Falmouth senior Michael Simonds knocks down a 3-pointer during the Yachtsmen’s 64-51 win over Kennebunk in Wednesday’s Class A South semifinals. Simonds led the way with 23 points. Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald photos

BOX SCORE

Falmouth 64 Kennebunk 51

F-  8 12 19 25- 64
K- 15 4 18 14- 51

F- Simonds 7-6-23, Hamilton 8-4-20, Pitre 3-4-11, Coyne 3-0-7, Hanrahan 0-2-2, Daniels 0-1-1

K- M. Murray 12-6-32, Lux 3-0-8, I. Murray 1-2-4, Tartre 2-0-4, Paseniuk 1-0-2, DeFeo 0-1-1

3-pointers:
F (5) Simonds 3, Coyne, Pitre 1
K (4) Lux, Murray 2

Turnovers:
F- 12
K- 6

FTs
F: 17-19
K: 9-16

PORTLAND—Strong veteran play spells success in February and fortunately for Falmouth’s boys’ basketball team, it boasts its share of seasoned players who know what to do on the big stage.

Wednesday evening at the Portland Exposition Building, the third-ranked Yachtsmen were viewed as the underdog when they took on No. 2 Kennebunk in a Class A South semifinal, but despite digging an early 15-6 hole, Falmouth was never rattled.

A jump shot from senior Nicco Pitre just before the first quarter horn pulled the Yachtsmen within seven and gave them momentum and in the second period, senior Michael Simonds came to life, scoring nine points, including the basket which put his team ahead for good, helping Falmouth come all the way back to grab a 20-19 halftime advantage.

Senior Emmett Hamilton then helped the Yachtsmen stay on top in the third quarter, despite the efforts of Kennebunk’s prolific senior Max Murray.

The Rams only trailed by two points, 39-37, heading for the fourth period and were within three before Hamilton made a layup, Simonds sank a 3, then sophomore Brady Coyne hit a jump shot to open up a double-digit lead and Kennebunk never drew closer than six points from there as Falmouth went on to a 64-51 victory.

Murray scored 32 points for the Rams, but Simonds’ 23, Hamilton’s 20 and Pitre’s 11 were more than enough to compensate and the Yachtsmen improved to 16-4, ended Kennebunk’s season at 16-4 and advanced to take on top-ranked York (20-0) in the regional final Friday at 8:15 p.m., at Cross Insurance Arena.

“We didn’t think we were the underdog,” said Dave Halligan, who won his 538th game as Falmouth’s coach. “We think we can play with anybody if we play together and share the ball. We got off to a rough start by some of our inexperienced players, but we got our feet wet and our seniors stepped up and brought us back together and we did what we’re supposed to.”

Another deep run

Senior Emmett Hamilton, who scored 20 points in the victory, launches a shot.

Falmouth is accustomed to being one of the last teams standing in the region, any region, as it appeared in the semifinals Wednesday for the ninth consecutive season.

Falmouth started 0-2, but hit its stride as the season went on and even though the Yachtsmen lost late in the year to Kennebunk and Leavitt (in a three-overtime contest), they wound up third in Class A South and in Saturday’s quarterfinal round, they ousted No. 6 Marshwood, 59-38 (see sidebar, above, for links to previous game stories).

Kennebunk, meanwhile, had been solid throughout, going 15-3, losing only at York, Sanford and Falmouth. The Rams dispatched No. 7 Gray-New Gloucester, 86-60, in their quarterfinal Saturday.

The teams split in the regular season, as Kennebunk won at home in the opener, 54-50, and host Falmouth returned the favor Jan. 17, 53-41.

The teams had only met once before in the playoffs and it was a long time ago, the 1982 Western B quarterfinals to be precise, a 58-56 Falmouth victory.

Wednesday, the Yachtsmen overcame a slow start and went on to an impressive victory.

Kennebunk started fast, as junior Adam Lux knocked down a 3 and after a Hamilton jumper, sophomore Ian Murray made two free throws and Max Murray got free for a layup and a 7-2 lead.

Hamilton then countered with a layup and a putback of his own miss to cut the deficit to one, but after a steal, Ian Murray made a layup, Max Murray tipped home a missed shot and with just under a minute to go, junior Sam Tartre drove for a layup and a 15-6 lead.

But that’s as good as it would get for the Rams.

Pitre hit a jumper just before the horn and that not only pulled Falmouth within 15-8 after one quarter, it energized the squad.

“That shot helped our momentum,” Simonds said. “Nicco has been great so far in the tournament.”

The Yachtsmen settled down in the second period and rallied.

Simonds got going 39 seconds in with a 3-pointer, then he took a pass from Pitre and made a jump shot before Hamilton added a free throw to cut the deficit to one.

With 4:07 to go in the half, Max Murray banked home a shot in traffic to end the 8-0 Falmouth run and a 4-minute, 47-second scoring drought, but Simonds countered with two free throws.

After Max Murray finished a feed from Lux and made a layup, Simonds found Coyne for a layup in transition and with 1:16 to go in the half, Pitre set up Simonds for a layup to put the Yachtsmen ahead to stay and on top at halftime, 20-19.

“I just tried to get open shots and if I got one, I’d take it and try to knock it down,” Simonds said.

“We were back on our heels (early in the game) and we were playing not to lose instead of to win,” Halligan said. “We refocused and we were fine.”

Simonds had nine points to lead the way in the first 16 minutes, while Max Murray paced Kennebunk with eight points.

Kennebunk senior Max Murray, who had a game-high 32 points, shoots over Falmouth senior Emmett Hamilton.

In the third quarter, Falmouth pulled farther ahead.

Hamilton continued his torrid play by opening the second half with a jump shot.

After Tartre drove for a layup for the Rams to cut the deficit to one, Coyne made a 3 and Hamilton made a layup on the fastbreak.

“My goal was to beat every man down the court,” Hamilton said. “Playing behind their zone helped.”

“Emmett really stepped up and played great defense, rebounded and finished at the rim,” said Simonds.

Max Murray got two points back for Kennebunk with a leaner, but Pitre made a 3 for a 30-23 lead.

Max Murray remained the Rams’ most effective offensive option with a 3-pointer, but Hamilton made two free throws, then Pitre hit a short jump shot to make it 34-26, forcing Kennebunk coach David Leal to call timeout.

It didn’t help initially, as after Max Murray scored on a putback, Simonds drained another 3 for a nine-point Falmouth advantage.

Eventually, Murray and the Rams couldn’t be denied, as Murray converted a three-point play, made a layup and after Simonds got a floater to roll in, Tartre drove for a layup and Murray added two free throws to pull Kennebunk within two, 39-37, heading to the fourth quarter.

But there, Falmouth pulled away to advance.

After Pitre set up Simonds for a layup to start the fourth period, Pitre found Hamilton on the fastbreak for another layup, but Max Murray converted a three-point play to make it 43-40 with 6:34 remaining.

Kennebunk would get no closer.

Simonds set up Hamilton for a layup, then Simonds calmly sank a long 3 and Coyne’s jumper made it 50-40 with 5:03 left.

Lux answered with a 3, but junior Vincent Hanrahan made two free throws for the Yachtsmen.

With 3:12 remaining, Max Murray sank a 3 and Falmouth turned the ball over, giving the Rams a chance to draw closer, but Murray missed a 3, then Hanrahan blocked a shot.

Pitre extended the lead with two free throws with 2:08 on the clock, then 35 seconds later, Pitre set up Hamilton on the fastbreak and Hamilton made the layup while being fouled and added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play to provide the dagger and make it 57-46.

Max Murray banked home a shot, but Simonds made two free throws.

After Max Murray made two free throws, Pitre answered with a pair and Simonds added two more.

With 35 seconds to go, junior Dominic DeFeo made a free throw for Kennebunk’s final point before senior Garrett Daniels made one free throw for Falmouth to bring down the curtain on the Yachtsmen’s 64-51 victory.

“It was a challenge to hold them off, but I knew we had it,” Hamilton said.

“We just try to play through our seniors, especially in the playoffs,” Simonds said. “Today, all the seniors stepped up and did our job. Our playoff experience is huge.”

Simonds led the Yachtsmen with a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds. He also had six assists, two steals and two blocked shots.

“The bigs loosened it up for (Michael),” Halligan said. “They were scoring and (the Rams) had to help on them and (Michael) had more space.”

Hamilton had a terrific effort, adding 20 points and five rebounds.

“We needed that from Emmett,” said Halligan. “I knew he was capable of that. He was sick during the year and he’s just starting to get it going.”

Pitre also wound up in double figures with 11 points, six assists and four rebounds.

Coyne had seven points and four points, Hanrahan had two points and five rebounds and Daniels added one point.

Falmouth had a 30-21 advantage on the glass, only turned the ball over 12 times and made an impressive 17-of-19 free throws.

For Kennebunk, Max Murray dazzled, but he didn’t get enough support to make the difference.

Murray had a game-high 32 points and also grabbed seven rebounds.

“(Murray’s) tough on the boards, but we didn’t want to let him get a breakaway,” Hamilton said.

“We knew he’d get his points, but we tried to shut down the others,” Halligan said.

Lux added eight points, Ian Murray and Tartre had four apiece, Paseniuk finished with two and DeFeo contribute one.

The Rams only turned the ball over six times, but made just 9-of-16 free throws and couldn’t build on their early success.

A tall task

York, which barely survived No. 4 Greely, 59-57, in its semifinal Wednesday, is in the midst of arguably the best season in program history, its first undefeated season no less, so Falmouth will have its hands full Friday.

The teams played a very close game Jan. 7 in Falmouth, which saw the Wildcats prevail, 68-63.

The Yachtsmen do have history on their side, as they’ve won all five prior playoff meetings, including a 48-37 triumph in last year’s semifinals.

Falmouth will again embrace the underdog role and look to keep the good times rolling and they’ll rely on their coach’s brilliance to make the difference again.

“Coach Halligan has more experience than anyone and we just ride his experience and coaching and we just know what we have to do,” Simonds said. “We have to keep playing team basketball through our seniors and play team basketball and not care who scores.”

“(Coach) has plays for days,” Hamilton said. “A million different plays he pulls out for practice. We’ll put in new plays for the next game. We just have to get back on transition and we can’t turn the ball over.”

“We’re used to going deep and that’s the kids’ goals every year,” Halligan added. “We just need to play our game, share the ball and get everybody involved. It should be a good game.”

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

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