AUGUSTA, Maine — It wasn’t supposed to end so abruptly.
The Augusta Civic Center has been so kind to the Waynflete girls’ basketball team in recent seasons, most of all a year ago when the Flyers won three games there en route to a Class C state championship.
Waynflete was fired up for its return to Augusta on Tuesday afternoon, but the Flyers met their match against a Carrabec squad they dominated by 37 points in last year’s postseason.
Waynflete looked as if it was off and running when senior standout Leigh Fernandez led it to a quick 5-0 lead, but the Flyers couldn’t bury the Cobras early and Carrabec soon responded, gained confidence and began to take control of the game.
Part of that was due to the foul trouble of Waynflete juniors Helen Gray-Bauer and Julianna Harwood, but the Cobras also dominated the glass, forced turnovers and made enough shots to open up a surprising 24-17 lead at halftime.
When Carrabec scored the first six points of the second half, the Flyers appeared doomed, but they showed their championship heart one last time and fought back.
A long Fernandez 3 snapped a drought of 6 minutes, 35 seconds and was followed by two Fernandez free throws, a Gray-Bauer layup and a Harwood jumper to cut the deficit to four, but the Cobras scored a late layup and early in the fourth period, pushed the lead back to 10, 37-27.
Down the stretch, Waynflete could get no closer than five and while they had several good looks to make things really interesting, the Flyers, this time, couldn’t do so and their six game postseason streak came to a close with a 49-37 defeat.
Fernandez had 13 points, Gray-Bauer 10 and Harwood eight, but it wasn’t nearly enough as Waynflete’s season came to an end at 13-7.
“It’s a pretty disappointed locker room,” said Flyers coach Brandon Salway. “We talked about being disappointed, but being proud of them for hanging in there and fighting through it. It didn’t seem like it was our day today.”
Home sweet home
Prior to Tuesday, since the start of the 2006-07 season, Waynflete had played 17 times on the Civic Center floor, including three games a year ago, capped by a regional final victory over Madison.
The defending champions weren’t a shoo-in to return, especially when they sat 7-6, but a five-game win streak to end the regular season assured a home prelim and last Tuesday, the Flyers pulled away late to fight off No. 11 Sacopee Valley’s upset bid, 50-38.
Carrabec earned the No. 3 seed, but also had to play a prelim, handling No. 14 Wiscasset, 38-26.
The teams had met just once prior and it came last year in the preliminary round, a 73-36 Flyers’ victory.
This time around, Waynflete’s magic dried up.
Fernandez got off to a fast start, banking home a tough angle shot, then getting a hook shot in the lane to drop. Gray-Bauer added a free throw and three minutes in, the Flyers were up, 5-0.
Waynflete wasn’t able to extend its lead and finally, with 1:50 to go in the first, Carrabec broke through as sophomore Kate Stevens got a leaner to drop over the rim. Stevens added two foul shots 32 seconds later.
With 1:03 left in the quarter, Gray-Bauer sank a baseline leaner to end a 3 minute, 55 second drought, but Stevens made two more free throws to allow the Cobras to get back within one, 7-6, after eight minutes of play.
By the end of the frame, both Gray-Bauer and Harwood were on the bench with two fouls and that’s where they would stay for the remainder of the half.
In the second period, Carrabec took over.
After Waynflete freshman Ali Pope made a layup, Cobras sophomore Bailey Atwood hit a baseline jumper. Fernandez made a free throw, but a jumper from senior Kaitlin Lacroix tied the game and with 4:41 to go in the half. Sophomore Mickayla Willette made two foul shots to put Carrabec ahead for the first time, 12-10.
Two free throws from junior Dana Peirce tied the score, but senior Mercedes Welch put the Cobras ahead for good with a layup with 4:16 remaining.
Welch added a putback before Fernandez countered with a corner 3. After Atwood made a baseline jumper, two Peirce foul shots pulled the Flyers within one, 18-17, but they wouldn’t score again before halftime, as Carrabec finished on a 6-0 run.
After an offensive rebound, Atwood was fouled and made both free throws. Welch added a putback and as time wound down, Willette banked home a shot for a 24-17 advantage.
“Obviously, the fouls early hurt us,” Salway lamented. “I think we had a chance at momentum. It was 5-0 and I felt like we had the better play early. Early starts can help you relax. I feel like we missed an opportunity there early to play from ahead.”
In the first half, Waynflete was outrebounded 25-12, and was hindered by Gray-Bauer and Harwood’s absence due to foul trouble. Only eight points from Fernandez and Peirce’s contribution kept the Flyers alive.
Waynflete did a great job forcing turnovers early in the second half, but could do nothing on offense and soon saw its deficit grow.
Carrabec sophomore Hannah Atwood opened the third quarter scoring with a putback 15 seconds in. A little over two minutes later, Stevens made a layup and a desperate Salway called timeout with his team down 11, 28-17.
It didn’t help, at least initially, as sophomore Liberty Chestnut finished a Willette feed and made a layup, but with 4:16 to go in the frame, Fernandez turned the tide by burying a long 3, which snapped a 12-0 Carrabec run and a 6:35 dry spell.
Fernandez added two free throws, Harwood set up Gray-Bauer for a backdoor layup and Harwood made a short jumper to pull the Flyers within four, 30-26.
The Cobras regained some momentum with 3.5 seconds to go, as Stevens set up Willette for a layup and a 32-26 advantage.
Carrabec then finished off the champions in the fourth period.
Gray-Bauer cut the deficit to five with a free throw a minute in, but Bailey Atwood set up Welch for a layup and junior Emma Pluntke scored on a putback, forcing Salway to call timeout with 6:11 to play and his team down, 36-27.
Welch made a free throw to stretch the lead to 10, but Harwood banked home a shot in the lane. With 5:03 to go, Fernandez made the latest and last jaw-dropping play of her time in a Flyers’ uniform, stealing the ball and while rolling on the floor, passing to Gray-Bauer for a layup, pulling Waynflete within two possessions, 37-31.
A Harwood free throw 14 seconds later made it a five-point game, but the Flyers never would get closer.
With 4:39 to go, Willette set up Welch for a layup. After Gray-Bauer made it 39-34 with a leaner, Welch made two foul shots with 3:17 to go for a seven-point advantage.
Willette then set up Welch for another layup, and with 2:28 left, the Flyers looked doomed, down, 43-34. But with 1:43 showing, Harwood sank a 3, keeping faint hope alive.
Waynflete got the ball back on a Fernandez steal, but she missed a long 3. Waynflete kept possession and got the ball to Harwood, but she also was off target from 3-point range.
Seconds later, both Gray-Bauer and sophomore Arianna Giguere tried to make it a one possession game, but they just couldn’t get their 3-point attempt to drop.
“We just needed to make one,” Salway said. “I had a timeout ready to go.”
Then, with 38 seconds to go, Bailey Atwood made two free throws to essentially end it.
After Fernandez missed a 3, Welch added two more foul shots.
With 9.1 seconds remaining, Willette sank two foul shots and that did it.
With the clock reading 3:51 p.m., the champion was dethroned, 49-37, and for the first time since the 2006-07 season, the semifinal round will be held without the Flyers taking part.
“We’re really disappointed and we have higher expectations than just getting here,” Salway said. “It’s a game we could have won. Carrabec learned from when they played us last year how hard you have to play and I think they played harder than we did at times today. We dug ourselves a deep hole. We realized how hard we had to play to be successful in here. I’m glad we got to that point finally. We just didn’t have the legs at the end. This is a tough tournament. It’s hard to win here. I don’t take that for granted.”
Carrabec was led by 17 points (11 in the fourth quarter) from Welch, who also had eight rebounds, an assist and a steal. Bailey Atwood had eight points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals off the bench. Willette (12 boards, three assists, a block and a steal) also had eight points, as did Stevens (eight rebounds, two blocks). Hannah Atwood (three steals), Chestnut, Lacroix and Pluntke all had two points. Senior Jessica Vaillancourt didn’t score, but had six rebounds.
The Cobras dominated on the glass to the tune of a 45-30 differential, overcame 27 turnovers by forcing 22 and made 15 of 22 foul shots (including 7 of 8 in the second half).
“One of our goals is always to beat the other team in the free throw category, but they shot a great percentage,” Salway said. “You have to credit them for burying foul shots. I was very concerned about rebounds. I felt like they’d score on putbacks, foul shots and drives. Our goal was no drives, no dives and limiting foul shots. We didn’t do a good job of that. We reached too much early in the game and put them on the line. I think we checked out sometimes, but they’re really active on the boards. And we turned it over too much.”
Carrabec will meet No. 2 Maranacook (14-5 after handling seventh-ranked Kents Hill in Tuesday’s other quarterfinal, 52-39) in Thursday’s semifinals, it’s first since 2002.
The end and a beginning
As for Waynflete, Fernandez led the way with 13 points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists.
While her amazing personal streak of seasons ending with a championship ended at five (two apiece in soccer and lacrosse and one in basketball), Fernandez (who last lost a playoff game as a sophomore in basketball) was a worthy heir to reigning Miss Maine Basketball Martha Veroneau.
“Leigh’s disappointed it’s over,” Salway said. “She’s a special player who really did a great job at point guard this year and gave us life in the second half. Hopefully she’ll walk out with her head held high. She had a great year.”
Gray-Bauer had 10 points, six steals, five boards, a block and an assist.
Harwood finished with eight points, four rebounds, a block, a steal and an assist.
Peirce added four points (and three steals) and Pope had two (to go with a team-high 12 rebounds).
Giguere didn’t score, but had three boards and two steals.
The Flyers made 10 of 16 free throws.
While the departure of Fernandez (along with fellow seniors Lydia Fox, Louise Lyall and Emily Wasserman) will be felt, Waynflete should be strong again in 2014-15, thanks to the return of Giguere, Gray-Bauer, Harwood, Peirce and Pope.
“We’re young, but hopefully some eighth graders will contribute,” Salway said. “It’s hard to get here and it’s even harder to win here. Playing here is fun and winning here is even more fun. That’s got to be motivating for a group that has potential.”