PORTLAND – He might have risen to the bait when his sisters jumped into the warm lake waters years ago, challenging him to a race. Stefano Mancini had a good chance of beating little sister Nicola. Big sister Gina was a different problem.

Let’s not go there, said Stefano, his face creasing into another smile. Being a serious, competitive swimmer wasn’t what the family had in mind when they exposed him to other sports.

Putting a basketball through a hoop was.

”I’m an only son,” said Stefano Mancini, looking very comfortable with a championship net around his neck. ”My father had other ideas for me. My sisters are the swimmers.”

Falmouth High beat Cape Elizabeth on Saturday, winning the Western Class B title for the first time. Mancini scored 24 of Falmouth’s 53 points. He turned the court at the Cumberland County Civic Center into his playground.

He stole the ball twice near midcourt, converting both into by-the-book layups. He hit jump shots, he hit 3-point shots. He set up teammates with passes and talked them up after they scored. He talked to the referees.

He worked so hard yet seemed so at ease. A half-smile, not to be confused with a smirk, popped out occasionally.

Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth met in the last game of the regular season before a standing-room-only crowd at Falmouth. Mancini played a little tight in the first half.

”It was the pressure. We were undefeated.”

Saturday, he and his teammates were on the bigger stage. Big crowd, big stakes. The winner plays Class B East champion Camden Hills, the high-scoring defending champs. It goes without saying Mancini will have to bring his best game.

”You never know beforehand when you’re going to have a good game,” said Mancini. ”Only after it starts. I can’t wait for the introductions and national anthem to get over so I can start playing.”

He’s the kid with the basketball perpetually under his arm. The one who’s learned how to pick or jimmy locks to gain access to a court. ”I’ll play in driveways but I really prefer gyms.”

Driveways is where his game began. He and Gina, going two-on-one with their dad. ”He went to Portland High,” said Mancini. ”He knew how to play.”

Mancini seems a throwback to that time 15 or 30 years ago when players kept their fundamentals down pat and the ball in the air. When two teams could combine to score 100 points without blinking as they raced to 150.

Larry Bird and Dennis Johnson are Mancini’s guys. Play defense and score. ”Yeah, sometimes I hear I play old school.”

But you won’t catch him in the short shorts worn high on the thigh back in the day. The game’s style has moved on and that’s OK. The game’s soul has changed, too, and that’s not OK. There aren’t enough Stefano Mancini’s to go around these days.

”He’s a great kid,” said Famouth Athletic Director Todd Livingston. ”A little quirky, too.”

How so? ”He speaks another language he made up. I call it Abreve. It’s probably half texting, half of something else.

”I know he’s saying hi when we pass in the halls or asking how it’s going, but I don’t understand the words.”

No matter. No translation is needed when he plays.

Gina Mancini was a three-time Class B swimmer of the meet before she graduated from Falmouth. She’s a senior at Notre Dame, consistently earning points for the Fighting Irish in the sprints.

Falmouth sophomore Nicola Mancini just won the Class B diving championship and did it in typically tough Mancini fashion. She competed with a chipped bone in her foot and torn ligaments.

Stefano Mancini played quarterback for the Falmouth football team until basketball took over.

Stefano is a name from another time. Maybe it belonged to a great-grandfather or a favorite cousin. No, he said. He shares the name with no one in his family.

He’s one of a kind.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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