Paul Lundberg’s wish came true last night in Barnstable. Prior driving 15 miles up Route 28 to Barnstable High School from Falmouth High, the Head Coach of the Falmouth Clippers told his assistant coach, Steve Femino, that he was really hoping to get a big performance out of forward Nate Steele later on that night against his team’s biggest rival.
Steele, who has pretty much been the Clippers fourth or fifth offensive option all year long, must have overheard the conversation because the junior had the best game of his high school career to help lead the 18th-ranked boys club from Falmouth to their 16th straight win, a 54-53 nail-biter over their rivals from Barnstable.
Falmouth, which has already claimed the Atlantic Coast League championship with a perfect 11-0 record so far, improved to 17-1 on the season and avenged their lone loss, a 1-point defeat back in December to the Red Raiders back. Barnstable, which can win the Old Colony League title with a win over Dartmouth on Friday, falls to 13-4.
Steele was the remedy to a laundry list of ailments for Falmouth in the game. All-star point guard Andrew McGill (seven points, six assists) was whistled for a technical foul midway through the third for arguing a foul call and sat down for several minutes. Seconds later big man Kyle Kasprzyk (six points, five rebounds), the Clippers' post presence, went down with a nasty looking ankle injury in the third quarter and would not return. Leading scorer Damien Reid was playing on balky ankle that he had turned the previous day in practice and was held to just 4 points by the Raiders.
Enter the man named Steele, who was not wearing a cape but certainly played like he deserved one in the third quarter as he scored 13 of his game-high 18 points.
“He came through huge for us,” Lundberg said. “It’s always someone different for us, we don’t have any superstars.”
Even with Steele exploding in the third, the game was still in doubt heading to the final period and the Clippers had few answers for the Red Raiders inside. Barnstable’s Charlie Rice, Nick Peabody and Jason Eddy dominated the glass throughout the game, combining for 31 rebounds between them and were able to keep it close all the way through. Falmouth led 42-36 going to the fourth, thanks to a pair of pretty hoops by Steele inside the last 17 seconds, including a jumper off the window at the buzzer.
In the fourth the visitors extended their lead to as many as 7 points on a dribble-drive dish by McGill that set up a Sam Lumbert lay-in with 6:00 to play that made it 46-39.
Barnstable answered right back with five quick points by Eddy, who drained a 3-pointer and then stole the ball and got to the line for a pair of freebies. The two free throws had Barnstable back to within 2.
Thanks to some suffocating defense, Barnstable shaved it down to a single point with 2:50 to play. Peabody dropped in 1-of-2 from the line and then hit a put-back to make it a 48-47 game. Barnstable continued to shut down the Falmouth offense on the Clippers’ next few possessions, but missed open jumpers on three straight possessions.
Inside the last minute Clippers freshman Brian Jeffrey connected on the shot of the night. With time winding down on the shot clock the rookie got the ball at the top of the arc and drained a 3-pointer with Eddy in his face to extend the Clippers’ lead to 51-47.
Barnstable got the look it wanted the next time down, but Rice’s lay-up rimmed off and Steele came down with the ball and got it quickly to McGill, who was fouled and hit 1-of-2 to make it a 5-point game with 32 seconds remaining.
“You always have to look down at the last stretch, but I think you have to look at throughout the game that whatever our shooting percentage was, it was bad. Defensively we played well enough to win the game, I thought we took pretty good care of the basketball,” Barnstable Coach Gerry McDowell said. “But, we missed too many shots at close range and I think that was the difference. We didn’t maximize our offensive opportunities.”
Rice rebounded the missed second attempt by McGill and Barnstable started to bomb away with bad results. First Travis Kendrew put one up that was wide. Barnstable got the ball back out of a scramble, thanks to the possession arrow being in their favor, but then Eddy missed from downtown. Pat Kotfila was hacked after that and hit 1-of-2 for Falmouth, making it a six-point game, 53-47, with 14 seconds to go.
Eddy gave his team hope with six ticks to go when he drained a bomb from the corner. The Raiders then fouled on the inbound, sending Steele to the line with a chance to ice things. The man of the night did just that, making it a two-possession game with five seconds to go by draining the first of his two shots. Rice grabbed the carom on the missed the second shot and beat the buzzer with a long three from about 35-feet out, but it left the home team a point short with no time to play.
That left McDowell’s team with sagging shoulders and plenty of "what if's" it will be asking itself for the rest of the week.
“We rebounded very well, we took care of the basketball, we shot free throws, we played well enough defensively, but good teams, winning teams, don’t make it difficult for themselves and we made it difficult for ourselves,” McDowell said.
“(Falmouth) shot the ball better. I give them a lot of credit for making shots, and you’ve got to do that. You can’t always get the ball inside for lay-ups, you’ve got to make shots. When you get the ball inside, those are the ones you’re supposed to make, you should shoot 50-percent, and we didn’t do that. We didn’t come close.”
Lundberg credited his team’s depth and composure for the victory. At times Falmouth had four sophomores and a freshman on the court against the Raiders, but the youngsters got the job done.
“They didn’t panic, they just played. It’s a game of basketball,” the coach said.
And if there’s one thing that these Clippers seem to be doing well this season it’s following their coach’s credo of “just keep playing.”
“I can’t believe we’ve already played 18 games. (When the year began) I was hoping to just make the tournament, but these kids keep coming," he said. "The chemistry is well, they’re having fun. Man, 17-1 is a huge surprise to me, I don’t know how much of a surprise it is to them, kids are kids, but it’s a big surprise for me. I’m happy for them because they do all of the work.”