Cape boys rally to shock Wells in regional final thriller

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Cape Elizabeth’s boys’ basketball team celebrates at the final horn of Saturday’s thrilling 39-38 victory over Wells in the Class B South Final. The Capers will meet Caribou in the state game Saturday.

Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Cape Elizabeth 39 Wells 38

W- 9 11 9 9- 38
CE- 8 9 12 10- 39

W- Corey 4-1-13, Sherburne 4-2-10, Bridge 2-2-7, MacKay 2-0-4, Whitney 1-2-4

CE- Hartel 7-1-15, Mullen 4-0-9, Hagos 3-0-6, Carpenter 2-0-5, Morse 2-0-4

3-pointers:
W (5) Corey 4, Bridge 1
CE (2) Carpenter, Mullen 1

Turnovers:
W- 9
CE- 8

FTs
W: 7-9
CE: 1-4

PORTLAND—Nothing has come easily this winter for Cape Elizabeth’s boys’ basketball team, so why would Saturday’s Class B South Final against Wells be any different?

The third-ranked Capers, who appeared anything but championship-caliber much of the season, were on the brink of a second straight agonizing ouster at the hands of the eighth-seeded Warriors at the Cross Insurance Arena, but in one of the program’s most memorable finishes, Cape Elizabeth saved its season and moved one step closer to a Gold Ball.

The Capers went up, 5-0, early, but Wells held a 9-8 lead after one quarter, thanks to a long 3-pointer at the horn from senior Tyler Bridge.

In the second quarter, the Warriors went ahead by five points before Cape Elizabeth rallied to tie it at 15-15 and 17-17, but a late 3-pointer from sophomore Caleb Corey made it 20-17 Wells at the half.

When Corey made another 3 midway through the third quarter, the Warriors were up six and the Capers were on the ropes, but they had Wells right where they wanted it, and senior Andrew Hartel’s hoop tied the score, 29-29, heading for the fourth period.

There, the two proud teams traded blow for blow, right until the final horn.

With the game tied, 35-35, Corey appeared to send the Warriors to the Promised Land with another 3-pointer with 2:17 on the clock, but Cape Elizabeth saved its best for last.

Seventeen seconds later, Hartel scored on a leaner and after a Wells turnover, the Capers got a possession to retake the lead.

Cape Elizabeth missed a shot, but senior Aman Hagos got the offensive rebound and set up Hartel for the go-ahead hoop.

The Warriors got one final chance and appeared on the brink of a third consecutive regional crown when senior Matt Sherburne was fouled with 1.7 seconds to go, but Sherburne missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Capers held on for a scintillating 39-38 victory.

Hartel led the way with 15 points, as Cape Elizabeth improved to 14-7, ended Wells’ surprising run at 11-11 and in the process, advanced to meet Caribou (19-3) in the Class B state final Saturday at 2:45 p.m., at the Cross Insurance Arena.

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said longtime Capers coach Jim Ray, whose 342nd victory with the program was undoubtedly one of his most memorable. “These guys have talent, but it’s always been a grind, right since the first day. (This game) wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but the guys gutted it out.”

Flipping the script

For much of the 2018-19 season, it didn’t appear likely that either squad would still be standing on regional final Saturday.

Cape Elizabeth lost its first two games, was 2-5 after a decisive 54-25 loss to Falmouth, then fell to 4-6 after a two-point loss at Yarmouth Jan. 8. The Capers then turned it all around, going 7-1 down the stretch, falling only at home to two-time defending Class A champion Greely, to earn momentum entering the tournament (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories).

Cape Elizabeth then downed No. 6 Freeport, 56-49, in the quarterfinals and Thursday, the Capers held off second-ranked Maranacook’s rally, 64-61, to advance.

“We had a roller-coaster season,” Hartel said. “It brought us together as a team more. We’ve matured a lot through the season.”

Wells, which lost, 55-34, to Hermon in last year’s state game, won just eight of 18 regular season games and had to host No. 9 Lisbon in a preliminary round playoff contest, which the Warriors won, 60-44. Wells then upset top-ranked Mountain Valley, 62-52, in the quarterfinals and fourth-seeded Gray-New Gloucester, 49-37, in Thursday’s semifinal round.

The teams met just once this year, on Feb. 1, when Cape Elizabeth won at Wells, 54-46, behind 20 points from sophomore Quinn Morse and 15 from sophomore Nate Mullen.

The teams had split eight prior playoff meetings (see sidebar, below), with Wells’ 40-35 win in last year’s regional final evening the slate. 

Saturday’s game was even closer and it took some late heroics for Cape Elizabeth to survive.

The Capers got off to a fast start, taking a 5-0 lead on a driving bank shot from Morse and a corner 3-pointer from senior Tanner Carpenter, but the Warriors got a pair of Bridge free throws and a jumper from Sherburne.

After Morse made a jumper and Hartel hit a free throw, Wells closed the quarter strong, as senior Dylan Whitney hit a floater and at the horn, Bridge’s long 3 put the Warriors on top, 9-8.

Wells eventually scored 10 points in a row, as  Sherburne started the second period with a leaner, then Corey drained a 3, forcing Ray to call timeout.

It worked, as Hartel scored on a leaner to end a 3-minute, 31-second scoring drought and after Corey made a free throw, Mullen sank a 3, then Hartel tied it, 15-15, with a putback.

The Warriors went back on top, as Sherburne made a jumper in the lane, but Hagos got an offensive rebound and scored on a putback with 2:06 remaining to forge another deadlock.

Wells would take a lead to the break, however, as after Hartel went for a steal and missed, Bridge found Corey open in the corner and Corey, the first half’s leading scorer with seven points, drained a 3 for a 20-17 advantage.

Hartel led the Capers with five points and seven rebounds in the half.

In the third period, the Warriors threatened to pull away, going up by six, but Cape Elizabeth rallied.

Junior Payton MacKay started the second half for Wells with a layup after a nice spin move, but Carpenter made a layup after a steal and Hartel set up Hagos for a layup.

The Warriors then got two Sherburne free throws and Corey drained a 3 from the corner to make it 27-21 with 3:24 to go, causing Ray to call timeout.

“Wells is so tough and (Warriors coach) Troy (Brown) does a great job,” Ray said. “They’re physically strong and tough and take things away, but we battled through it. A six-point lead was a big lead the way they could control the ball. It was the pace they wanted to play.”

The Capers then closed the frame on an 8-2 run, as Mullen scored on a putback, Mullen set up Hartel for a dunk and after two Whitney foul shots, Hartel put home his own miss, then banked home a leaner with 2.2 seconds to go to make it 29-29 heading for the fateful fourth quarter.

Mullen’s layup 98 seconds into the final stanza gave Cape Elizabeth its first lead since 8-6, but Bridge countered with a coast-to-coast layup to tie it again.

After Hagos scored on a putback, Sherburne drove for a layup to make it 33-33 with 3:59 remaining.

After Hartel missed, Wells got a chance to go ahead and did so with 3:03 on the clock, as MacKay got a leaner to drop.

Eighteen seconds later, Mullen hit a jumper in the lane and the score was tied for the final time.

The Warriors appeared to hit their golden shot with 2:17 on the clock, as Corey got the ball up top and let it fly and his 3-pointer was true for a 38-35 advantage.

But the Capers weren’t done.

That’s because the Capers are never done.

First, Hartel fought off two defenders and got a shot to drop while being fouled. He missed the and-one free throw, but Cape Elizabeth was within one with exactly 2 minutes to play.

After Wells milked the clock, Mullen forced a turnover and the Capers had their chance to take the lead.

Morse missed a shot from the perimeter, but Hagos got the biggest offensive rebound of his life,

“Aman can rebound,” Ray said. “He came from nowhere on the fly. No one got a body on him. He was huge in the tournament.”

Hagos then passed the ball to Hartel and with 29.2 seconds to play, Hartel’s layup finally put Cape Elizabeth ahead to stay, 39-38.

“I’ve embraced that I’m a role player,” Hagos said. “And I just did what I usually do, crash the glass, like Coach Ray tells us too. We needed a second opportunity and I got it. I took it out and passed it to Hartel, who was wide open.”

“I saw (Aman) get the ball and I thought he’d go back up, but he dribbled it out and I knew that was my chance to get position on Tyler,” said Hartel. “I knew going into it, it would be a battle with Tyler. He’s a big kid. I played against him for a long time. He went for the steal, I had an open lane to the hoop and luckily, the ball went in.”

“I give Cape all the credit in the world,” Brown said. “They executed.”

The game was far from over, however.

After working the ball across midcourt, Wells took timeout.

The Warriors then couldn’t generate a look, so Brown took timeout again with 9.7 second remaining.

Whitney then inbounded the ball to Sherburne, who had to go across midcourt to retrieve it. With the clock furiously counting down, Sherburne tried to drive, but was swamped by defenders before the whistle blew with 1.7 seconds on the clock.

Foul.

That sent Sherburne to the line, but it was for a one-and-one situation, not two shots.

Sherburne’s free throw was just slightly long and bounced off the back of the rim. The ball was batted around momentarily before Carpenter snared it and the horn sounded, sending the Capers to the state final by virtue of a 39-38 victory.

“(Sherburne’s) a very good foul shooter and I was scared, to be honest, but it didn’t happen and we were able to secure the rebound,” said Hagos. “It was quite the game. We’re just so proud. We played our hardest at the end and showed we wanted it.”

“I trusted all the work we’d put in would show and even if he made (the free throws), we still would have had a chance to win,” said Hartel. “There was definitely a lot of relief. It was a hard-fought win.

“It feels really good after a different outcome against them last year. We knew it would be a grind. We knew Wells would be tough. Seeding didn’t matter. We knew if we fell behind, we had to keep fighting and come back and we did that. There was a point in time when a game like this would have been sketchy for us. In the end, when it mattered, the shots went in.”

“Their best foul shooter was at the line, but we were so fortunate,” Ray added. “I feel terrible for him. He’s a great player. 

“I told the guys in the locker room before the game they’ve worked so hard and come so far. We won close games down the stretch. Our schedule helped us. The kids responded pretty well.”

Hartel had a game-high 15 points and 10 rebounds.

“That Bridge kid is strong and Andrew got beaten up the whole game and he played almost the whole game,” Ray said. “He’s starting to figure out when he’s double- and triple-(teamed).”

Mullen added nine points and five rebounds, while Hagos had six points and five boards, Carpenter finished with five points and Morse had four.

The Capers had a 27-18 rebounding advantage and only turned the ball over eight times. They hit 1 of 4 free throws.

Heartbreak

Wells was paced by Corey’s 13 points. Sherburne added 10.

“Matt is a fighter and a champion,” Brown said. “He was never afraid to take the big shot for us.” 

Bridge finished with seven points (to go with nine rebounds), MacKay had four and Whitney also scored four.

The Warriors made 7 of 9 foul shots and turned the ball over nine times.

“I told the guys in the locker room that we’re a 10-loss team,” Brown said. “We did some things wrong, but we turned it around when it counted. The seniors got to this game three times. My seniors played hard. They had to play the whole game. We came up a little short today, but there are kids out there who have never played in this game and coaches who have never coached in this game. I feel so blessed.” 

Improbable title?

Cape Elizabeth will have its hands full next Saturday against a Caribou squad which upset undefeated Hermon in its regional final.

The Capers and Vikings have no playoff history.

“We have to work hard every single practice like we’ve been doing and hopefully we’ll get them,” Hagos said.

“We’re playing a great team,” said Hartel. “We have stick to what we do as a team and not differ from that and we’ll be set.”

“Caribou is very good,” Ray added. “But I’m pretty sure the guys will give me everything they’ve got.

Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Cape Elizabeth senior Andrew Hartel leans in for a shot over Wells senior Tyler Bridge.

Cape Elizabeth sophomore Nate Mullen lunges for a loose ball along with Wells seniors Matt Sherburne (4) and Dylan Whitney.

Wells sophomore Caleb Corey goes up for a shot as Cape Elizabeth seniors Andrew Hartel, left, and Aman Hagos defend.

Cape Elizabeth sophomore Nate Mullen shoots between Wells seniors Tyler Bridge and Matt Sherburne.

Cape Elizabeth sophomore Nate Mullen bellows after the Capers survive and advance.

Previous Cape Elizabeth stories

Season Preview

Waynflete 53 Cape Elizabeth 52

Falmouth 54 Cape Elizabeth 25

Cape Elizabeth 46 Freeport 43

Cape Elizabeth 45 Yarmouth 27

Class B South quarterfinal
Cape Elizabeth 56 Freeport 49

Previous Wells story

Waynflete 64 Wells 52

Previous Cape Elizabeth-Wells playoff results

2018 Class B South Final
Wells 40 Cape Elizabeth 35

2013 Western B quarterfinal
Cape Elizabeth 57 Wells 51

2012 Western B preliminary
Wells 56 Cape Elizabeth 49

2011 Western B quarterfinal
Cape Elizabeth 49 Wells 44 (OT)

2008 Western B quarterfinal
Cape Elizabeth 72 Wells 35

2005 Western B quarterfinal
Wells 63 Cape Elizabeth 58

2003 Western B preliminary
Cape Elizabeth 63 Wells 49

1984 Western B semifinal
Wells 59 Cape Elizabeth 56

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.