CAPE ELIZABETH- The Cape Elizabeth boys’ basketball team isn’t about to relinquish its two-year hold on Western Class B without a fight.
The Capers reinforced the fact that they’re still one of the top teams in the region with an impressive 66-55 home victory over rival Greely Saturday evening.
Cape Elizabeth shot to a 15-3 lead, then, after watching the Rangers rally, rode a 15-4 third period run and relied on clutch shooting and 23 forced turnovers to improve to 6-0, dropping Greely to 4-2.
“It was an exciting game,” said longtime Capers coach Jim Ray. “I told the kids in the locker room to show me something. We never backed down or were tentative from start to finish. They took the lead, but we never blinked and did our jobs. We got contributions from everyone. That makes a team tough.”
Cape Elizabeth and Greely have done battle for ages on the hardwood and produced an instant classic back in February in the Western B semifinals when Capers then-junior Andrew Dickey scored on a layup after a fullcourt pass for a miraculous 46-45 victory, which propelled Cape Elizabeth to a second consecutive regional title, leaving the Rangers stunned and heartbroken in the process.
The Capers fell to Camden in the state final and lost standout Alex Bowe, among others to graduation, but so far in 2009-10, have risen to the occasion. Prior to Saturday, Cape Elizabeth enjoyed wins over Wells (62-26), Poland (68-46), Lake Region (60-41), Fryeburg (81-38) and Yarmouth (64-56).
Greely, meanwhile, is once again in the hunt and entered the contest 4-1, beating Traip (78-46), Yarmouth (57-49), Poland (63-46) and Freeport (73-32), while losing only to preseason favorite Falmouth (74-63).
Saturday, the hosts made an early statement, but couldn’t deliver the knockout blow until much later.
The scoring ice was broken 50 seconds in when Capers junior Theo Bowe scored on a putback. After Rangers junior Sam Johnston tied the score with two foul shots, Cape Elizabeth junior Cam Brown sank a jump shot for a 4-2 lead. Greely senior Sam Thompson made a free throw, but Bowe hit a jumper, made a layup after a steal, then took a pass from Brown in transition for a layup for a 10-3 edge. Dickey followed with a layup and senior Conor Moloney buried a 3 to give the hosts a 15-3 lead with 3:41 still to play in the first quarter.
A jumper from Rangers senior Matt Dunn ended the run, but Moloney made a free throw for a 16-5 advantage. After Greely senior Peter Westra made a layup, Moloney hit a turnaround, but Johnston then erupted for six straight points to keep his team in it. Johnston made a pullup jumper, hit a transition layup, then stole the ball and made a layup to cut the deficit to just five, 18-13, but with time winding down in the quarter, senior Matt Donovan sank a 3-ball to give Cape Elizabeth a 21-13 lead.
The Rangers turned the ball over seven times in the first eight minutes and would give it up on five more occasions in the second, but hung close, thanks largely to the scoring of Johnston.
Early in the second, after a Greely technical foul, Dickey made a free throw and junior Joey Doane converted a backdoor layup (taking a pass from senior Ben Brewster) for a 24-13 advantage, but Johnston hit a jumper, then made two free throws to pull the Rangers within 24-17. After Capers senior Will Pierce sank a jumper, Greely got a layup from junior Tanner Shorey. Brown made a layup and Johnston responded with two foul shots, but Moloney scored on a spinning layup and Bowe sank a jumper with 3:45 left in the half for a 32-21 advantage.
Rangers senior Trevor Tierney then got on the board with a bank shot and Thompson added a leaner, but Moloney made a free throw to make it 33-25. A putback from sophomore Nick Clark and a leaner from Johnston allowed Greely to pull within four, 33-29, at the half.
When Dunn began the third with a 3-pointer and a layup, the Rangers had their first lead, 34-33. Brown put the hosts back on top with two foul shots, but with 6:32 to go in the third, Tierney made a turnaround jumper for a 36-35 Greely advantage.
The visitors wouldn’t lead again.
Thirty seconds later, Bowe made a jumper to put the Capers on top for good. Moloney followed with a pair of free throws and Dickey hit a jump shot to make it 41-36. After Johnston momentarily stemmed the tide with a layup, Moloney scored on a layup after a steal, Doane hit a fadeaway jumper and Moloney made a jump shot to push the lead back to nine, 47-38. Thompson answered with a leaner off the glass, but with time winding down in the quarter, Donovan canned another 3 to make it 50-40 Cape Elizabeth with eight minutes to go.
“Our confidence is way up,” said Moloney. “We don’t get down at all. We keep playing. We work hard every second of the game. We turn up the press and create off our defense. We started off great, but we let them back in the game. Going into the second half, we did what we had to do.”
Eight more turnovers in the quarter helped dig a hole for the visitors.
“It was awful,” said Rangers coach Ken Marks. “We have to go to school on how to break pressure. The kids who had the most turnovers and the ones who need the ball in their hands. They’re just not playing composed.”
Greely would stay within hailing distance in the fourth, but never made a serious run.
A 3-ball from Tierney 11 seconds into the final stanza made it 50-43, but senior Tanner Garrity answered with a floater for the Capers. After Tierney scored on a putback, Moloney made a free throw and Brown sank two to make it 55-45.
Tierney scored on a putback and Thompson sank a free throw to make it a 55-48 game with 2:48 left, but Pierce hit a clutch jumper and Moloney made two more foul shots for a 59-48 advantage with 1:43 left.
Tierney converted an old-fashioned three-point play, but Moloney made two free throws and Bowe sank three of four for a 64-51 edge with 54.1 seconds left. Johnston then sandwiched two layups around a Bowe layup in the waning seconds to account for the 66-55 final score.
“This was our biggest test so far,” said Moloney. “This was a big win.”
“(The kids are) trying to maintain and improve upon the tradition set by teams before them,” Ray added. “We had some concerns about that in the preseason. Nothing will be handed to us. If we want it, we have to go get it. I’d like to sit back as a fan and watch them. It must be fun. They play with passion and energy.”
Moloney had 20 points to lead the Capers. Bowe added 17, Brown had eight, Donovan six, Dickey five, Doane and Pierce four each and Garrity two.
“We still need to work on spacing,” said Moloney. “That’s one of our biggest weaknesses. We’re a medium-sized team. We got to the line more tonight. That helped in winning this game.”
For Greely, Johnston went off for 22 points, leading all scorers. Tierney added 14 points, Dunn had seven, Thompson six, Clark, Shorey and Westra two each. Ultimately, 23 turnovers sealed the Rangers’ doom.
“We’re just not getting good shots,” Marks lamented. “(Cape Elizabeth) shot the ball very well tonight. They hit shots when they needed to and we didn’t. That was the story.”
Greely is now idle until Jan. 2 (excluding holiday tournament play) when it goes to Fryeburg. The Rangers still have games remaining at home against the Capers (Jan. 22) and at Falmouth (Jan. 23).
“We have plenty to work on in practice,” Marks said.
Cape Elizabeth, meanwhile, remains a legitimate contender and has plenty to feel good about. The Capers go to Gray-New Gloucester Tuesday in their final 2009 contest, then (other than holiday tournaments) sit idle until a home showdown with Falmouth Jan. 5.
“The road will get harder,” Ray said. “We have Falmouth as soon as we come back. Good teams get better at attacking and beating and dealing with what we do.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com