With the eyes of his teammates and everyone on hand at the Portland Exposition Building upon him Saturday night, Cape Elizabeth junior Finn Bowe prepares to end the game with a free throw at the end of overtime in the Capers’ 50-49 victory over Brunswick in an unforgettable Class A South quarterfinal.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
PORTLAND—Hollywood would have rejected this script out of hand as too corny and unbelievable.
An injured player makes a triumphant return, fights through a sluggish start, misses a potential game-winner, then gets a second chance in improbable fashion and this time, comes through to advance his team to the next round.
No producer would green light that story.
But sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction and what transpired Saturday evening at the Portland Exposition Building was strangely wonderful and heartwrenching.
And you had to be there to believe it.
And even if you were, disbelief still reigned.
The Cape Elizabeth and Brunswick boys’ basketball teams met for the first time in a countable postseason game and did they ever create an instant rivalry.
With a 36-minute classic that ran the gamut of emotions.
Before the game even started, there was a buzz in the air when it was learned that Capers junior standout Finn Bowe, who missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, had been cleared to play.
Bowe didn’t start and it quickly became clear Cape Elizabeth needed him, as it produced a measly two points in the game’s first 6 minutes, 30 seconds.
After Bowe took the floor, the Capers got six quick points, capped by a 3-pointer from senior Marshall Peterson just before the horn for an 8-5 lead after one quarter.
Bowe or no Bowe, Cape Elizabeth’s inability to hold on to the ball in the first half nearly doomed it, as 11 turnovers helped the Dragons open up a lead.
Brunswick got the final eight points of the second period, capped by an NBA-range 3-pointer from senior Nathan Benoit, to take a 20-12 lead to the locker room.
The Capers rallied within three in the third quarter, but an 8-0 Dragons’ run opened up a 33-25 advantage heading to the fourth and (what we thought would be the) final quarter.
There, Brunswick extended its lead to 38-29 on a 3 from Benoit with 5:05 to play and Cape Elizabeth’s hopes were bleak, but the Capers, sparked by a pair of unlikely bank shots from senior Quinn Hewitt, erupted for 11 straight points, and took the lead on two free throws from sophomore Andrew Hartel with 54.2 seconds to go.
The Dragons wouldn’t buckle, however, and with 21.1 seconds left, Benoit tied the game, 40-40, with two foul shots.
As time wound down in regulation, the ball came to Bowe and Bowe, who hit a buzzer-beater on the same floor to beat Falmouth back in late December, had a good look at playing the hero again, but his shot was just off-target and the game went to overtime.
There, just like in regulation, Brunswick took a lead and gave it back and when Hewitt set up Hartel for a layup with 17 seconds left, Cape Elizabeth was on top, 49-48.
Brunswick senior Josh Dorr was fouled with 6.7 seconds to go and he made the second of two attempts to tie the score, but the Capers got one final chance and they made the most of it.
With time winding down, Bowe attempted a desperation 3 that was well off the mark, but as (or after, depending who you asked) the horn sounded, a foul was called and after a lengthy discussion, the foul stood.
Bowe went to the line with a chance to win it and he did so, draining a free throw to give Cape Elizabeth a breathtaking and controversial 50-49 overtime win.
Bowe had 14 points in his return, senior Marshall Peterson added a dozen, Hewitt had 11 and Hartel wound up with nine as the Capers improved to 12-7, ended the Dragons’ season at 11-8 and advanced to meet defending Class A champion Falmouth (14-5) in the Class A South semifinals Wednesday at 6 p.m., across town at the Cross Insurance Arena.
“My kids have guts and I won’t take that away from them,” said longtime Cape Elizabeth coach Jim Ray. “There are things that happened that I’m not happy about and they know that, but we have another game and they’re excited for that. I wish I could be a little more excited for them.”
It’s been a trying 2016-17 season for Cape Elizabeth, which started the season not having a home floor on which to practice. The Capers persevered even after losing Bowe to injury in mid-January, managing to go 11-7 and earning the No. 3 seed in Class A South (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories).
Brunswick, which got to the regional final a year ago, also finished 11-7 and earned the No. 6 seed in the region.
The teams didn’t play in the regular season and had no playoff history.
Saturday, it’s safe to say they made some.
It took both teams awhile to hit their stride offensively in the first quarter.
Cape Elizabeth scored first, on a layup from Peterson, but the Capers wouldn’t score again for over five minutes.
A layup from senior Jackson Gordon tied it for the Dragons and a layup after a steal from Benoit put Brunswick on top.
With 1:37 remaining, Bowe made his entrance to a rousing ovation and while Bowe missed his first shot, Hartel got the rebound, was fouled and made one of two free throws to end a 5:29 drought.
“It was tough sitting out,” Bowe said. “I didn’t know until yesterday that I got cleared to play. It was good news for sure. I’m not 100 percent, but I’m getting there. It felt like a normal first playoff game because first playoff game jitters are there no matter what. I tried to keep shooting and not worry about it.”
“We had Senior Night in our last (regular season) game and I had a chance to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Bowe and they said that Finn told them he was going to play and he was willing to break his leg again,” Ray said. “I didn’t expect anything less, but he needed to be cleared. He got cleared yesterday. He practiced one day of full contact in four, five weeks and that was yesterday. That practice was 200 percent better because we had another set of hands.”
Hartel added a leaner before Dorr tied it with a free throw.
As time wound down, Peterson sank a 3 and Cape Elizabeth took an 8-5 lead to the second period.
There, the Dragons started fast.
Junior Alejandro Garcia Sancho tied things with a 3, then Gordon made a layup after a steal for a 10-8 lead.
Bowe got his first points, two free throws, to tie the game, but a bank shot from Dorr put Brunswick back on top, 12-10.
With 4:29 left in the half, Bowe fought for and won an offensive rebound and put it home for his first field goal, but Brunswick senior Corban Teel hit a leaner, then sank a free throw for a 15-12 advantage.
The Dragons then closed the half strong, as Dorr banked home a shot from a tough angle and just before the horn, Benoit’s 3-point prayer from beyond the NBA stripe banked in for a 20-12 lead.
In the first half, Benoit and Dorr led Brunswick with five points apiece. Peterson had five for the Capers, but their 11 turnovers proved extremely detrimental.
In the third period, Cape Elizabeth tried to make a run, but the Dragons didn’t wilt.
A bank shot from Hewitt (his first points) got the Capers off to a good start in the second half, but Teel made a layup.
After Peterson drove for a layup, junior point guard David Hare stole the ball and fed senior Jacob Allen for a layup, cutting the deficit to 22-18.
A long 3-point shot from senior Jesse Devereaux extended the Brunswick lead back to seven, but Bowe made a free throw, then canned his first 3 to make it a three-point game, 25-22, with 3:54 to go in the frame.
The Dragons then opened it up with eight straight points, as Teel hit two free throws, Benoit stole the ball and pulled up and hit a jumper, senior Christian Glover drove and made a bank shot and Benoit made a layup after a steal.
A long 3 from Bowe with 42.3 seconds left stemmed the tide but only pulled Cape Elizabeth within eight, 33-25, heading for the final stanza.
Where nothing would be resolved.
The Capers appeared to get a break with 6:24 left, when Dorr was called for a technical foul and Bowe hit both free throws. Cape Elizabeth kept the ball, but couldn’t draw closer, as it turned it over.
Teel then set up Gordon for a layup and an eight-point lad.
Peterson countered with a putback, but with 5:05 remaining, Benoit calmly knocked down a 3-ball from the corner to extend the lead to 38-29.
And then the Capers roared back.
A Hewitt 3 that banked home from behind the NBA 3-point line got the rally started.
Peterson added two free throws and Allen stole the ball and made a layup to cut the deficit to 38-36.
After a miss by Teel, Hartel got the rebound and with 1:25 left, the bank was again kind to Hewitt, as his high arcing shot kissed off the backboard and in to tie the game, 38-38.
“I’m just lucky my shots were falling,” Hewitt said.
Benoit tried to put the Dragons back on top with a 3, but it went in and out and Teel’s follow up missed as well as Hartel got the rebound.
That set up the go-ahead points, as with 54.2 seconds remaining, Hartel was fouled and he calmly sank both ends of a one-and-one for a 40-38 lead.
But Cape Elizabeth couldn’t hold on.
After Benoit missed a 3 which could have put Brunswick on top, Allen tried to save the rebound from going out of bounds, but the Dragons retained possession and with 21.1 seconds to go, Benoit got into the lane and hit a floater to tie it.
And the fun was just beginning.
The Capers had one final chance and everyone in the building knew who the ball was going to.
Bowe got some space as the clock neared zero and his shot (similar to the one he hit back in late December to stun Falmouth on the same floor) appeared promising, but it was just off target and the game went to overtime.
“I was close,” Bowe lamented. “I hoped it would fall. I just had to get ready for overtime.”
In OT, Cape Elizabeth had to rally again and this time, the Capers completed the improbable.
Thanks to the unthinkable.
In Maine high school basketball, teams play four minutes of overtime to determine a winner and in this case, all 240 seconds (and perhaps a beat more) were needed.
Brunswick went right back on top 18 seconds into OT when Gordon scored on a putback of Devereaux’s missed 3-pointer.
After the Capers turned the ball over, Teel got an offensive rebound and was fouled. He sank one of two free throws for a three-point lead with 2:48 remaining.
After Cape Elizabeth got a break, getting tied up, but having the possession arrow in its favor, Bowe threw a beautiful no-look pass to Hartel for a layup.
The Dragons then made it a two-possession game with 1:44 to go in OT, when Dorr got a bank shot to fall while he was being fouled and he added the free throw fora 46-42 advantage.
Back came the Capers again, as Hewitt made the second of two free throws and on the ensuing inbounds pass, Hartel stole the ball and fed Hewitt for a layup to make it 46-45 with 1:08 still to go.
With 34.2 seconds showing, Brunswick got a key hoop off an inbounds set as Devereaux lobbed the ball to Glover, who made a layup to make it 48-45, but 12 seconds later, Hewitt drove and banked home a shot while being fouled.
He couldn’t make the and-one, however, but Peterson tipped the rebound out to Hartel and Hartel set up Hewitt for a layup and a 49-48 lead with 17.3 seconds to go.
The Dragons responded again, however, as with 6.7 seconds remaining, Dorr was fouled. He missed the first shot, then made the second to forge the eighth and final tie of the contest.
Eschewing a timeout, Cape Elizabeth brought the ball up the floor looking to win.
The Capers would do so, but in a way no one could have predicted.
Hewitt got the ball across halfcourt, then passed to Bowe, who was blanketed. Bowe faked a defender, took a step back and got a shot off just a split-second (perhaps even a hundredth of a second) before the horn sounded, but it was well off target.
For good reason.
Bowe had been fouled on the shot.
“I looked up and tried to make space for Quinn and I got the ball, pump faked, then put up a shot and got the call,” Bowe said. “It was really loud and I was looking around for a whistle. I’m glad I got to go to the line.”
“He got clipped on the elbow,” Ray said. “I didn’t see the clock, so I don’t know. I do know it’s a tough, tough way to lose.”
The only question was had time expired?
After a brief discussion, the ruling of a foul stood and Bowe went to the line with three chances to make one free throw to end this instant classic.
Bowe didn’t drag out the drama any longer than necessary, as he calmly sank the first free throw.
“Having three free throws, there wasn’t much pressure,” Bowe said. “I just tried to make the first one. It was exciting. My teammates got me to the line for a free throw to finish it. It’s one of the more exciting games I’ve played in for sure.”
“(Finn’s) a great player,” Hewitt said. “We lost our rhythm when he was out. It’s good to have him back. I’ve seen him hit 94 free throws out of 100, so I was pretty confident.”
“If you know Finn, he is the most confident guy out there,” Ray added. “It was a huge boost to have him back. He wants the ball in his hands. It’s good to have him on the floor.”
That brought the game to an end as it was determined Bowe didn’t need to take the other two shots and Cape Elizabeth celebrated its draining and exhilarating 50-49 win.
“We started off slow,” Hewitt said. “They’re a tough team and they played hard the entire game. We stuck with it, got stops and we were able to pull it out in the end. We applied pressure and never gave up.”
“We’ve been in a lot of close games this year,” Bowe said. “We’ve had some close wins where we had to come back. We kept running plays and made things happen.”
“It wasn’t pretty,” Ray added. “I think the most frustrating thing as a coach is that we work so hard all season long and the nerves were just overwhelming. There’s a lot of inexperience on the floor. The guys really struggled with that. Brunswick is tough and strong and you can’t be tentative. We tried to talk about it and simulate in practice, but we got out in the bright lights and had 12 points at halftime.
“We found a way to score some baskets, but offense has been a struggle all year. We found a way. I just told the kids to score more. I know when our teams are really good at this point of the year is when I don’t have to manufacture offense. I’m trying to cook something up every time down the floor and it’s not easy to cook up something new in high school basketball. We try to keep it simple.”
Bowe led the Capers with 14 points. Peterson finished with 12 points and five rebounds. Hewitt didn’t score in the first half, but wound up with 11 points and five boards. Hartel quietly had a solid game of nine points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Allen added four points and three steals.
Cape Elizabeth had a 25-16 rebounding advantage, produced 11 steals, overcame 20 turnovers and hit 12 of 17 free throws.
Brunswick’s side of the coin was vastly different.
The Dragons were paced by Benoit, who had 14 points and four steals. Dorr added nine points and four steals, Gordon and Teel (10 rebounds) had eight points apiece, Glover four and Devereaux and Garcia Sancho three each.
Brunswick had 11 steals and hit 7 of 11 free throws, but turned the ball over 17 times.
After the game, longtime Dragons coach Todd Hanson took the high road.
“(It was a) tough ending,” Hanson said. “I’m really proud of the way my kids fought and battled. We’re the No. 6 seed and no one gave us a chance and we had a lead and the ball late in the game. Hats off to Cape for making a few more plays down the stretch. Cape, I have so much respect for their team and Coach Ray. He’s one of the best in the business. I knew they weren’t going away and we were prepared to battle to the end.”
For the second year in a row, Cape Elizabeth will battle Falmouth in the semifinals and this time, no one has any clue what to expect.
The teams split in the regular season, with Cape Elizabeth winning, 40-37, on a Bowe 3-pointer at the horn, then falling, 60-44, on the road.
The Capers have lost four of six previous playoff meetings against Falmouth, including last year’s 52-49 setback in the semifinals.
Now living a charmed life, Cape Elizabeth will look to avenge last year’s loss and get to the regional final.
“We’ve had a really disjointed season,” said Hewitt. “We didn’t have a floor at the beginning and we lost Bowe halfway through. It’s been tough, but we really stuck together and bonded as a team. Falmouth’s a terrific team and they have some talented players. We’ll have to get stops on defense and work together.”
“We have a lot of heart and don’t quit,” Bowe said. “Our seniors help us with that. We have to work hard in practice and play our game. I’m sure it’ll be an exciting game with Falmouth, it always is. It’ll be an exciting rematch at the Civic Center.”
“It’s nice to survive and advance,” Ray added. “There’s a lot to be learned from this game. I hope it carries over and hope it works better next time. It’s a classic rivalry matchup. We’d like another crack at Greely and we want to go through Falmouth to get there. I think they feel the same way.”
Brunswick senior Nathan Benoit shoots over Cape Elizabeth sophomore Andrew Hartel.
Brunswick senior Jesse Devereaux splits Cape Elizabeth seniors Quinn Hewitt, left, and Marshall Peterson.
Cape Elizabeth senior Jacob Allen drives to the basket as Brunswick senior Nathan Benoit defends.
Brunswick senior Jackson Gordon runs down a loose ball as Cape Elizabeth senior Quinn Hewitt gives chase.
Brunswick junior Alejandro Garcia Sancho drives on Cape Elizabeth senior Nat Spicer.
Cape Elizabeth sophomore Andrew Hartel blocks the shot attempt of Brunswick senior Jackson Gordon.
Cape Elizabeth senior Quinn Hewitt goes up for a critical basket.
Cape Elizabeth sophomore Andrew Hartel exults after Bowe’s winning free throw.