Cape digs deep, rallies past Scarborough in thrilling quarterfinal

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SCARBOROUGH—This one was played one week too early.

Saturday afternoon’s Class A volleyball quarterfinal between No. 4 Scarborough and fifth-ranked Cape Elizabeth was so good, it should have been on the big stage of the state final.

As soon as the playoff pairings were released, it was shocking to see that arguably the two best teams in the state were going to have to square off so early and the match turned into the instant classic that so many expected.

The Capers, soaring after late-season wins over Scarborough and Greely, rolled in the first set and behind the pinpoint serving of senior captain Monica Dell’Aquila, went on to an easy 25-13 victory.

Then the fun truly began.

The Red Storm opened up a seemingly safe 18-7 lead in the second game, but back roared Cape Elizabeth, which caught up and went ahead and when it took a 24-21 lead, it appeared on the brink of perhaps breaking Scarborough’s back, but not so fast. The Red Storm rattled off five straight points, fending off three set points in the process, and evened the match with a 26-24 win.

That was a mere appetizer to the marathon that was set number three.

There, Scarborough took healthy leads of 13-6 and 15-10, but again, the Capers would respond and they again found themselves one point from victory.

On six separate occasions.

But every time, the valiant Red Storm responded and when sophomore Jordyn Cowan blocked a shot to give her team a 31-29 set victory, Scarborough had a 2-1 lead in the match and appeared to have dashed Cape Elizabeth’s hopes.

But this Capers team has taken the lessons they learned from last year’s close call and refused to buckle.

In the fourth game, Cape Elizabeth played from ahead, going up, 15-8, then 24-16, but again, the Capers had a difficult time scoring that final point.

The Red Storm kept creeping closer and behind the serving of senior defensive specialist Maddi Leadley, pulled within 24-22, close enough to complete an epic comeback, but this time, Cape Elizabeth got a break, as a serve into the net gave it a 25-22 victory and set the stage for a winner-take-all, first-team-to-15-points fifth set.

Which is where the Capers finally slammed the door with relative ease.

A Dell’Aquila kill, which barely landed inbounds, got Cape Elizabeth started and it gradually pulled away. Kills from junior captain Maddie Bowe and junior Katie Connelly were followed by an ace from sophomore Lydia Brenneman to put the Capers one point away and this time, they ensured there would be no further drama as junior Tess Haller soared for the biggest kill of her career to date and Cape Elizabeth had a 15-6 triumph and the match, 3-2.

The Capers increased their win streak to 10, improved to 13-2, ended Scarborough’s strong season at 11-4 and advanced to battle top-ranked Greely (13-2) in the Class A semifinals Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Cumberland.

“I’m so, so happy, but it’s hard to have anybody lose this match,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Sarah Boeckel. “I’m glad we’re the winner, but they don’t deserve to be the loser. They could easily play next Saturday. To have this as a quarterfinal wasn’t fair. I feel for them. It could have easily been them winning and not us.”

A week early?

You could make the case that Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough both had legitimate claims for a state title, but since the Heal Points fell the way they did and forced the squads to square off in the quarterfinals, only one of them would have a chance.

Both teams had excellent seasons.

The Capers, who lost in the semifinals in painful fashion to eventual champion Falmouth a year ago, got off to a 3-2 start, then caught fire and closed on a nine-match win streak, which included first-ever victories over both Scarborough and Greely. Despite a program-best-tying 12-2 record, Cape Elizabeth was relegated to the No. 5 seed.

As for the Red Storm, who weren’t vanquished until the state match a year ago (by Falmouth), they won their first four this autumn, including a therapeutic come-from-behind five set victory at Falmouth, but stumbled in the middle of the year, falling at Mt. Desert Island, at home to Greely and at Cape Elizabeth before closing with a couple key five-set victories, over Biddeford and Falmouth, to go 11-3 and earn the No. 4 spot.

Prior to Saturday, the neighbors had no playoff history, but they quickly made some in a most memorable quarterfinal.

The match began with a bang when Scarborough senior Emma Tirrell delivered an ace. That would be the high point of the set for the Red Storm, however, as a service fault put the Capers on top for good, 3-2. Dell’Aquila’s first ace started a run of five straight service points for an 8-2 lead. Scarborough crept back to 9-7, but Bowe had a block. After the hosts got a point back, a Bowe kill sparked a 4-0 run for a 14-8 lead. With the score 17-12, Cape Elizabeth won a long point and after a Red Storm point, a kill from junior Monika Scheindel, a Dell’Aquila ace, a Haller kill and four more points closed out the 25-13 first set win.

Scarborough started much stronger in the second game, winning the first three points, highlighted from an ace by senior Mina Puig. After winning a long point, the Capers got a kill from freshman setter Maggie Dadmun, but the Red Storm got an ace from junior server extraordinaire Emily Hanson, a kill from senior Lindsey Thurston, another Hanson ace and a block from senior Kayla Savage to go up, 8-2, and force Boeckel to call timeout.

It didn’t help, as Hanson, whose service form brings to mind an archer aiming for her target, served three more aces in a five-point run which stretched the lead to 13-2. Cape Elizabeth finally ended Hanson’s personal 9-0 service run with the next point, but still trailed 13-3. When Cowan had a kill, the Red Storm lead was 16-5 and Boeckel called timeout again, but when Tirrell had a kill to make it 18-7, it looked like Scarborough was on its way to an easy victory.

Then, the Capers awakened.

A kill from junior Katie Connelly got the rally started. Connelly then had an ace, Bowe delivered a kill after a long point and another win on a long point pulled the visitors within 18-13. The Red Storm made it 20-13 behind a block from senior Krissy Maloney after yet another marathon point and a Puig kill, but the next seven points (highlighted by an ace and a kill from Brenneman) went to Cape Elizabeth and just like that, an 11-point deficit had been erased and the set was tied, 20-20.

After Scarborough went up, 21-20, when a Scheindel hit went just long, the Red Storm gave the point back with a service fault. Dadmun put the Capers on top for the first time all game with an ace, then served another. When Scarborough hit the ball into the net, Cape Elizabeth was on top, 24-21, and was on the verge of taking a stranglehold on the match.

Instead, the Red Storm somehow responded.

After a Haller kill attempt to close out the set was just wide, Hanson had an ace and Cowan a kill to make it 24-24. When Cowan scored the next point on a block, suddenly Scarborough had a chance to close out the set and did so when the Capers hit the ball long, giving the Red Storm a 26-24 victory and instead of the match being 2-0 Capers, it was even, 1-1.

If the second game was long and dramatic, the third set left it in its wake.

For the third straight game, Scarborough got the first point, on a Savage kill, but the Red Storm committed a service fault and Haller and Connelly had kills for a 3-1 lead. The hosts roared back with five straight points, highlighted by two aces from Puig. After Cape Elizabeth drew within 7-6, three Thurston aces spearheaded a 6-0 run, which was capped by a Savage kill. The Capers got the next four points, punctuated by back-to-back kills from Dell’Aquila, but a Savage ace made it 15-10 Scarborough.

After Cape Elizabeth drew within 15-13, the Red Storm went up, 19-14, but again, it didn’t last. The Capers caught up at 21-21, then got consecutive aces from Haller. A Thurston kill kept the hosts alive, but a service fault made it 24-22 Cape Elizabeth and again put Scarborough on the ropes.

Ropes from which the Red Storm would extricate themselves a remarkable six times.

The game appeared over when the ensuing serve was mishandled and soared backwards well over the line, but Savage, somehow, from nowhere, raced back to keep it alive and Scarborough got the ball over the net to keep the point alive and Scarborough wound up winning it. The second set point resulted in a Puig kill and it was 24-24. After a Dell’Aquila kill again put the Capers on the brink, a Connelly kill attempt was just long and the score was even again, 25-25.

A Puig kill gave the Red Storm a chance to win, but a service fault, followed by a Cape Elizabeth point again pushed Scarborough to the ledge. A Maloney kill made it 27-27, but a Haller kill gave the Capers a fifth chance to close out the set. It didn’t happen as a Savage kill barely stayed in. A service fault gave the Capers yet another chance, but for the sixth time, they couldn’t finish it, as Savage took a perfect pass from Tirrell and delivered a kill.

Then, Savage had another kill and a block from Cowan ended it, 31-29, in the Red Storm’s favor, putting them one set victory away from advancing.

“We showed a lot of heart,” said Scarborough coach Jon Roberts. “We didn’t want to lose.”

That was one team’s perspective. The Capers’ looked at it completely differently.

“It was very frustrating,” Haller said. “Especially when we came back and had so much momentum. Then, they fought back. They fought really hard. They’re a really good team. I saw the draw and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and that we’d have to battle. The whole draw is tough.”

“I was sitting there thinking, ‘Seriously, we can’t pull together one point to win,’ but Scarborough’s good,” Boeckel said. “They’re such a good program. Their coaches are amazing. They fight for everything. Scarborough was playing so well. They fought so hard.

“I told the girls it was do-or-die time. We don’t play tight, tentative volleyball, but that’s what we were doing. We weren’t playing our game. I just told them that we have nothing to lose and that we could win it.”

Cape Elizabeth was reeling and had to show what it was made of, which it would do in impressive fashion.

For the fourth set in a row, Scarborough scored first and a Thurston kill made it 2-1 Red Storm, but Dell’Aquila tied the score with a kill and a Haller ace helped open up a 5-2 lead which the Capers wouldn’t relinquish. Scarborough got back to 6-5, but a kill and a block from Connelly and a Dell’Aquila kill made it 12-6. A Dadmun ace pushed the lead to 15-8, but the Red Storm pulled within 16-13. Consecutive Dell’Aquila kills opened it back up to 18-13 and after a service fault and a Savage kill made it 18-15, Cape Elizabeth went on a 6-1 run, capped by a Bowe kill, produced a seemingly safe 24-16 lead.

But again, the Capers just couldn’t get that final point, until they got a gift.

A Puig kill gave Scarborough hope. Leadley then delivered a couple aces and after the Red Storm won the next point to make it 24-20, Boeckel called timeout.

It didn’t help, as Puig had a kill and Leadley’s next serve hit the net, hung in the air for a seeming eternity, then dropped for an ace, suddenly making the score, 24-22.

Over the second, third and fourth sets, the Red Storm had fought off an improbable 15 consecutive set points.

But just when it appeared the Capers were on the brink of disaster, the next serve was off target and they had prevailed, 25-22, and it was on to the fifth and final set.

“You hate to wish for a mistake on the other team, but when they were serving, I was just like, ‘I don’t care how we win this,'” Boeckel said. “I felt good at that point. I knew Scarborough would be down. You can only fight so hard for so long. We went out to leave it all on the court, win or lose.”

As it did the first four games, Scarborough won the first point of the fifth, but that would be its highwater mark. Cape Elizabeth got the next four points, highlighted by a Dell’Aquila kill which barely landed inbounds and a Haller kill after a long point. A Savage kill got a point back for the Red Storm, but a service fault and another point made it 6-2 Capers. Savage had another kill, but the hosts couldn’t generate consecutive points, as Savage hit the ball just out and Bowe had a block to make it 8-3, forcing Roberts to call timeout.

After Tirrell had a kill for Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth won the next three points, highlighted by a Bowe kill. The Red Storm made it 11-5, but again faulted. After a Puig kill, Connelly had a kill and Brenneman delivered an ace to put the Capers in a most familiar position, needing one point to win.

This time, they didn’t drag out the drama as Haller produced a kill to win it and Cape Elizabeth had the game, 15-6, and the match in five sets.

After two scintillating hours, it was time for the Capers to exhale and exult.

“I don’t even know what to say,” said an exhausted Dell’Aquia. “I thought we were going to lose at one point and completely shut down, but my teammates picked me up and brought me back into it. We’ve done it before, so we know how to come back. We did that before against Scarborough.”

“I don’t think there was a time we didn’t think it would be ours,” said Bowe. “We always thought we could do it. It’s tough to play here against their crowd and their team. They’re so good. Getting that (fifth set) lead really helped.”

“We knew it would be a really tough match, but we had the confidence we could beat them,” Haller said. “We found it in us. We knew we couldn’t dig a hole in the last game. So many teams have had a chance to go to states before, but we haven’t. We really wanted it.”

“I’m still actually really shocked that we pulled it out,” Boeckel added. “I didn’t want to let my team know that, but after we lost the third game, I thought we weren’t going to be able to pull it out. Even with all the fight we have. We’ve worked so hard on being mentally strong, whether we’re winning or losing. We know we can do it. We might make mistakes and lose games or go five sets, but we have no doubt that we’ll win. That’s made a huge difference for us.”

Cape Elizabeth put up some impressive statistics.

Dadmun had 30 assists to go along with 16 service points and three aces.

“Maggie’s sets are always great,” Bowe said. “It helped that we really moved around today.”

“A five-game quarterfinal for a freshman, c’mon, we’re running her ragged,” Boeckel said.

Dell’Aquila made sure her career continued with 11 kills, 19 services points and three aces.

Connelly had 13 kills and nine service points. Haller finished with seven kills, three blocks, eight service points and four aces. Bowe added five kills and two blocks despite being under the weather.

“This was definitely Maddie’s best game and she’s sick as a dog,” said Boeckel.

Scheindel had six service points, two kills and two assists and Brenneman finished with 13 service points.

“Lydia really struggled at times, but everybody else helped her out,” Boeckel said. “That’s a true definition of how great this team is.”

So close

Scarborough was led statistically by Savage, the lone returner from last year’s squad, who was superb all season. Savage had 13 kills, several coming during the third set balancing act, and also produced five service points.

Hanson had 18 service points, including seven aces. Tirrell capped her career with 18 assists, six service points, two aces and two kills. Puig finished with nine kills, seven service points and three aces. Thurston had six kills, seven service points and four aces. Cowan added four kills and three blocks. Leadley had eight service points, including four aces. Sophomore Caroline Goodwin had seven assists.

It just wasn’t meant to be for this valiant group.

“This was an exciting match,” Roberts said. “People got to see a good show. Cape played fantastic and they stayed aggressive and we got a little tentative at the end. I think that was the difference. I think we got nervous not to lose and we made some key mistakes. We talked about getting our best players the ball. I think we got them the ball, but they made key mistakes. I thought Cape would make more errors along the way, especially in game five, but they were pretty much error free. We were lucky to host them considering they beat us the first time. There’s no easy draw. Cape’s a tough team. Hopefully they go to the finals. I’d like to see somebody new win. Sarah should be Coach of the Year. She got robbed last year.”

Despite a plethora of new faces in new positions, Scarborough managed to remain among the elite teams in the state.

“If you asked me at this time last year if I’d be happy with this record, I’d have probably said yeah, but as we went along, I saw the potential we had and to be honest, I thought this was a team worthy of going to the finals,” Roberts said. “If we drew anybody else, maybe we’d have done that.”

Once again, the Red Storm will lose several top players to graduation, but this program will reload once more.

“It will be hard to regroup next year, but we’ll do it,” Roberts said. “We have kids who play hard in practice. Hopefully we’ll still be one of the teams that’s in it at the end.”

Two wins away

Cape Elizabeth is still haunted by last year’s semifinal which got away, but this year’s team isn’t just a feel-good story, the Capers are clearly a legitimate title threat.

“It was really hard last year losing those girls,” Dell’Aquila said. “I was close with all the seniors. I got texts before the game today saying, ‘C’mon, you can do it.’ Some of them were here today. It’s really good to do it for those girls and for the program. It’s come so far. It’s so great to get to this point.”

Cape Elizabeth split two matches with Greely in the regular season, each being decided by a 3-0 margin with the home squad prevailing. The teams have no playoff history.

Expect another thriller Wednesday evening.

“Greely is really good, but I think with our momentum and having a couple days to prepare, we can pull it out,” Bowe said.

“I say we always have the attitude that we have nothing to lose,” Boeckel said. “We’re the lower seed and they’re Greely. We beat them, but they’re still the number one seed and they know how to win. Still, we’ll go in there expecting to walk out with a win.”

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

Cape Elizabeth senior captain Monica Dell’Aquila was a force at the net all afternoon.

Scarborough sophomore Caroline Goodwin handles a shot.

Cape Elizabeth junior Tess Haller soars for a kill as Scarborough senior Kayla Savage rises to block it.

Scarborough junior Emily Hanson shows her unrivaled serving form. Hanson had 18 service points, including eight aces, in the match.

Scarborough senior Krissy Maloney finishes a point.

Scarborough senior Mina Puig goes way up for a kill.

Scarborough senior Kayla Savage soars for a kill. Savage had a terrific match in her swan song.

Cape Elizabeth junior Monika Scheindel sets the ball for a teammate.

Cape Elizabeth junior Katie Connelly is all smiles after the Capers win a point.

Scarborough sophomore Caroline Goodwin celebrates winning a point.

Scarborough senior Krissy Maloney (29) is hugged by classmates Emma Tirrell and Mina Puig (21) after a kill during the Red Storm’s palpitating win in the second set.

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It was a day of celebration for Cape Elizabeth’s volleyball team Saturday after rallying to edge Scarborough in a scintillating Class A quarterfinal, 3-2.

Mike Strout photos.

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