great shape. We’ll bring our effort and defense and hopefully knock down shots late in the year. Offensively, in the halfcourt, I’d like to move the ball better and be mentally tougher when we have opportunities and knock them down. That’s the difference in close games.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
Falmouth junior Jack Cooleen swats away a shot attempt by Yarmouth junior Chris Knaub.
Falmouth junior Jack Cooleen goes up for a reverse layup. Cooleen led the Yachtsmen with 14 points.
Yarmouth junior Chris Knaub does his best to alter the shot of Falmouth junior Matthew Packard Tuesday.
Yarmouth senior Luke Pierce was once again in the middle of the action Tuesday night. Pierce’s all-around play helped the Clippers enjoy a 50-33 victory over visiting Falmouth.
More photos below.