All signs point to a York-Falmouth showdown
The upcoming Western Class B tournament just got a lot closer, at least at the top.
No. 2 York handed No. 1 Falmouth a 65-39 thumping on Tuesday. Falmouth had won its first 16 games, including a 71-51 triumph over the Wildcats on Jan. 3. They´ve both won on their home courts. What will happen should they meet for the regional championship at the neutral Cumberland County Civic Center?
Everything York did wrong in the first game with Falmouth, the Wildcats did right the second time and, conversely, everything Falmouth did right in the first game, it did wrong.
York was searching for its identity at the start of the year. The Wildcats were 6-0 when they first faced Falmouth. It was their first big game of the season. It was away and their nerves took over.
It was a lesson the Wildcats learned well. They haven´t lost since. The win over Falmouth was their 10th straight. They´ve committed to defense. Coach Randy Small is a big believer in the philosophy that you play the way you practice, and the Wildcats practice hard.
"This is a tremendous practice team," he said. "Our practices are very physical. The kids have worked hard in practice."
With their dismantling of the Yachtsmen, the Wildcats showed they´re a tremendous game team, too.
"We´re executing our offense better and all five guys on the floor are contributing on defense. It isn´t just one player. It´s everyone," said Small.
York and Falmouth are comparable in size. They have a huge advantage over their Western Maine Conference opponents. Still, Small is cautious when it´s suggested it will be those two teams in the tournament final.
"A lot of other teams have improved," said Small.
"Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth are two of them. Wells can put a lot of points on the board with Jake Moody and Dylan Stevens. Greely is still scary. These are high school kids. You never know what will happen in the tournament," he said.
York center Aaron Todd scored 23 points against Falmouth with 10 coming in the first quarter when the Wildcats jumped out to a 22-9 lead. An 18-7 York edge in the third quarter put the game away.
York´s win closed the gap in the Heal point standings, but Falmouth will still enter the tournament No. 1 with the Wildcats at No. 2, setting up a greatly anticipated rubber game in the regional final should the seeds hold true.
Hayden Webster and Zach Leal added 14 points apiece for York. Leal has been strong all season. Webster makes it that much tougher to guard the Wildcats when he´s playing well.
"Hayden had a good game," said Small. "He has a tremendous mid-range shot."
The small York gym was packed for the game. Small said it was the first time York sold tickets in advance for a regular-season game.
"It was good for the program and good for the town," he said.
Despite the outcome, Falmouth Coach Dave Halligan looked for a positive spin.
"It was like a tourney atmosphere," said Halligan. "Our kids don´t have a lot of tourney experience. I think they learned a lot. Hopefully we can adjust."
The Yachtsmen shot only 4 of 24 from 3-point range and 5 of 15 from the line.
"York played extremely well," said Halligan.
Like Small, Halligan isn´t ready to predict a third meeting in the regional final Feb. 23.
"I´ve been around long enough to know anything can happen. Whoever handles the tourney atmosphere the best will be in great shape," he said.
Because of Friday´s expected snowstorm, high schools shifted their games to Thursday night. There´s always a long wait for non-preliminary round teams for their tournament quarterfinal round. York, Falmouth and the other bye teams won´t play again until Feb. 16 at the Portland Expo. Small said his team hopes to line up a scrimmage next week. Teams that make the posteason get an extra countable date to play a practice game.
"We´re talking to a couple of teams," said Small.
Falmouth will play Deering on Tuesday.
In the interim, the Wildcats will have some focused practices -- something they do very well.
Preliminary-round games for Western Class A and B boys will be Tuesday.
BACK-TO-BACK WINS by Windham over Westbrook and Gorham in the past week secured the Eagles´ spot in the Western Class A tournament. The Eagles were ranked 10th heading into Thursday´s game with Bonny Eagle. Windham will be on the road Tuesday in the preliminary round. The Eagles got off to a slow start but their offense has picked up.
"We´ve been shooting at a much higher percentage," said Coach Kevin Millington. "When you make shots, it allows you to get into your defense. We´re a pretty good defensive team."
Spencer Hodge, Tom McGowan and Dylan Weisser have been outstanding for Windham.
Eleven teams make the Western Class A tournament. Gorham was ranked 11th heading into Thursday´s game. If the Rams make the tournament, they will look back at victories over Windham in early January and Marshwood later in the month as keys.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Labson Abwoch, Deering: Abwoch had a couple of 20-point games in a week´s span. A week ago he scored 21 points and had 12 rebounds as Deering beat Gorham, 66-48. On Tuesday, Abwoch scored 23 points in a 64-52 win over Cheverus.
Spencer Hodge, Windham: Hodge scored 15 points in a 58-44 win over Gorham to avenge an earlier loss to the Rams and scored a game-high 19 points as the Eagles scored their biggest win of the season -- a 52-40 victory against Westbrook last week.
Dustin Cole, Bonny Eagle: Cole scored 36 points as the Scots avenged an earlier loss to Westbrook with a 61-50 win Tuesday. Last week against Scarborough, Cole had 26 points as the Scots pulled out a 59-58 overtime win.
Jaren Muller, South Portland: Muller, a 6-foot-5 forward, had a game-high 14 points and some key rebounds to lead the Red Riots to a 52-42 win over Portland on Tuesday, Muller scored a three-point play late in the game to seal it.
AREA TOP 10
1. South Portland
5. Bonny Eagle
10. Medomak Valley