YARMOUTH—Don’t look now, but the Yarmouth boys’ basketball team is rounding into championship form.


Monday evening at Stroud Gymnasium, the Clippers, the reigning Class B state champions, got pushed to the brink by an impressive Spruce Mountain squad in a compelling interclass showdown, but with the game, and its undefeated home record, hanging in the balance, Yarmouth came up huge.

The Phoenix announced that they’d come to win when they rode a 7-0 run to a 9-7 lead after one quarter.

In the second period, the Clippers hit their stride and closed on an 8-2 surge, with all eight points produced by senior standout Stevie Walsh, to hold a 22-17 halftime advantage.

Yarmouth stretched its lead to 29-22 in the third quarter before Spruce Mountain ran off seven straight points to tie the score.


A buzzer-beater from junior Evan Hamm, who had a huge game, gave the Clippers a 31-29 advantage heading to the fourth period, but there, the Phoenix went back on top, 36-35, on a layup from senior Lucas Towers with 4:01 to play.

But Yarmouth refused to lose on its homecourt and carried play the rest of the way, going ahead for good on a Hamm layup with 3:01 left, then getting some breathing room on successive 3-pointers from junior point guard Matt Gatureau before a Hamm dunk brought the curtain down on a 47-38 victory.

Gautreau and Hamm each scored 14 points as the Clippers improved to 10-4 with their sixth consecutive win and in the process, they dropped Spruce Mountain to 11-3.

“We try to bring the same mindset to every game, but defending the homecourt always feels good,” said Walsh, who added 11 points. “We didn’t have a great start to the game, but we pulled it together in the fourth quarter when it mattered and we got the win.”


It took awhile for Yarmouth to hit its stride this winter after two standouts, Peter Psyhogeos and Matt Waeldner, graduated, and a coaching change saw Ilunga Mutombo, previously an assistant with the program, replace Jonas Allen, but this group of Clippers is showing signs of becoming a special team just like last year’s squad.


Yarmouth started with a 40-37 loss at York, then defeated visiting Mt. Ararat (49-31) and host Lake Region (57-54) before falling at Westbrook (57-42). The Clippers then knocked off visiting Wells (66-42) and host Fryeburg Academy (72-47), dropped consecutive games at Greely (58-48) and Leavitt (55-51, in overtime), then got back on track with a 62-49 home victory over Freeport before downing visiting Brunswick (68-53), host Freeport (45-39), visiting Gray-New Gloucester (57-54) and visiting Greely (59-36).

Spruce Mountain has been a top contender for years, but has become known for posting glowing regular season records only to meet its match once it comes south for the tournament, as its schedule is nowhere near as daunting as that of Western Maine Conference schools. This season is different, however, as the Phoenix are playing some games out of conference for the first time, an opportunity coach Scott Bessey embraces.

“What a great experience to be able to step outside the (Mountain Valley Conference), which I’ve begged for for a long, long time,” Bessey said. “If we meet (Yarmouth) at the Expo in whatever round, having this experience is going to help. We get blamed for our weaker schedule and I always thought the Expo and an unfamiliar opponent (were the reasons for our tournament struggles). We just shoot poorly there.”

Spruce Mountain lost early to Class C South powerhouse Dirigo, then won seven in row before dropping a close home decision to Mountain Valley. The Phoenix came in on a two-game win streak, downing Buckfield (81-34) and Freeport (48-45), on a late 3-pointer Saturday.

Yarmouth and Spruce Mountain met twice before, a 60-30 Clippers’ victory in the 2012 Western B semifinals en route to a state title and a 47-32 Yarmouth win in the 2016 Class B South quarterfinals.

Monday, in the teams’ first-ever regular season encounter, the Phoenix gave the Clippers fits much of the night and even held a lead deep into the fourth quarter before Yarmouth saved its best for last.


A Walsh 3-pointer opened the scoring and it came after Gautreau and Hamm kept possession alive with offensive rebounds.

Spruce Mountain got on the board on a jumper from freshman Cal Dougher, then took the lead on a 3-pointer from sophomore Jace Bessey. Bessey then added two free throws for a 7-3 advantage.

Hamm countered with his first points, a leaner that rolled in, but in transition, Towers set up senior Elie Timler for a layup and while Hamm got a left-handed finger roll to drop late in the frame, the Phoenix held a 9-7 advantage heading to the second period.

Twenty-six seconds into the new quarter, Walsh picked up his second foul and had to sit, but his teammates picked him up, as Hamm threw a pretty pass to senior Nate Hagedorn for a layup and on the fastbreak, Gautreau fed Hamm for a layup to put the Clippers back in front.

After Bessey tied the game with a jumper, Walsh returned and while Timler made a layup (from senior Connor Blanche) to give Spruce Mountain the lead back, Gautreau took a pass from senior Liam Hickey and drained a 3 for a 14-13 advantage.

Bessey put the Phoenix back in front with a jumper, but Walsh countered with a long 3.


After Timler tied the score with a putback with 1:05 remaining in the half, Walsh drained a 3 (off a Hickey offensive rebound), then Walsh made a runner in traffic to make it 22-17 at the break.

Walsh had 11 points in the first half and Hamm added six, but nine points from Bessey helped Spruce Mountain stay in the game.

The Phoenix came out strong in the second half, as Bessey drained a 3 from the corner.

After Gautreau made a runner in the lane, Towers answered with a short jumper to cut the deficit to two, but off a feed from junior Justin Dawes, Gautreau sank a 3 from the corner, then Hickey made a jumper for a 29-22 advantage.

Spruce Mountain roared right back to tie it, as Bessey sank a 3, Timler made a layup, then junior Ian York drove for a layup, but at the horn, Hamm took a pass from Walsh and made a leaner for a 31-29 edge heading to the fourth period.

There, Yarmouth finally put it away, but not without some anxious moments.


Twenty-one seconds into the final stanza, Towers set up York for a 3 and the lead, but at the other end, Gautreau fed Dawes for a layup and a 33-32 advantage.

After a Hamm block at the defensive end, Hamm set up Hagedorn for a jumper and the lead was three.

Again, the Phoenix answered, as York set up Dougher for a backdoor layup, then after a Clippers’ turnover, Towers bulled his way through traffic and made a layup to give Spruce Mountain a 36-35 edge with 4:01 to play.

After Yarmouth turned the ball over again, Spruce Mountain had a chance to milk some clock, but Bessey attempted a 3-pointer from the corner that was off-target and at the other end, junior reserve Jonny Fulton, who had just entered the contest, fed Hamm for a layup which put the Clippers ahead to stay with 3:01 remaining.

“I call him ‘Anytime Jonny,'” said Mutombo, of Fulton. “Whenever I put him in the game, it’s because I’m looking for something extra and he gives me that something extra. He never complains about playing time. He just focuses on what he can do to make the team better. He’s the sparkplug we need.”

After a Phoenix turnover, Gautreau took over, taking a pass from Hamm and making a 3, then after another Spruce Mountain turnover, Fulton got the ball to Gautreau and he calmly buried another 3-ball for a 43-36 advantage with 1:25 to go.


“We trust Jonny and he does a great job,” said Gautreau. “He found me and at that point, it was just me and the hoop and I just shot.”

After York banked home a runner to give the Phoenix life, they got the ball back, but Fulton forced a turnover and at the other end, Walsh set up Hamm for a layup.

“Jonny really helped tonight on defense and getting stops,” said Hamm.

Then, with 27 seconds left, Hamm delivered the coup de grace, taking a pass from Gautreau and racing in for an emphatic slam dunk.

“I just thought I’m close enough, so I might as well try it,” Hamm said. “I had missed my last three attempts and hadn’t dunked in awhile. It felt good.”

The Clippers ran out the clock from there and celebrated their 47-38 victory.


“We’ve been really hot lately and we’ve been motivated to come out and play, especially at home,” said Gautreau.

“There wasn’t any panic,” Hamm said. “We knew we had to just take our time and look for the open guy. We were losing to teams we felt were better than (earlier in the season) and we knew we were better than that and I think we’re showing that on the court right now.”

“It’s huge to win at home,” Walsh said. “We decided we weren’t going to lose that game. We called timeout, talked things over, then came out and attacked.”

“We have heart and desire and the guys wanted it,” Mutombo added. “We made an adjustment where we just set screens for each other. We committed to doing something extraordinary. Looking for the best shots.

“(The Phoenix) have an amazing coach. He’s one of the best. To see what they brought down here, I was impressed. They brought toughness and heart. It felt like a playoff atmosphere in the gym. Homecourt is so huge for us. Guys are committed to winning here no matter what it takes.”

Gautreau had 14 points, as well as three assists, two steals and two rebounds.


“It’s hard to get Matt out of the gym,” said Mutombo. “He works on his shot constantly and it was great to see them go in. I’m so proud of him.”

Hamm did a little of everything, scoring 14 points, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out five assists and playing stellar defense on Bessey.

“We ask Evan to do a lot,” Mutombo said. “Whatever we ask, he says yes. We’ve asked him to play the ‘5,’ to play the ‘1,’ and on top of that, always guard the other team’s best offensive player. He’s committed to helping the team.”

Walsh added 11 points (all in the first half), as well as five rebounds and two assists, Hagedorn (three rebounds) had four points and Dawes (four rebounds) and Hickey (three rebounds, two assists) finished with two apiece.

Yarmouth out-rebounded Spruce Mountain, 29-20, only turned the ball over 11 times and didn’t attempt a single free throw.

The Phoenix were led by Bessey, who had 15 points. Timler added eight points (and had five rebounds and two steals), York had seven (as well as six rebounds and three assists), Dougher (four rebounds and two blocked shots) and Towers (four assists) finished with four apiece.


Spruce Mountain only committed seven turnovers and made 2-of-4 foul shots.

“We just couldn’t close it out,” lamented Scott Bessey. “(Yarmouth’s) a good team and the margin of error is so small against them. The shot by Jace in the corner with a one-point lead, it’s amazing it’s that fine a detail, but maybe if he passes that one up, kicks it back and we run some clock, who knows. He shot the 3, they got the rebound, we didn’t get back on defense and it was a layup. Then, we panicked, took bad shots and they got a dunk. It was over.

“I’m proud of the effort. I thought we did a really good job on Stevie. A lot of his points came on offensive rebounds, second-chance kick-outs. I thought we did a good job on Gautreau, but he hit a couple big ones late. We just missed a lot of shots, missed some crucial free throws. Things you need to do to put a game away on the road.

“We’re not a moral victory program. We’re devastated and this is going to sting for tonight. We prepared to win, we wanted to win, we were good enough to win, it’s just when you face a good team like that, you have to be so good for 32 minutes. (Top-ranked) Oceanside’s going to be a tough out, but the way (Yarmouth’s) playing right now, I’d have a hard time saying there’s anybody better.”

An eye on February

Spruce Mountain (now ranked third in the Class B South Heal Points standings) has home games later this week against Hall-Dale and Lisbon, then visits Mt. Abram and welcomes Wiscasset to wrap up the regular season next week.


“We’ll regroup,” Scott Bessey said. “We still need to rebound better, but we’re not that big or athletic. I think this experience will serve us well. ”

Yarmouth (which has moved up to second in Class B South) continues its home stretch Tuesday against Cape Elizabeth (its third game in four days) and Friday versus Lake Region. The Clippers then finish with games at Wells Monday and at Poland Wednesday of next week.

“I love this year’s team,” Hamm said. “We’re not reliant on one or two guys. We have a mix of guys who just go out and hoop.”

“Even though I didn’t play much on the team, I know what a championship team feels like from last year and from soccer (back-to-back champions),” Gautreau said. “We’re really out here balling.”

“We’re all basketball players, so we love playing,” said Walsh. “We have to push through the end of this game streak and come out with another win if we can against another tough opponent. We think of it as one game at a time. We’re not too worried about who we might play in the playoffs. We just focus on beating the next opponent.”

“I think we still have more room to grow,” Mutombo added. “We want to keep pushing each other to keep getting better as a team. We have yet to hit our peak and when we do, it’s going to be something to see.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net.

Comments are not available on this story.