Falmouth sophomore Nicco Pitre and his teammates celebrate during the Yachtsmen’s 48-37 win over York in Wednesday’s Class A South semifinal.

Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—Falmouth’s boys’ basketball team doesn’t mind winning ugly.

In fact, the Yachtsmen embrace it.

Wednesday evening at the Cross Insurance Arena, third-ranked Falmouth knew it couldn’t get into a run-and-gun battle with second-ranked York in a Class A South semifinal, so the Yachtsmen slowed things down on offense and relied on a smothering defense to lead the way to a 48-37 victory.

Falmouth trailed for all of 56 seconds, went up by as many as 16 points, then held on late to improve to 15-5 on the year, end the Wildcats’ season at 16-4 and advance to battle top-ranked, two-time defending champion Greely (17-3) in the Class A South Final Saturday at 8 p.m., at CIA.

“Winning ugly is still winning,” said longtime Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan. “Survive and advance this time of year.”

Encore

Last year, Falmouth and York put on a show in the quarterfinal round, having to play 40 minutes before the Yachtsmen prevailed, 62-56, in a double-overtime classic.

This winter, the teams have been among the best in Class A South, trying and failing to catch Greely in the standings.

Falmouth went 13-5 in the regular season, then knocked off No. 6 Brunswick, 45-31, in Saturday’s quarterfinal round. 

York posted a 15-3 regular season record, losing only to Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth and Greely. The Wildcats had no trouble with No. 7 Fryeburg Academy in their quarterfinal Saturday, building a 19-0 lead en route to a 53-35 victory.

The Yachtsmen won the regular season meeting, 58-49, Dec. 29 in a game played at the Expo. Falmouth had also taken all four prior playoff encounters.

This time around, the Yachtsmen did it again, thanks in part to a fast start.

Falmouth fell behind 14 seconds in when York sophomore Brady Cummins got a runner to roll in, but senior Nik Hester countered with a 3 and senior Sam Manganello made a free throw to put the Yachtsmen up.

A Cummins leaner tied the game, but with 3:48 to go in the first, an old-fashioned three-point play by Manganello (putback, foul, free throws) gave Falmouth the lead for good and sophomore Nicco Pitre added a 3-ball from the corner.

The Wildcats closed the quarter strong, as junior Will MacDonald made a 3 and sophomore Evan Bourgoine drove for a finger-roll to cut the Yachtsmen’s advantage to 10-9.

Falmouth then opened it up further in the second period.

Hester got things started by taking a pass from junior Michael Simonds and making a layup. Simonds then made a jump shot in the lane. After Cummins got a point back at the line, Pitre drove for a layup and freshman Brady Coyne sank a 3 for a nine-point lead.

Cummins again made a free throw, but Hester countered with a pair.

After Cummins made a layup, Pitre set up Hester for a fastbreak layup and after a steal by Pitre, Coyne found Hester in the corner and at the horn, Hester buried a 3-ball for a 26-13 advantage.

“If they’re going to leave me open, I’ll shoot it and make it,” Hester said. “I made one in the exact same spot before, so I figured I’d shoot it again.”

“Nik’s a senior captain and we ride our seniors,” Halligan said. “I’ve always said that the seniors would lead us. Playing from ahead gave us confidence. Even seniors have nerves first game here. Making some baskets let us know we could do it. “

Hester led all first half scorers with a dozen points and he also grabbed six rebounds. Cummins paced the Wildcats with eight points.

In the third quarter, York chipped away and had ample opportunity to get really close, but couldn’t do so.

A 3 from Simonds opened the second half for Falmouth’s biggest lead, but Bourgoine made a reverse layup and after a Pitre foul shot, York sophomore Riley Linn drove for a layup and his first first points, then Linn scored on a putback to make it 30-19.

Hester made a layup after a spin move, but junior Riley Johnson’s layup and a pair of free throws from senior Chris Cummins drew the Wildcats within nine.

They had over two minutes to get closer, but turned the ball over multiple times and the Yachtsmen held a 32-23 advantage heading to the fourth.

There, York kept creeping closer, but could never catch up.

Manganello opened the final stanza with a free throw, but Linn countered with a 3.

After Pitre set up Hester for a layup, Chris Cummins made two free throws, Brady Cummins made one and with 4:01 to go, two MacDonald foul shots pulled the Wildcats within four, 35-31.

Hester then made sure the game turned back in Falmouth’s favor, first by banking home a contested shot, then blocking a shot at the defensive end and grabbing the rebound. 

York again made it a four-point contest, 37-33, when MacDonald scored on a putback with 2:07 showing, but 12 seconds later, after breaking the press, Pitre set up junior Will Gravier for a layup and a six-point advantage.

With 1:2o to go, Simonds added two foul shots. After Chris Cummins answered with two free throws, Simonds made a pair, Simonds sank two, Hester made both attempts and Simonds hit one more before a Chris Cummins layup brought the curtain down on Falmouth’s 48-37 victory.

“Our defense held them off,” Hester said. “We only allowed 37 points. We really focused on communication this week.”

“I thought our defense was great throughout the game,” Halligan said. “I liked that we played defense together. It wasn’t 1-on-1, but 1-on-5. Guys stepped up and helped out their teammates. They like to drive and kick and we took that away from them. They got it to four, but we didn’t let them get it to three. It was one possession at a time.”

Hester set the tone with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Simonds also wound up in double figures with a dozen points (as well as four rebounds and two assists), Pitre added six (to go with three assists), Manganello had five, Coyne three and Gravier two.

The Yachtsmen had a 29-27 rebounding advantage, overcame 17 turnovers and hit 15 of 20 foul shots.

York’s top scorer was Brady Cummins, with nine points (he also had six rebounds). Chris Cummins added eight, Linn and MacDonald (11 rebounds, four steals) had seven apiece, Bourgoine finished with four and Johnston had two.

The Wildcats made 10 of 14 free throws and committed 17 turnovers.

Torpedo the three-peat

Greely is closing in a school-record three straight state titles, but Falmouth believes it has what it takes to deny the Rangers, who beat Fryeburg Academy in the quarterfinals and held off No. 5 Kennebunk, 69-62, in their semifinal Wednesday.

The Yachtsmen saw Greely just once this year, four days before Christmas, a 46-29 Rangers’ victory.

Greely has won all five prior playoff meetings, with a dramatic 49-47 triumph in last year’s semifinals the most recent.

Falmouth is hoping to turn the tables Saturday.

“It’s going to be a good game,” said Hester. “We have something to prove. I’m excited. We have to keep contesting 3s and not let them get in the paint.”

“It means a lot for a our program, for our kids, for the kids who played before us and the kids coming up (to get back to the regional final),” Halligan said. “I think we’re getting better. We have extra focus in practice. Now we work more on tactics and strategies and polishing up skills. We need to play great defense and share the ball on offense.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Falmouth senior Nik Hester grabs the ball away from York sophomore Brady Cummins.

Falmouth senior Sam Manganello defends York junior Riley Linn.

Falmouth junior Macklin Williams shoots over York sophomore Brady Cummins.