BOX SCORE

Yarmouth 59 Ellsworth 52

Y- 13 8 6 17 15- 59
E- 16 13 6 9 8- 52

Y- Psyhogeos 7-11-27, Waeldner 7-1-16, Walsh 2-0-6, Hamm 2-0-4, Kamm 1-0-2, O’Meara 1-0-2, Snyder 1-0-2

E- Mercier 5-5-17, Curtis 6-3-15, Hardy 3-3-9, Bragdon 0-4-4, MacDonald 1-0-3, Kublinsky 1-0-2, Palmer 1-0-2

3-pointers:
Y (5) Psyhogeos, Walsh 2, Waeldner 1
E (3) Mercier 2, MacDonald 1

Turnovers:
Y- 16
E- 10

FTs
Y: 12-14
E: 15-21

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BANGOR—You can call the 2021-22 Yarmouth boys’ basketball team a lot of things.

Heroic.

Valiant.

Undeniable.

Unforgettable.

But just make sure you call them the following:

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State champions.

Friday evening, at the now hallowed ground of the Cross Insurance Center, the Clippers took part in their first Class B state final in a decade and learned quickly that their opponent, the Ellsworth Eagles, were undefeated for a reason.

Because Ellsworth is excellent.

But ultimately not quite good enough to take home the big prize.

Yarmouth was handcuffed early, as seniors Cole Snyder and Matt Waeldner quickly picked up two fouls and the Eagles opened up a 7-2 lead, but the Clippers responded with a 9-1 run, capped by a layup from sophomore Evan Hamm.

Ellsworth then went back on top on a layup from junior Peter Keblinsky and took a 16-13 advantage to the second period.

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Yarmouth hung tough early in the second period and was down by just two, 20-18, after a long jumper from senior standout Peter Psyhogeos, but the next nine points went to the Eagles, who forced six Clippers’ turnovers in the frame, and despite a late 3-pointer from junior Stevie Walsh (remember that name), Yarmouth was down by eight, 29-21, at the break.

The Clippers had a chance to rally in the third quarter, as the Eagles went cold, but they only got as close as four before Curtis closed out the frame with consecutive hoops, giving Ellsworth a 35-27 advantage heading to the fourth period.

And there, the Eagles appeared poised for their first championship in 56 years, when they held a 40-30 lead with just three minutes to go.

But Yarmouth wasn’t about to let another team celebrate at its expense.

Waeldner sparked the jaw-dropping comeback with a layup after a steal, followed by a 3-pointer to make it a one-point contest, 40-39.

Ellsworth went up three on a couple clutch free throws from senior Brett Bragdon before a pair of foul shots from Psyhogeos made it a one-point margin again.

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Again, Bragdon hit two free throws, this time with 19 seconds to go, and Yarmouth’s title dreams were on life support.

But Walsh pulled the Clippers back from the brink with the biggest 3-pointer of his life, with just 7 seconds to go, and the contest would head to overtime, tied, 44-44.

There, a Waeldner bank shot gave Yarmouth its first lead since the first period and the Clippers were ahead to stay.

Psyhogeos then helped put it away with 10 overtime points, including eight from the foul line, and while the Eagles did cut a 10-point deficit to six, the Clippers slammed the door and went on to an exhilarating 59-52 victory.

Psyhogeos had 27 points, Waeldner added 16 and Yarmouth ended its season the way it began, with an overtime victory, as it finished 20-3 and ended Ellsworth’s memorable campaign at 22-1.

“This feels amazing,” said Waeldner, the point guard extraordinaire. “We’ve played in tough games all year. We had a lot of close games in the regular season and the playoffs and those prepared us for this moment.”

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“To me, the story of this team is digging out from difficult situations and that’s what I’m most proud of with these kids,” said Clippers coach Jonas Allen, who in four short seasons led the program to the pinnacle. “It still doesn’t feel real to me. You really can’t put it into words.”

Final chapter of a terrific tale

Yarmouth has quickly risen from the depths of not making the tournament at all in 2020 to reaching the final game two years later.

“Coach Allen came in with a vision to build the program up and win a state championship,” said Psyhogeos. “He’s always been a guy who focuses on defense. I don’t know every other coach, but I can’t imagine there’s another coach in the state who works as hard as he does, watches as much film as he does. How prepared he has us is amazing.”

“All I can really say is this was a four-year project,” said Allen. “We had so much adversity in year one and two of this program.”

The Clippers started making their move in the COVID-shortened, postseason-less 2021 campaign, winning eight of 10 contests.

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“My freshman and sophomore years we weren’t very good,” Psyhogeos said. “My junior year, we were good, but we didn’t have a tournament.”

Yarmouth hinted at a special season to come when it held off York in overtime in the season opener, then rattled off eight more victories for a perfect 9-0 start (see sidebar for links to previous stories). The Clippers lost only to Lake Region (without Psyhogeos), Greely and Cape Elizabeth and won its 15 regular season contests by an average of 18 points. On a dozen occasions, Yarmouth held the opposition under 40 points.

The Clippers finished second in Class B South and rolled in their first two playoff games, eliminating No. 15 Lincoln Academy (56-16) in the preliminary round and No. 7 Oceanside (63-43) in the quarterfinals. Yarmouth got an expected test from No. 3 York in the semifinals, but dug deep and advanced, 50-41. The final step, the regional final, proved to be the most difficult, as No. 4 Medomak Valley led the Clippers most of the first half before Yarmouth came to life in the second half and went on to a 47-35 victory.

As for Ellsworth, after a perfect regular season, which saw it win every game by double digits (the closest score was 49-37 in a victory at Foxcroft Academy), it took care of the Class B North playoff field with relative ease, ousting Waterville (79-39) in the preliminary round and after finally passing close tests against Presque Isle (54-48) and Old Town (55-47) in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively, the Eagles had no trouble with Orono in the regional final, 62-33.

Yarmouth and Ellsworth have no history on the hardwood, but have played four times in the soccer state finals (the Clippers won three of those games and the other ended in a tie).

Friday, Yarmouth was seeking its third all-time championship (see sidebar), while Ellsworth was going for its fifth and its first since 1966.

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As it turned out, more than 32 minutes were necessary to determine the winner.

After each team missed its initial shot, Eagles senior standout Hunter Curtis opened the scoring 46 seconds in with a long jumper. Waeldner answered with a contested leaner for the Clippers’ first points, but senior Gage Hardy sank two free throws after Snyder picked up his second foul and junior Eamon MacDonald added a 3-pointer to make it 7-2.

Hamm responded for Yarmouth, taking a feed from Walsh and making a pretty reverse layup, then Psyhogeos drove and finished for his first points, but with 4:15 on the clock, Waeldner was called for his second foul and had to sit the remainder of the quarter.

Sophomore Chance Mercier made a free throw for Ellsworth, but with 3:55 to go, Walsh set up Psyhogeos for a 3-pointer which rattled in to give the Clippers their first lead.

Psyhogeos then set up Hamm for a fastbreak layup, but at the other end, Curtis was fouled after an offensive rebound and made two free throws, sophomore Miles Palmer set up Keblinsky for a layup with 2:15 left to put the Eagles back ahead and Mercier added two free throws.

A short jumper from senior Aiden Kamm got Yarmouth back within one, but with 2 seconds to go, Palmer found Curtis for a layup and a 16-13 advantage after one period.

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After being called for the first seven fouls of the game in the first quarter, the Clippers didn’t foul as much in the second, but they suddenly couldn’t retain possession of the ball, which led to several easy looks for Ellsworth, which managed to extend its lead.

Curtis started the new period by getting a couple of offensive rebounds before finishing.

Psyhogeos answered with a 3, but after a turnover, Curtis fed senior Michael Palmer for a layup.

Yarmouth drew within 20-18 on a long jumper from Psyhogeos, but the Eagles would score the next nine points to open it up.

Curtis got the run started with a pretty reverse layup. Mercier then made a layup after a steal and after a Clippers’ timeout, Hardy sank a free throw, Mercier set up Hardy for a layup on the fastbreak and with 53 seconds to go in the half, Hardy’s leaner made it 29-18.

“I don’t think the game could’ve started much worse,” Allen said. “As much as we tried to explain to the guys how good Ellsworth was, I think they underestimated them until they got punched in the face. Ellsworth is good. Hunter and Chance are unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it was 7-0 in fouls to start. Everything was just off.”

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Yarmouth settled down and got a 3-pointer from Walsh with 22 seconds to go, ending a 4 minute, 43 second drought, to pull within eight, 29-21, at the break.

In the first half, Curtis led the Eagles with 10 points, while Psyhogeos led the Clippers with 10 points.

“We knew it wasn’t our best half and we struggled in foul trouble, but we were only down eight and we knew we had to keep fighting,” Psyhogeos said.

Yarmouth came out strong in the third quarter and had a chance to come all the way back, as Ellsworth went scoreless for nearly five minutes, but the period ended the way it began, with the Eagles still ahead by eight.

Snyder took a pass from Psyhogeos and drove for a layup to open the second half, then Psyhogeos made a short jumper, but the Clippers couldn’t get any closer than four.

With 3:18 left in the quarter, Curtis set up Mercier for a layup to snap a 5:25 drought.

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After Waeldner drove and made a layup in traffic to again cut the deficit to four, Curtis reminded everyone why he was the best player on the floor for much of the night, by first knocking down a jumper, then finishing a layup in traffic, allowing the Eagles to take a 35-27 advantage to the final stanza.

And there, Ellsworth put itself on the brink of an elusive title, but Yarmouth simply refused to lose and rallied to extend the contest.

Waeldner started the fourth with a contested bank shot. After Psyhogeos and Mercier traded free throws, Mercier scored on a floater.

Then, with just 3:19 to go and the Clippers unable to get their offense on track, Curtis fed Hardy for a layup and seemingly safe 40-30 lead.

But while Yarmouth might have been on the brink of defeat, the Clippers still had a glimmer of life and embarked on one of the most memorable comebacks in state game history.

First, with 3:04 left, senior Quin O’Meara, who didn’t make many baskets during the tournament, but the ones he did make were enormous, hit a short jumper.

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Then, after an Ellsworth turnover, with 2:08 on the clock, Psyhogeos spun and finished to make it a six-point game.

Then, Waeldner took over.

First, Waeldner stripped the ball away from Mercier and raced in for a layup with 1:52 remaining.

After Ellsworth couldn’t answer, as Curtis missed in close, Waeldner got the ball just inside the 3-point stripe, managed to separate from a defender (the Eagles implored the officials for a charge call but didn’t get it), stepped back behind the line, then hit a huge 3-ball and just like that, the score was 40-39 with 1:28 to play.

After MacDonald missed a shot, the Clippers had a chance to get possession and take the lead, but Bragdon soared for the offensive rebound and was fouled. He then calmly sank both ends of a one-and-one with a 50 seconds to to push the lead back to three.

After O’Meara missed at the other end, Hardy got the rebound, but Psyhogeos stole the ball back and was fouled.

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With 32.5 seconds remaining, Psyhogeos made both attempts and again, Yarmouth was within one.

After a timeout Ellsworth got the ball to Bragdon, who was fouled with 19.5 seconds showing. Again, Bragdon made both attempts and the Eagles were close enough to a Gold Ball to taste it.

But it wasn’t to be.

After a couple fouls slowed the Clippers in the backcourt, Yarmouth got the ball to Psyhogeos in the frontcourt and with 10 seconds to go, he called timeout.

And the timeout set up arguably the biggest basket in program history.

O’Meara inbounded the ball on the left baseline and found Walsh, who had worked his way free in the left corner.

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Walsh caught the ball, rose, shot and to the surprise of absolutely no one familiar with the growing legend of “Stevie Wonder,” he buried it.

“There were a couple options on that play,” Walsh said. “We’ve worked on it all year. I set a down screen for Peter and they followed him because he’s obviously a great player, so I got free. They left me open in the corner, the ball came to me and I shot. It felt great off my hand. My mind was racing, but I knew we had to get back on defense and finish it out.”

“I saw him shoot it and I knew it was going in,” Waeldner said. “I was confident with him taking the shot.”

“Stevie hit the biggest shot I’ve ever seen,” Psyhogeos said. “We’ve had this play for awhile, but we’ve never really had to run it. Now was the time. The play was for Stevie to set a down screen for me at the block, I flash up to the 3-point line. Coach said if I was open, to get the ball to me, but Stevie got a screen to the corner. Quin threw him a great pass and he stepped up and made a great shot. We call him ‘Stevie Wonder’ for a reason. We can always count on him. There’s never a moment that’s too big for him. He saved the game for us.”

“We’re lucky to have kids like Matt, Pete and Stevie and thank God we had that out-of-bounds play,” Allen added. “No one’s surprised it went in with Stevie Walsh shooting it. When I saw him that wide open, I just knew.”

The Eagles had just under 5 seconds to answer and win it in regulation, but Curtis’ contested 3-point prayer was well short and the game would go to overtime deadlocked, 44-44.

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In Maine high school basketball, teams play a four-minute OT session and with the stars aligned in their favor, the Clippers went out and finally seized control.

“At that point, we had momentum on our side,” said Waeldner.

“We’d come that far and we knew we had to fight in overtime,” said Walsh. “We weren’t going to lose this game.”

“It’s hard to not feel momentum after something like that,” Allen added. “It almost became fate a little bit.”

After Yarmouth won the tip, Waeldner gave his team its first lead since 11-10, when he drove and while slipping to the floor, managed to bank home a shot 19 seconds in.

Mercier was then fouled and had a chance to tie it, but he made just one of two attempts and at the other end, Psyhogeos drove and finished an athletic reverse layup to make it 48-45.

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Curtis then missed a shot and Psyhogeos soared for the rebound, but he landed awkwardly and traveled, but making matters worse, Psyhogeos writhed on the ground in pain and play was stopped.

Psyhogeos was eventually helped off the floor, but appeared done for the night with the game still very much in the balance.

And not surprisingly, his teammates picked him up.

After MacDonald missed a 3 which could have tied it, Snyder got the rebound, then Waeldner, after missing an initial shot, got his own rebound and put it home to give the Clippers their biggest lead of the night.

After a Curtis miss, Hamm got the rebound and after play was stopped with 1:44 to go, Psyhogeos made his triumphant return.

Four seconds later, Psyhogeos was fouled and he made both attempts to push the lead to seven.

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After a Mercier miss, Waeldner got the rebound and was fouled.

With 1:31 remaining, Waeldner sank one of two attempts.

Curtis then missed a 3 and Psyhogeos got the rebound and was fouled.

With 1:21 to go in OT, Psyhogeos sank both free throws and suddenly, Yarmouth was in command, up, 55-45.

“They’re both so good,” said Walsh, of Psyhogeos and Waeldner. “It’s an honor to play alongside them. I knew they’d knock down those free throws. They came through in the clutch.”

But the proud Eagles had one final push.

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First, Curtis sank a free throw to end a 9-0 run.

After a miss by Snyder, Curtis attempted an NBA-range 3, which was short and while Psyhogeos got the rebound, Mercier stole the ball back and with 50 seconds to go, drained a 3 to make it 55-49.

The Clippers then turned the ball over to give Ellsworth a chance to make things very interesting, but Curtis missed and Psyhogeos got the rebound.

With 27.8 seconds left, Psyhogeos made two more free throws and Yarmouth was starting to feel it.

Bragdon and Curtis then missed 3s and with 11.9 seconds remaining, Psyhogeos went back to the line for two more attempts.

He made them both for what proved to be the Clippers’ final points.

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Mercier managed to drain a 3 with 5 seconds on the clock, but Yarmouth ran out the clock from there and at 10:26 p.m., the Clippers indulged in a celebratory pig-pile as the 59-52 triumph was official.

“We just kept fighting,” Psyhogeos said. “I didn’t let up my guard and I knew we had to keep our foot on the gas until the end. We knew it was our last game together and we didn’t want to go out losing. We gave it our best shot and thankfully, it was enough. It’s an amazing feeling. This is what I’ve wanted all year.”

“Ellsworth’s a great team,” Waeldner said. “They put us in a tough hole to crawl out of, but we found a way to get it done. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we just played hard in overtime. It’s a testament to our chemistry and our toughness. We’ve focused on those two main keys all year. When things got tough, we stuck together and somehow pulled it out. All these boys have worked so hard all year. This was our goal from the start of the season. There’s no better feeling than winning a championship.”

“It’s just an awesome feeling,” said Walsh. “Just amazing. This team never, ever gives up. We fight through everything. We never lost faith, we knew we could grind it out and we got the job done. We left it all on the court. This crowd was bigger than anything we’ve played in front of before. A lot of Ellsworth fans, so it felt like a hostile environment, but we didn’t let it faze us. Coach talks to us all the time about battling through adversity. There were ups and downs and we had to continue playing.”

“I’m so stunned,” Allen added. “It looked so bad for so long. Everything we tried to do didn’t work. We had all these game plans, but the one thing that played out is that we’re at our best when the adversity’s at its highest. That’s been a theme for our team all season. Everything in our program is about learning life lessons. For us, our character is defined by how we respond during difficult times, not when things are going great. The kids believed it. From the beginning to the end, we overcame. It goes back to the belief these kids have in themselves. They’re winners.”

Psyhogeos, bound for Bates College next year, bowed out with a sensational performance of 27 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.

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“It’s been an amazing season,” said Psyhogeos. “It’s been some of the most fun I’ve had playing basketball in my life. We kept our heads down and kept working. We didn’t win every game, but we gave it our best shot in every one. I couldn’t be more proud of everyone.”

Psyhogeos, somehow, wasn’t a semifinalist for the Mr. Maine Basketball award this winter, but it’s safe to say that he’ll go down in program lore.

“Pete did his thing down the stretch,” Allen said. “I was terrified when he went down. Luckily, it was cramps and not an injury. He seems to finish games for us. We put the ball in his hands at the end of games for a reason. He’s just a gamer.

“Pete is a once-in-a-however-long player. Yarmouth might never have a player like him again. So steady, such a hard worker. He’s the ambassador for our program. He’s the guy that everyone wants to be. When we talk to the youth in Yarmouth, Pete’s the guy we talk about. He always did it the right way with class. He’s as special as they come.”

Waeldner overcame a slow start and foul trouble to add 16 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. He’ll long be hailed as well.

“I found some openings,” Waeldner said. “Pete was drawing a lot of help and Stevie can hit shots, so I found openings and got to the rim.”

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“Matt always steps up,” said Psyhogeos. “One thing you can always count on with him, whether he’s shooting well or not, is his ball pressure. I’ve been faced with it in practice for years and it makes me a lot better. Props to him. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve seen.”

“There’s no one like Matt Waeldner,” added Allen. “For Matt to play the way he does at his size, it’s incredible. He’s a kid we’ll never forget because of his grit and you saw that tonight.”

Walsh made just two shots, but they were both enormous, as he had six points, as well as two assists and two rebounds.

Hamm finished with four points and Kamm, O’Meara and Snyder (six rebounds) all had two.

“Quin was huge down the stretch in this tournament,” Allen said. “Aiden didn’t start tonight, but he went in and gave us good minutes and hit a mid-range jumper, which isn’t really his game. All the seniors contributed. Sutter (Augur) continued to pick us up despite not being able to play (with a broken finger). He’s one of the best teammates I’ve been around. He just picks people up and that’s a true sign of character.”

Yarmouth made five 3-pointers to Ellsworth’s three, enjoyed a 34-29 advantage on the glass, overcame 16 turnovers and made 12-of-14 free throws, despite not attempting any the first three periods.

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For Ellsworth, Mercier had a team-high 17 points, as well as five rebounds and three steals.

Curtis had a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds. He also had four assists and a pair of steals.

Hardy added nine points and four boards, Bragdon had four points, MacDonald three and Kublinsky and Palmer two apiece.

The Eagles only turned the ball over 10 times and hit 15-of-21 free throws.

“We just needed to take better care of the ball at the end,” said Ellsworth coach Peter Austin. “I probably should’ve called a few more timeouts, I guess. Yarmouth pulled it out and we didn’t execute.

“We were pushing the ball up. We were getting decent shots. I thought at the end we were getting decent shots, but we were missing them.”

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How about an encore?

The loss of the seniors will be immeasurable, but the cupboard won’t exactly be bare for the Clippers next winter.

For starters, Walsh will be even better as a senior, Hamm saw valuable time as a sophomore and junior Liam Hickey will play a bigger role.

There’s a lot more in reserve.

“We had a lot of younger guys step up this year,” Psyhogeos said. “We know what Stevie can do. He’ll have the ball in his hands more next year. Evan Hamm has really stepped up too. We have a lot of sophomores and juniors who are good players, so I think the program will be in a good place next year.”

“They’re in a good hands,” said Waeldner. “The whole sophomore class can ball and the junior class has some kids who can play. They’ll be back.”

“I think we have a bunch of dedicated kids who want to get the job done again,” said Walsh. “We’ll work hard in the offseason.”

“You can’t replace this senior class,” Allen added. “That’s impossible, but hopefully, these young kids watched their work ethic and commitment.”

Press Herald staff writer Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this story.

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

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