Does she ever.
A little over a week after having to go on the road to play a preliminary round game just to reach the tournament, Cape Elizabeth’s girls’ basketball team is one of two teams left standing in Western Class B.
Thursday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Arena, the ninth-ranked Capers once again weren’t given much of a chance against a higher seed, in this case No. 5 Lincoln Academy, but as it did Tuesday in an upset of top-ranked, undefeated Spruce Mountain, Cape Elizabeth embraced its underdog role and went out and produced the most inspirational and successful performance the program has managed this century.
When Hannah Sawyer made a 3-pointer 71 seconds in, it seemed innocent enough, but it gave the Capers the lead for good and was just the beginning of what would be a record-setting performance for the senior.
Another Sawyer 3 and the athletic brilliance of junior Montana Braxton helped Cape Elizabeth open up a 13-9 lead after one period and after Sawyer made three more 3s in the second quarter, the Capers took a stunning 35-22 advantage to the half.
While Cape Elizabeth’s offense was on fire, its defense was equally excellent and the Eagles never could make a run.
Sawyer would sink two more 3s in the third period, breaking a record in the process, and the rest of the team was playing out of its mind as well. Lincoln Academy never drew closer than 10 points, 49-39, and the Capers ended all doubt with an 11-2 run from there and went on to a 61-47 victory.
Sawyer led all scorers with a career-high 28 points, Braxton added 10 and junior Carter Harvey (nine points) was clutch as well as Cape Elizabeth improved to 12-9, ended Lincoln Academy’s season at 14-6 and advanced to meet No. 3 Greely (18-2) in the Western B Final Saturday at 2 p.m., at CIA.
It will be Cape Elizabeth’s first regional final since 1996.
“We’re underdogs,” said Capers coach Chris Casterella. “We’re not expected to win. We were a .500 team and lost five in a row to end the regular season. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
After a 9-9 regular season, Cape Elizabeth earned the No. 9 seed for the Western B tournament and had to go all the way to Fryeburg for a preliminary round game, which it won, 34-26, over No. 8 Fryeburg Academy.
Lincoln Academy, meanwhile, earned the No. 5 seed after a 13-5 campaign.
Very few fans or pundits expected either squad to get to the semifinals, but that’s how it played out after the Eagles upset No. 4 York in their quarterfinal and the Capers followed suit by sending the undefeated top-ranked team, Spruce Mountain, packing.
The teams don’t play in the regular season, but met three previous times (all in the 1990s, see sidebar) in the postseason. The most recent meeting was the most memorable, as Lincoln Academy held off Cape Elizabeth, 64-63, in overtime in the 1996 Western B Final. Casterella, then Chris Roberts, played in that game and fouled out in OT, a memory she still hasn’t gotten over.
Thursday’s contest proved to be a little revenge for the coach and the program.
Lincoln Academy scored first when junior Avae Traina made a jumper, but a 3 from Sawyer gave the Capers the lead. Braxton added a layup after a steal, then Braxton made a free throw to make it 6-2.
After Traina converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw), Harvey made a jumper, Sawyer sank another 3 and junior Maddie Bowe made two free throws for Cape Elizabeth’s biggest lead, 13-5.
The Eagles crept back behind a free throw from senior Leslie Sandefur and a 3 from Wajer to make it 13-9 after one period.
Sawyer’s six points and seven forced turnovers helped the Capers get the jump.
In the second quarter, Cape Elizabeth opened it up even further.
Sawyer was fouled while shooting a 3 51 seconds in and made all three foul shots. Braxton then got a rebound at the defensive end and went coast to coast for a layup. After a putback from senior Ashley Tinsman, Braxton stole the ball and went in for a layup and with 5:05 left in the half, she did it again and just like that, the Capers led, 24-9.
Thirty-five seconds later the Eagles ended the 11-0 run and their 5 minute, 48 second drought when Sandefur made a free throw, but Sawyer countered with a 3. After senior Taylor Oliver made a 3 for Lincoln Academy, Sawyer made another, which rolled in, to make it 30-13.
After Sandefur knocked down a 3 for the Eagles, Harvey banked home a shot. Traina scored on a fastbreak layup, but Sawyer took a pass from Harvey and canned her fifth 3 of the half. A runner from Wajer and a pair of Traina free throws pulled the Eagles back within 13, 35-22, at halftime.
In the third period, Lincoln Academy kept trying to creep back, but Cape Elizabeth kept answering.
Just five seconds in, Sawyer announced that she liked the new basket she was shooting at just as much as the old as she made 3-pointer number six.
“Once I got out there, I just tried to play my game,” Sawyer said. “The team did such a good job moving the ball around. We try to do dribble penetration and I just step into it. Montana did a great job driving and kicking it out. The shots just seemed to fall. I was really worried about (adjusting to the shooting background) coming in, but I just tried to use my muscle memory and pretend I was shooting at Cape.”
After a three-point play from Eagles senior Danielle Pinkham, Braxton twice set up Harvey for fastbreak layups and a 42-25 advantage.
Back came Lincoln Academy, as Wajer drove for a layup and junior Olivia York made a 3, but with 3:48 to go in the third, Sawyer took a pass from Braxton and made her seventh 3, setting a new Western B regional tournament record, eclipsing the mark of Gray-New Gloucester’s Haylee Cote, who made six in a game in 2012.
After a free throw fro Eagles freshman Kaitlyn Feltis, Capers freshman Erin O’Rourke was fouled after an offensive rebound and made both free throws. Lincoln Academy then got a layup from Sandefur and a jumper from junior Chloe Hallowell, but as time wound down, Harvey set up junior Kate Breed for a leaner and Cape Elizabeth took a 49-35 advantage to the fourth period.
“We knew they were capable of getting back in the game, so when they scored, we had to settle down and get a basket to equal it,” Braxton said.
In the final stanza, the Eagles gave it one last try, but the Capers capped off their piece de resistance.
First, Saneful made a layup. She then hit a leaner to pull the Eagles within 10 for the first time in the second half.
The Eagles would get no closer.
After Bowe made a free throw, Sawyer made both ends of a 1-and-1, then hit two more foul shots for a 54-39 lead.
A putback from York was countered by a free throw from Braxton, another from Harvey, a driving layup by Bowe and a layup by Tinsman to make it 60-41 with 2:35 to go, essentially ending the competitive phase of the contest.
After Oliver made a layup for Lincoln Academy, Tinsman made a free throw. Eagles sophomore Brianna Genthner scored on a putback and junior Samantha Burke did the same and that was it.
At 5:51 p.m., after 19 years in the wildnerness, Cape Elizabeth was going to the regional final by virtue of its 61-47 triumph.
“I’m so proud of everyone,” Sawyer said. “Our defense was solid. Our offense was better than last time. We saw what (Lincoln) did to York and tried to avoid a third quarter lull and do our thing.”
“I wouldn’t have imagined us getting to the regional final at the beginning of the season,” Braxton said. “That’s the best part about it. It feels amazing to be here and I’m just so proud of everyone. I felt tonight our offense was really on. Our defense was pretty strong as well. The combination did it for us. It was a team effort.”
“It’s amazing,” Harvey said. “I didn’t play much last year and we didn’t get to the playoffs. I love to win and it feels really great to know our entire team is doing so well. I’m so excited. It’s very unrealistic. We weren’t expected to win any of these games and here we are.”
Sawyer had a game for the ages, leading all scorers with 28 points. She also grabbed three rebounds and blocked two shots. Sawyer is already tied for the most 3-pointers made in a Western B girls’ tournament with eight and has a chance to have it all to herself on Saturday.
“I’m so happy for Hannah,” Braxton said. “It’s amazing. Her shooting was fantastic. We kept feeding it to her. She was on. I don’t know how she makes them with a hand in her face.”
“I’d say Hannah was our key player,” Harvey said. “She had 28 points, which is crazy.”
“We’re never about stats, but that was a career high for Hannah,” Casterella added. “You have to be happy for a kid like that. For her to come here and do it, I’m beyond thrilled.”
Braxton had 10 points, but that doesn’t even began to tell the story of her impact. She also had seven assists, seven rebounds and four steals.
Harvey stood out with her nine-point performance. she also had five assists and two steals.
Bowe (five boards) and Tinsman (six rebounds, two steals) both had five points, while Breed and O’Rourke each added two.
“Our three subs, (junior Mo Lavallee), Kate and Erin, were huge,” Casterella said. “This was Erin’s first time in the playoff rotation. There was no dropoff. They filled a role and that was big for us. We can’t rely on five kids for 32 minutes.”
The Capers turned the ball over 16 times, but shot a solid 16 of 22 from the free throw line.
For the Eagles, Sandefur led the way with 11 points. Traina had nine, Wajer seven, Oliver five, Pinkham and Olivia York three apiece, Burke, Genthner, Hallowell and Alyx York two each and Feltis one.
Lincoln Academy had 31-26 rebounding advantage, committed 15 turnovers and made 7 of 10 free throws.
Heading into the season, heck, heading into the playoffs, the idea of the Capers playing in the regional final would have been met with looks of derision, if not laughter, but this special group of girls has marched on.
“I don’t know where it came from, but they’ve taken pressure off of me,” Casterella said. “I’ve noticed it since the playoffs started. They’re competitive. They’ve had success in other sports like soccer, volleyball and lacrosse. We might be 110 pounds soaking wet, but these kids have so much fight. They’re playing without fear. Consistently, throughout the season, we’ve played without fear and they believe they can compete with anybody. It’s like, ‘Why not us?’ We do what we do to the best of our abilities. They’re overachievers.”
The next test will be far more daunting, as Greely has clearly been the premier team in the region, dominating defending state champion Lake Region, the No. 6 seed in the quarterfinals (45-31), before absolutely crushing No. 2 Gray-New Gloucester in the other semifinal Thursday (57-34).
Cape Elizabeth lost twice to Greely during the regular season (63-30 at home and 35-25 in Cumberland).
The Capers have won two of three previous playoff meetings, taking the 1982 Western B prelim and 1996 Western B semifinal, while the Rangers won the 1983 semifinals.
Cape Elizabeth will take the floor Saturday confident it belongs and believing that it has one more jawdropping upset left in its bag of tricks.
“It’s really cool to be a part of this,’ Sawyer said. “I’m so happy. It’s not really real yet. We have nothing to lose. It will be a really tough one. We know them. We’ll prepare well and hopefully bring our game.”
“We have to play as hard as we can,” Carter said. “We know Greely. We have to play really well.”
“Coach loves to win, so to get here for her and everyone on the team is so awesome,” Braxton said. “We have to play like we did today. It will be a tough game. They’re such a good team. We played Greely twice and we know how good they are. We have nothing to lose.”
“This is exactly why I went into coaching,” Casterella said. “The experience I had in high school was the best athletic experience of my entire life. It started my freshman year and it ended with an overtime loss in the regional final. I can’t go back to my playing days, but this is living vicariously through them, helping them succeed. This is the next best thing to being on the court. I wanted us to be good so they can feel what this feels like.
“We had two totally different games with (Greely). One, they made their shots and one, they didn’t. So much success in basketball is making shots. Good offense beats great defense. (Against Gray) they made every shot they took. We’ll make tweaks, but we have to make shots. Now, we’re one of two teams standing. The other teams like Gray and York and Falmouth are done. I want my girls to think they have a 50-50 chance of cutting the nets down. “
Cape Elizabeth junior Montana Braxton goes in for an easy layup.
Cape Elizabeth junior Kate Breed fights to keep possession while being double teamed by a pair of Lincoln Academy defenders.
Cape Elizabeth junior Carter Harvey makes an easy layup.
Cape Elizabeth junior Montana Braxton drives into the paint.
Cape Elizabeth junior Maureen Lavallee is stymied by a Lincoln Academy defender.
Cape Elizabeth senior Hannah Sawyer drains one of her new record seven 3-pointers during the Capers’ 61-47 upset win over Lincoln Academy in Thursday’s semifinal. Cape Elizabeth will play in the Western B Final Saturday against Greely.
Joe Carpine 365digitalphotography.com photos.
More photos below.
CE- 13 22 14 12- 61
LA- 9 13 13 12- 47
CE- Sawyer 7-7-28, Braxton 4-2-10, Harvey 4-1-9, Bowe 1-3-5, Tinsman 2-1-5, Breed 1-0-2, O’Rourke 0-2-2
LA- Sandefur 4-2-11, Traina 3-3-9, Wajer 3-0-7, Oliver 2-0-5, Pinkham 1-1-3, O. York 1-0-3, Burke 1-0-2, Genthner 1-0-2, Hallowell 1-0-2, A. York 1-0-2, Feltis 0-1-1
CE (7) Sawyer 7
LA (4) Oliver, Sandefur, Wajer, O. York 1
1996 Western B Final
Lincoln Academy 64 Cape Elizabeth 63 (OT)
1994 Western B preliminary round
Cape Elizabeth 46 Lincoln Academy 37
1990 Western B quarterfinal
Lincoln Academy 61 Cape Elizabeth 57