Cape Elizabeth off to states again after eliminating Yarmouth
PORTLAND—The fairy tale run came to an end for the Yarmouth boys' basketball team Saturday afternoon at the Cumberland County Civic Center and a very familiar name will once again play for the Class B state championship.
In a clash of styles at the regional final, the Cape Elizabeth Capers were able to impose their will, race to an early lead they never relinquished and rode their championship heart and experience to fend off the expected Clippers' charge.
Cape Elizabeth's accomplished senior triumvirate of Theo Bowe, Cam Brown and Joey Doane combined for 49 points and the Capers pulled away for a 61-47 triumph to win Western B for the third time in four seasons.
Cape Elizabeth improved to 17-4, ended Yarmouth's year at 16-5 and advanced to meet 21-0 Camden Hills in the Class B state final Friday at 8 p.m., at the Civic Center.
"I told the guys I never thought at the start of the summer season that I thought we'd be standing here as champions of Western Maine," said longtime Capers coach Jim Ray. "They came a long way. It's tremendous."
One more time
Cape Elizabeth, regional champs in 2008 and 2009 before losing to eventual state titlist Falmouth a year ago, won 14 of 18 games this winter to earn the No. 2 seed in Western Class B. After surviving an upset bid from No. 7 Wells in a 49-44 overtime victory in the quarterfinals last Saturday, the Capers avenged two regular season losses to No. 3 York in the semis Thursday, 55-42, to move on.
Yarmouth didn't even make it to the Expo a year ago, being upset by Lake Region in the preliminary round, but this year's team has showed great spirit, heart and resolve from the get-go, going 14-4 and earning the No. 4 seed, before having its way with No. 5 Mountain Valley (77-52) in the quarterfinals and shocking top-ranked Greely (54-42) Thursday in the semifinals.
Something had to give in this matchup as the teams split in regular season, each winning in emphatic fashion on the road. Four days prior to Christmas, Yarmouth announced that it was going to be a force to be reckoned with by virtue of a stunning 84-61 win at Cape Elizabeth. On Feb. 8, the Capers returned the favor with a 61-39 romp at the Clippers.
Cape Elizabeth won the two prior playoff meetings, 77-48, in the 2002 preliminary round and 66-58 in the quarterfinals two years ago.
This time around, the Capers got the jump and took care of business.
It took 2 minutes and 13 seconds to break the ice, but Brown did with a 3. After Bowe made a layup after a steal, Yarmouth finally got on the board on a putback from senior Matt Murphy with 4:46 to play in the quarter, but Cape Elizabeth answered with back-to-back three-pointers from senior Kyle Danielson (old-fashioned) and Doane (from behind the arc) to make it 11-2.
After a timeout, the Clippers got a 3 from junior Josh Britten (the league's second-leading scorer), but Bowe (who was first) scored on a tip-in and after a reverse layup from senior Luke Pierce, Brown hit a jumper and Doane made a layup after a steal for a 17-7 lead after one.
While there was still a long way to go, the Capers felt good with the early advantage.
"It was so important," said Brown. "The first time we played them, they hit 3s and were unbelievable. Next time, it was the same thing for us, just flip-flopped. We were feeling it early and we got a lead."
"I don't think it was as important as the other (Yarmouth) games since we didn't keep it going," Bowe said. "In the other two games, it led to blowouts. This was never a blowout, but a lead helped."
In the second, Cape Elizabeth looked to run away and hide, but Yarmouth came back.
Doane got the scoring started with a 3. After a Pierce putback, Bowe got free for a 3 and a 23-9 advantage. Britten and Doane then traded 3s, but Murphy made a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 26-15. After a leaner from Brown, the Clippers closed the half on a 9-4 run.
Pierce got it started with a putback, Murphy followed with a 3 and Britten made a layup to make it 28-22. Murphy had a chance to bring Yarmouth closer with two free throws, but he missed them both. With 1:29 remaining before halftime, a pullup jumper from Bowe ended a 7-0 Yarmouth run. Sixteen seconds later, senior Connor Ertz made a layup to pull the Clippers within six, 30-24, at the break.
After turning the ball over six times in the first quarter, Yarmouth only gave it away once in the second.
"We had to adjust at halftime because (junior Chris) Knaub and Murphy had stepped up," Ray said. "We lost Britten on the weak side once and weren't shadowing him. Those 3s add up and gave them confidence. In the first half, we switched to man-to-man and they struggled. We were physically overmatched, but we got after it."
In the third, the Capers reasserted control.
First, the Clippers got close behind a jumper from Ertz and after a Bowe foul shot, a layup from Knaub made it 31-28.
Yarmouth had its chances to draw closer, but failed to do so and with 2:52 left in the stanza, Bowe hit a jump shot.
"We had opportunities down three, but we panicked and that's what happens in the Western Maine Finals," Yarmouth coach Adam Smith said.
Twenty-one seconds later, Murphy was whistled for his fourth foul and Doane sank the ensuing two free throws. Pierce answered with a free throw and Knaub made a layup, but Bowe blew past two defenders for a layup.
Before time expired in the third, both Bowe and Pierce picked up their fourth fouls. In the final minute, sophomore Henry Babcock and Danielson both hit foul shots to give the Capers a 39-31 advantage with eight minutes to go.
"At the beginning of the third, everyone was playing tentatively because of the fouls, then we were able to extend the lead," Bowe said. "I got that charge for my fourth foul and I knew I had to be careful. I hadn't been in that situation this year. It changed things for me."
"As players, you have to be careful," Pierce said. "You can't blame the refs. Games like this, you're going to be aggressive, but you have to adapt and we didn't really do that.""
"Fouls really handcuffed us as a team," Smith said. "Not having two senior captains. I thought the guys who went in conducted them admirably. You can't expect them to come in and pull us out of an eight-point deficit. We struggled all night to find rhythm and Cape didn't let us get rhythm. They didn't turn it over much. They ran us ragged. They played with poise all night long, even when we made our run. Bowe got in foul trouble, but Brown and Doane did a great job at maintaining composure."
In the fourth, Yarmouth's dream was extinguished.
Two free throws from senior Aidan Sullivan made it a 39-33 game 24 seconds in, but Brown made a free throw, then made a layup after a steal to make it 42-33.
After Knaub made a layup, Doane sank two foul shots, sophomore Chris Robicheaw canned a 3 from the wing and Bowe converted a bank shot with 3:12 remaining for a commanding 49-35 advantage.
"In the next timeout, I reminded the kids we didn't need any more 3s, but I told Chris, 'That was a great shot!'" Ray said.
Pierce made a jumper with 2:43 left, but Doane made a free throw. After a runner from Murphy cut the deficit to 50-39, Bowe made two foul shots with 2:02 to go. Erz made one free throw, but Doane answered with two to make it 54-40 with 1:41 remaining.
A layup by Murphy was countered by two Babcock foul shots. After Murphy's putback with 1:08 made it a 56-44 contest, Bowe made one free throw and Doane two. Britten hit a 3 with 38.8 seconds left, but Babcock drained two foul shots with 22.3 seconds remaining to bring the curtain down on the 61-47 victory.
"It's unbelievable," said Brown. "It's just a great team win. We have great team chemistry. It's a great feeling. Yarmouth's quick and athletic and can shoot. Joey, Theo and I have been here and have played in close games. We have experience. We wanted this win."
"I think offensively we were just patient," Doane said. "(Yarmouth) did a great job covering Theo. That left other guys like Henry, Kyle, Chris and I open. We took the open shot and made it. I thought we played great on defense today. We clogged the middle well. We limited Britten's shots. He had a hard time getting going. He's a great player, we had to limit what he can do. When they cut it to three, I got a little nervous, but I knew our defense could hold them."
"We don't typically score that much that fast (at the start of a game) and I was hoping (Yarmouth) wouldn't get some momentum," Ray added. "They got some and we cooled off and made mistakes and let them back in. Then it was nip and tuck. When we stretched the lead a little bit, it felt better, but we have to get better handling the ball in pressure situations. Often times, it looked like a hot potato. We weren't recognizing."
Cape Elizabeth had once again climbed its way to the top.
"We had to get everyone confidence, especially the younger guys," said Bowe. "Once they realized they could play at this level, it really helped. Winning at Greely (55-41 on Jan. 4) was big for everyone's confidence."
"Guys got experience," said Doane. "Chris and Henry stepped up. The more they've played, they've definitely improved. We've all improved."
"It's been a great ride," added Danielson, who returned to the team for his senior year after taking time off to focus on baseball, which he will play in college. "I didn't expect to be here. I'm really proud of everyone. Everyone has great heart and determination. We never gave up."
Ray admitted that this is not his most talented group, but that this team has intangibles that made the difference.
"My kids always work hard," he said. "We had a pretty good upside. For you to really understand us, you'd have to come watch practice and what these guys do. Honestly, I don't know what goes on at other practices, just what goes on at ours. We go in with a plan and they have to work extremely hard. It's a tough hour-and-a-half. They have great attitudes and work ethic. I didn't have a problem with any of the kids, knock on wood. No worries academically or with attitudes. It's as good as a group as any I've had. They pulled it together."
Doane led all scorers with 20 points.
"Joey's streaky from the perimeter at times, but as the season went along, he really became that third guy," Ray said. "When he's in rhythm, he can really knock down the 3s. Those were huge."
Bowe finished with 19 points, six steals and six rebounds and was named the winner of the Pierre "Pete" Harnois Award, given to the outstanding player-sportsman in the regional tournament (his older brother, Alex, was the recipient two years ago). After helping cut down the nets, Bowe threw a piece to his younger brother in the crowd, drawing the appreciation of the Cape Elizabeth crowd.
"I really didn't want to go out as a senior," Bowe said. "After losing to Falmouth last year, that was a terrible experience and I didn't want that again. We've had some great teams. It's the little things that matter in big games like this and that's what we bring to the table."
Brown added 10 points (four boards and a steal), Babcock had five (all from the line), Danielson (six rebounds) four and Robicheaw three.
"I think our defense won it for us," said Danielson said. "We scrapped and went for loose balls. I'm out there to get rebounds and play defense. I accept it and do it to the best of my ability. Most of the kids out there are bigger than me, but I'm good at scrapping. I have a good time with it."
Cape Elizabeth had 12 turnovers and shot 21 of 27 from the free throw stripe.
For Yarmouth, Murphy had 14 points (eight rebounds and two blocks) and Britten 11 (along with four rebounds and two steals).
"It was a big stage for (Josh)," Smith said. "I hoped he'd come out and light it up. It was a learning experience for him. Next year, I'd expect him to hit those shots and he'll expect it too."
Pierce bowed out with nine points, four rebounds and three steals.
Knaub had six points (and four rebounds), Ertz five (along with five boards and a block) and Sullivan two. The Clippers gave the ball away 14 times, made just 4 of 8 free throws and never got into their standard offensive flow.
"(The Capers) play a great 1-3-1," said Pierce. "Tonight just wasn't our night from the field. Our offense was stagnant at times. They were able to clog the middle quick on when we tried to penetrate. To beat a 1-3-1, you really have to penetrate and we weren't able to have success or use our defense to start our offense."
Best team in 37 years
Yarmouth's finest season in two generations is over.
"As tough as it is, I'm really proud of everybody," Pierce said. "We had some great times and some tough times and in the end we have to be proud of what we've done. Cape's a great team. They stepped it up tonight. Cape's really good at holding a lead. We responded, but not well enough. Going into soccer season, there's a storied history and you're expected to win. No one really expects Yarmouth basketball to do much. We're really tight-knit, one of the tightest teams I've been on. It's been a unique experience."
"I'm more than thrilled," Smith added. "I can't express how enjoyable this season has been, coaching these young men. The improvements they've made, their ability to fight through adversity and some of the odds they overcame to get to where we got to today. I wish we'd played better at the beginning of a game. It was a tremendous ride, but it's a letdown not to play well. You let Cape get a little bit of a lead and they'll squeeze it out of you like they did to us tonight. They caused us to rush more than we had to.
"The unity of the team was the difference. We were 5-3 at one time. To turn it around and come together like we did, to jell and bond, that made a huge difference for us. The confidence we gained, we really got better as the season went on. The five guys worked together at all times, offensively and defensively, game after game. Luke and 'Murph' and the rest of the seniors really carried the torch of how we work in practice and that carries over into games. That never waned with this group. We're still remembering the guys from 1974. I told these guys, 'They'll be remembering you in 30 years.' If I'm going to lose my last game, I'm going to do it here every year. It was a great experience for the boys and the town. It's great to come here and a great way to end the winter."
Even Ray had plenty of praise for Yarmouth's effort.
"We knew they wouldn't quit," he said. "They have hardworking athletes who get after it. They have a swagger you don't see with a lot of other teams. It comes from the success those kids have had on other teams. They did a nice job."
The Clippers have established themselves as an annual contender and even after losing Ertz, Murphy, Pierce and Sullivan, along with Campbell Belisle-Haley and Mike McCormack, they expect to be right back in the title hunt in 2011-12.
"There's a lot of returning players and I wish them the best," Pierce said. "I'll be coming back and checking out the games."
"I told those (returning) guys when I gave them their (runner-up) medal, 'Boys, we have some work to do,'" said Smith. "It's a struggle since we're not a basketball-first town. We'll take those athletes and mold those guys and hopefully they'll put in time so they're comfortable at the start of the season and we can grow even more. We have a springboard here. They know what it feels like and the excitement it generates."
One more step
Awaiting Cape Elizabeth in the state final is Camden Hills, which is a familiar foe.
Two years ago, the Capers gave the heavily favored Windjammers fits before falling in the state game, 62-49.
Cape Elizabeth is seeking its first championship since 1988 (70-54 over Ellsworth).
The Capers will be ready.
"We have to play defense and team basketball," Brown said. "Last time, I was young. As a senior, it's going to be different. We just want to win."
"We'll have to play tough defense against Camden," said Doane. "We have experience here in a championship game. It'll be a great experience. I think the young guys will do great. We're the underdog and we have nothing to lose."
"We want to beat the best and Camden Hills is the best," said Bowe. "I think we're playing great right now, we just have to have a good game and keep doing the little things and play well."
Ray admitted that he and his kids have their hands full, but that they're up for the challenge.
"Life isn't fair," he said. "We get to this spot in our season, it seems like we're going up an undefeated team that doesn't lose. I don't have an awful lot of tricks up my sleeve. I'll see what we can figure out. It's a nice feeling to have the opportunity."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @foresports