FALMOUTH — We knew the Falmouth boys basketball team was good, but what the Yachtsmen have accomplished over the past week makes it appear that they’re the best team in the state regardless of class.
After handling three Class A foes, as well as a squad from New York during the holiday break, Falmouth returned to league play Thursday night with a highly anticipated home showdown of unbeatens against York.
It didn’t take long for the Yachtsmen to leave even the tall, talented and seasoned Wildcats in their wake in a rematch of last year’s regional semifinal.
After a back-and-forth first quarter, Falmouth simply flipped a switch and before you knew it, a one-point lead after one period had become 11 at halftime, then was upped to a stunning 24 after three quarters.
Sophomore Jack Simonds was the catalyst early, scoring 10 first quarter points. Senior Charlie Fay got the surge started in the second period with a rousing dunk and capped it with a pretty reverse layup. In the third quarter, senior Grant Burfiend stole the show with 10 points en route to a game-high 22.
In truth, it was a team effort as the Yachtsmen never looked back and went on to a stunning-in-its-decisiveness 71-51 triumph, improving to 7-0, while handing York its first loss in seven outings.
“We’re a good team,” said longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan, in the understatement of the new year. “(York’s) an excellent team. One of the best. The kids played very well tonight. I was very pleased.”
York entered the season as the favorite and hasn’t disappointed, winning at Fryeburg (54-35) and Greely (71-48) to start, then downing visiting Poland (72-39), host Yarmouth (72-48), host Traip (68-39) and visiting Freeport (70-19) before the holiday break.
Falmouth, meanwhile, graduated plenty of talent from last year’s regional finalist, but several returning players did see ample playing time a year ago and the Yachtsmen were bolstered by the addition of some new players. As a result, Falmouth didn’t miss a beat, winning at Cape Elizabeth (72-49), at home over Fryeburg (83-33) and Greely (63-45), at Poland (68-35), at Yarmouth (55-34) and at Traip (74-47).
The Yachtsmen then spent last week at a holiday tournament at the Portland Expo, where they handled Western A contenders South Portland, Marshwood and Portland, along with Susan Wagner of New York, en route to a tournament title.
“Portland was fun to play because they’re fast tempo,” said Fay. “That was a good test to get us ready for this game.”
“They’re exhibitions, but in the back of our minds, we want to do better and extend ourselves,” said Halligan. “We had great games against South Portland, Portland, Marshwood and Susan Wagner. We played Deering, Portland and Bonny Eagle in the preseason. It’s helped us get better.”
That set the stage for a showdown of unbeatens.
Last year, Falmouth won all three meetings, but none of them were easy. The Yachtsmen prevailed at York, 44-37, at home, 57-52, in overtime, then, in the Western B semifinals, Falmouth erased a 12-point second half deficit to end the Wildcats’ season, 49-45.
Thursday, for eight minutes, it appeared another fight to the finish was in store, but the Yachtsmen quickly ended the competitive phase of the contest.
It took the teams a few minutes to feel each other out and the score was just 3-2 York midway through the first quarter and eventually 9-2 Wildcats, before Falmouth, more precisely Simonds, started to heat up. Simonds would can a couple 3s and scored 10 points in all as the Yachtsmen roared back to lead, 16-15, after one quarter.
“Shots were falling,” said Simonds. “When you have a rhythm, you go with it. We had a good game plan tonight.”
“Jack’s big for us,” said Burfeind. “He’s mature and experienced. When he’s hot, we try to get the ball to him.”
“Jack’s a big-time player,” added Halligan. “Big-time players step up in big-time games.”
Just 23 seconds into the second period, Falmouth junior Justin Rogers set up Burfeind for a 3. York got a jumper from junior Ross Hogan to make it 19-17, but the Yachtsmen erupted for six quick points as Fay brought the crowd to life with a dunk after a steal and promising freshman Thomas Coyne sank four free throws in a 10-second span for a 25-17 advantage.
The Wildcats got 3 points back on a long 3 from senior Adam Bailey, but Coyne countered with a 3-ball and Burfeind made a layup after a steal to push the lead to 10, 30-20, midway through the quarter.
An old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw) from senior Zach Leal brought York within seven, but Falmouth continued to soar as Burfeind hit a jump shot, Simonds banked home a shot and Coyne converted on a floater to make it 36-23.
“I think I’ve adapted well to the offense,” said Coyne.
“Coyne has brought enthusiasm,” said Halligan. “You can tell he loves basketball. It can’t be a job. You have to have fun. All the kids are having fun. We’re winning which makes it easier. They’ve given me everything I’ve asked for. ”
The visitors sandwiched a layup from Leal and a jumper from senior Aaron Todd around a Fay reverse layup to pull within 11, 38-27, at halftime.
If the Yachtsmen’s 22-12 second quarter run was impressive, they’d dazzle further in the third period with a 23-10 surge.
Just 31 seconds in, senior Tom Wilberg fed Fay for a layup. After the visitors countered on a left-handed layup from senior Hayden Webster, Fay again brought the house down when he slammed home a Burfeind miss and seconds later, scored on another reverse layup to make it 44-29.
“It got my confidence up and the team’s spirit,” said Fay. “I hope the fans liked it.”
“When (Charlie) had those circus shots, my jaw dropped,” said Burfeind.
“(Charlie’s) just starting to realize how good he is,” added Halligan. “He’s a good athlete. Big kids develop later and he’s worked hard. He’s developed leaps and bounds from junior to senior year. He has good energy. He’s fun to watch.”
Todd countered with a long jump shot, but Burfeind made a layup after a steal, was fouled intentionally on the play and made both free throws for a four-point play. Wilberg then went to the line and hit one of two attempts to give Falmouth a five-point trip and a 49-31 advantage.
The Wildcats got consecutive hoops from junior Michael Gallagher, but Wilberg took a pass from Fay and made a layup before Burfeind heated up from behind the arc, nailing consecutive 3s to essentially end all drama and give the Yachtsmen an emphatic 57-35 advantage.
“Anyone on this team can score,” Burfeind said. “I guess tonight I was one of those people who was hot.”
“(Grant’s) getting his basketball legs,” said Halligan. “He’s coming around.”
A Leal layup ended the 8-0 run, but in the waning seconds, Falmouth got a floater from Simonds and a runner from Coyne to take a 61-37 lead to the final stanza.
“We changed our defense and I think some of our reserves came in and contributed big-time minutes,” said Halligan. “The star players were negating each other.”
In the fourth quarter, the Yachtsmen never allowed the Wildcats to entertain any hopes of making it a game.
After York got a putback from senior Luke Claflin and a jumper from Webster, Coyne made a 3 and Fay scored on a layup to push the lead to 25, 66-41. Gallagher answered with a jumper and Bailey sank a 3, but that only pulled the Wildcats within 20.
Wilberg made two foul shots, Burfeind hit one, Todd made a layup and after Simonds scored on a layup for Falmouth’s final points, Todd buried a 3 to account for a 71-51 final tally.
“We ran our stuff, played good defense and hit our shots,” said Coyne.
“We hit our shots,” said Fay. “When one person wasn’t, we got the ball to another person. We have a lot of weapons. We got momentum and we took it to them.”
“We definitely weren’t expecting this, but it feels really good to get this win,” Burfeind said. “We hadn’t seen any film on them, so we didn’t know what to expect. We got used to them in the first quarter and after that, we took away their game and played ours.”
Burfiend had a game-high 22 points. Simonds added 16, Fay 14, Coyne 12 and Wilberg seven. The Yachtsmen were also solid on the glass (Fay had nine rebounds, Simonds eight). Burfeind added five steals and four assists and Wilberg had five assists. Fay also blocked three shots, while Simonds had two rejections.
For York, Todd led the way with 14 points. Leal added 10, Bailey nine, Gallagher and Webster six each, Claflin four and Hogan two.
Long way to go
The rematch is Feb. 5 in York and there’s a good chance the Yachtsmen and Wildcats will meet again at the Cumberland County Civic Center in late February, but both teams have a lot of work to do first.
The Wildcats (now fourth in the Western Class B Heal Points standings) are back in action Saturday when they host Gray-New Gloucester. In addition to hosting Falmouth, York also welcomes Cape Elizabeth, Greely and Wells and has games at Cape Elizabeth and Wells to navigate.
Falmouth’s next game is Saturday when it hosts Freeport. Later in the month, the top-ranked Yachtsmen are at Greely, host Cape Elizabeth and visit Wells in consecutive outings. Falmouth also hosts Wells four days prior to meeting York and closes the regular season at Yarmouth Feb. 8.
The Yachtsmen are pretty darned impressive at this juncture, but they’re committed to improving.
A scary thought for the rest of the league.
“We need to keep practicing like we’re playing the best team on our schedule,” Burfeind said.
“We have to avoid the high highs,” said Simonds. “We won’t ride on this victory. We’ll prepare for Freeport. We get better because we battle each other in practice.”
“We need to keep getting better as the season goes on,” Coyne said.
“We’ll pretend like we’re 0-0,” said Fay.
“When we go down to York, it could be a different story,” Halligan added. “We’ll work hard and get better to compete down there. We have to keep working hard in practice. We practice for the next game. We always feel that’s the biggest game on our schedule.”
Falmouth 71, York 51
Y- 15 12 10 14- 51
F- 16 22 23 10- 71
Y- Todd 6-1-14, Leal 4-1-10, Bailey 3-0-9, Gallagher 3-0-6, Webster 3-0-6, Claflin 2-0-4, Hogan 1-0-2
F- Burfeind 8-3-22, Simonds 7-0-16, Fay 7-0-14, Coyne 4-2-12, Wilberg 2-3-7
Y (5) Bailey 3, Leal, Todd 1
F (7) Burfeind 3, Coyne, Simonds 2