The Yarmouth boys basketball team found itself with too many fouls and too many turnovers to keep pace with undefeated Ellsworth for much of Saturday night’s Class B state championship game.
But the Clippers’ defense kept them in contention until the offense figured things out, and that left just enough time for Stevie Walsh to bury a game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation and Yarmouth to dominate overtime en route to a 59-52 victory at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
The win earned the Clippers their first state title since 2012.
“All season long we’ve played out best in the toughest situations, when the adversity was at its highest,” said fourth-year Yarmouth head coach Jonas Allen, whose team trailed by 10 points with 3:14 left in the fourth quarter before outscoring Ellsworth 25-5 during the rest of regulation and the first 2:39 of overtime to gain control.
“I don’t know how to explain it.”
One explanation on this night combined the grit of senior point guard Matt Waeldner and the cool of classmate Peter Psyhogeos, who combined for 27 of Yarmouth’s 32 points during the fourth quarter and overtime.
Ellsworth, which had maintained a lead since late in the opening quarter, held a 40-30 advantage after a layup by Gage Hardy with 3:14 left, but the 5-foot-10-inch Waeldner’s forte late in this contest was largely driving to the basket against much taller opposition and finding ways to get his shots over those Ellsworth defenders.
His 16-point night, including 14 after intermission, also included a key 3-pointer that capped off a run of nine unanswered points that rallied the Clippers within 40-39 with 1:25 remaining.
Ellsworth senior Brett Bragdon then was poised to assume the hero’s role for the North regional champions after calmly making four straight free throws to offset two from the line by Psyhogeos to leave Ellsworth with a 44-41 lead with 19.5 seconds left.
Psyhogeos inbounded the ball from the left wing in frontcourt after a timeout with 10 seconds left and found Walsh open deep along the left baseline. Walsh — who had made five 3-pointers during the Clippers’ 47-35 win over Medomak Valley of Waldoboro in last Saturday’s South regional final — caught the pass, turned and buried the game-tying 3-pointer.
Allen had been saving the play for just this situation, not wanting to have teams be able to scout the screens that were set along the baseline to get Walsh open.
“It was a shot I expected to make,” Walsh said.
By the time Ellsworth was able to call timeout just 4.5 seconds remained, and the Eagles were unable to get off a threatening shot before time expired.
Waeldner opened the overtime by making a drive to the basket as he was falling down to give Yarmouth a two-point lead, and after Ellsworth’s Chance Mercier made 1 of 2 from the line the Clippers ran off nine unanswered points to build a 55-45 cushion with 1:21 remaining.
That decisive surge featured Psyhogeos, who ignited the run with a difficult reverse layup and added four of the eight straight free throws he made during the final 1:40 of the extra period.
“Mostly we just stuck together and never gave up,” Waeldner said. “We knew we were always in the game against a very good team.”
Yarmouth ended its season at 20-3, while Ellsworth — seeking its first state title since 1966 — finished 22-1.
Psyhogeos led Yarmouth with 27 points — including an 11-for-12 effort from the free-throw line during the fourth quarter and overtime — and 14 rebounds.
Mercier led Ellsworth with 17 points while Hunter Curtis added 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Ellsworth used its trapping fullcourt defense to uptempo the game during the second quarter and forced seven Yarmouth turnovers in the period to build its 29-21 halftime lead.
Curtis had 10 points and eight rebounds to lead the way for the Eagles, who led 16-13 after the first period and then used a run of nine unanswered points midway through the second quarter fueled by transition defense and offensive rebounding to create a lead of 29-18 before Walsh hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left to narrow the Clippers’ deficit to single digits before intermission,
Ellsworth generated much of its early lead at the free-throw line, where the Eagles made 8 of 11 attempts before the break compared to no first-half free throws attempted by Yarmouth.
“I don’t think we ever lost confidence the whole game,” Waeldner said. “We’ve been in a lot of tough games this year that prepared us for this moment.”