PORTLAND—In a five-day stretch, Greely’s girls’ basketball team laid waste to a talented regional field.
A longtime nemesis, a team that humbled them on Opening Night and finally, Destiny’s Darlings, all tried but failed to derail the Rangers Express.
And now, Greely is on the brink of the biggest prize of all.
Saturday afternoon in the Western Class B Final at the Cross Insurance Arena, the third-ranked Rangers faced the Cinderella ninth-seeded Capers of Cape Elizabeth and two days after crushing No. 2 Gray-New Gloucester in surprisingly easy fashion in the semifinals, Greely didn’t permit itself a letdown and ultimately wore down the Capers.
Cape Elizabeth hung tough early, scoring first on a 3-pointer from junior Maddie Bowe, but the Rangers, behind a balanced attack, took an 11-7 lead after one period.
When junior Sarah Felkel, who rarely shoots, knocked down consecutive shots, including a 3-pointer, midway through the second period, Greely extended its lead and the Rangers were up by nine, 22-13, at halftime.
The Capers, who stole hearts this past week with their finest performance in two decades, refused to quit, but ultimately were no match for Greely’s excellence.
The Rangers turned up the defensive intensity and went on a 17-3 run in the third period to break it open and went on from there to a 53-28 triumph.
Senior standout Ashley Storey led the way with a double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds and classmate Haley Felkel added 12 points as the Rangers made it 12 wins in a row, improved to 19-2, ended the Capers’ season at 12-10 and advanced to meet Presque Isle (19-2) in the Class B state final Friday at 7:05 p.m. at CIA.
“I’m really proud of the kids,” said Greely coach Joel Rogers. “For us to get over the hump as a program is a big deal. Not to be disrespectful, but Cape was happy to be here and we have bigger plans. This feels good, but we want one more.”
Cape Elizabeth became the “it” team of the tournament, but the Capers didn’t even look like they’d get to the Portland Exposition Building for the quarterfinals after a five-game skid to end the regular season left them 9-9 and ninth in the region.
Cape Elizabeth won at No. 8 Fryeburg Academy (34-26) in the preliminary round, then upset No. 1 Spruce Mountain (32-30) in the quarterfinals, before putting on a scintillating display of shooting in a 61-47 victory over fifth-ranked Lincoln Academy in Thursday’s semifinals.
As for Greely, which lost in the semifinals a year ago to eventual state champion Lake Region, it was a preseason favorite and despite an Opening Night home loss to Gray-New Gloucester and an early January stumble at York, didn’t disappoint, finishing 16-2 and earning the No. 3 seed.
The Rangers avenged three-years worth of playoff losses with a 45-31 win over No. 6 Lake Region in the quarterfinals, then put on one of the most memorable tournament displays in years Thursday, when they dominated second-ranked Gray-New Gloucester from start to finish in a 57-34 triumph, a score which didn’t fully explain just how sensational Greely was.
The Rangers beat the Capers twice in the regular season: 63-30 at Cape Elizabeth Jan. 31 and 35-25 in Cumberland Feb. 5.
The Capers had won two of the previous three playoff meetings, including the most recent, a 57-48 triumph in the 1996 semifinals.
Saturday, Greely was Greely and that was just too much for Cinderella to contend with.
Cape Elizabeth made an immediate splash when Bowe knocked down a 3 25 seconds in, but Greely tied it on a 3 from sophomore Moira Train. After the Rangers went ahead on a jumper in the lane from sophomore Molly Chapin, Sawyer set up senior Ashley Tinsman for a layup.
With 4:38 to go in the first period, Sarah Felkel set up Haley Felkel for a 3 and Greely had the lead for good. Storey then scored on a putback while being fouled and added the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play and an 11-5 lead.
With 3 seconds left in the first period, Bowe sank two foul shots, ending a 5 minute, 3 second drought and the Capers were within four, 11-7, heading for the second quarter.
There, the Rangers opened it up a little more.
After nearly three scoreless minutes, sophomore Isabel Porter set up Storey for a layup, ending a 6:14 drought. Junior Carter Harvey set up classmate Montana Braxton for a layup at the other end, but Sarah Felkel then got involved, hitting a jumper and the next time down, burying a 3 for an 18-9 advantage.
“They left us open when they doubled Ashley, so when the ball got swung around, I just shot it,” Sarah Felkel said.
“Sarah doesn’t get a lot of recognition, but when she made those two shots, it was great,” Storey said.
“When Sarah Felkel started shooting in the first half, that sent the message that everybody had to step up,” Rogers added. “She was flawless handling the ball. I wouldn’t trade her for anybody.”
After Bowe countered with a 3-ball, Storey hit a baseline jumper and scored on a putback. A late free throw from Bowe made it 22-13 Greely at the break.
While Cape Elizabeth played well for the most part in the first half, getting nine points from Bowe and only turning the ball over five times, Storey’s nine points and Sarah Felkel’s unexpected five produced the deficit.
The Rangers then salted away the win in the third period.
Haley Felkel got things started with a baseline jumper. After Bowe countered with a jumper, Harvey made a jumper to pull the Capers within seven, 24-17, but Greely closed the quarter on a 17-3 run.
Two Train free throws got the surge started. Train then stole the ball and raced in for a layup, Haley Felkel hit a leaner and Storey showed she can get it done from the outside as well with a 3-pointer for a 33-17 lead.
After Bowe ended the 9-0 surge with a 3, Porter made a 3, Haley Felkel grabbed an offensive rebound and fed Storey for a layup and Chapin added a 3 for a 41-20 advantage heading for the final stanza.
“People have told me to shoot more and that’s given me confidence,” Chapin said. “I love playing here. I was very nervous, but it feels really good.”
Down the stretch, Greely put the finishing touches on a regional title it had been waiting 11 years for.
After Tinsman made a free throw, Haley Felkel made a jumper while being fouled and hit the free throw for a three-point play. Bowe countered with a leaner, but Chapin made a 3 and Train hit a leaner. Harvey drove for a layup, but Haley Felkel made a short jumper.
The final points of Cape Elizabeth’s season came with 2:51 to play when Bowe made a 3.
A bank shot from junior Samantha Kane in the final minute slammed the door on Greely’s 53-28 victory.
“It feels amazing,” Haley Felkel said. “Our team’s worked so hard. Most teams would have underestimated a 9 seed, but we knew they’d come out playing tough and hard. They wanted it as much as we did. We knew if we got a lead, we had to extend it and not let up. Everyone stepped up today. We wanted to move the ball around. Coach stressed the point to shoot if you’re open. We couldn’t win if we didn’t shoot. It was a total team effort.”
“It’s like no other feeling, I’m so ecstatic,” Chapin said. “I’m so glad I got to experience it with this team. I’m glad we get to bring a Western Maine championship back to Cumberland. We knew Cape was a really good team. They’re physical. We had to be prepared and mentally focused to win today.”
“There were some bumps in the road, but we overcame them,” Storey said. “Sawyer had a great game last game. We know that when she does shoot, she doesn’t miss, so we had to make sure she was guarded. Maddie Bowe is a good shooter and Montana’s good driving. We had to worry about all three players. We just had to work as a team and work together. We knew they’d be ready to play. We’ve seen the 1-3-1 zone a couple times this year. We got some open looks on offense. When everyone’s on, it’s great because we don’t have to worry.”
“We found our offensive rhythm and things started going for us in the second half,” Rogers added. “In the first half, clearly man-to-man was the best defense I had. Their short corner was killing us, so the man-to-man worked. I just didn’t like the 1-3-1 (zone) in the tournament against the teams we played. It’s not a good defense against 3-point shooting teams, in my opinion. Physically, we matched up well with them. They weren’t quicker than us. I kept Ashley on the baseline so she could rebound and Haley did a number on Sawyer.
“Give Cape credit. Chris is considered the hardest working coach in the conference. She scouts more games, her or her husband (Jay). This is an unbelievable tribute to her to bring that program back. They weren’t a 9 seed out there. Their defense was outstanding in the first half. For them, on this big court, they weren’t as deep as us and they got a little tired in the second half.”
Greely was paced by Storey, who had 14 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots. Storey was named the winner of the Mike DiRenzo Award, as the regional tournament’s outstanding player-sportsman.
“People should know how good Ashley is,” Haley Felkel said. “She’s amazing. She’s such a great player, teammate and friend.”
Haley Felkel’s big second half spelled a 12-point performance. She also had four rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Train finished with nine points, Chapin had eight (to go with four boards), Sarah Felkel added five, Porter had three and Kane finished with two.
Greely made seven 3-pointers, outrebounded Cape Elizabeth, 32-25, only turned the ball over seven times and made all four of their free throw attempts.
For Cape Elizabeth, Bowe had her best performance of the tournament, leading all scorers with 17 points, while also grabbing five rebounds.
“I’m happy for Maddie,” Capers coach Chris Casterella said. “Different kids have stepped up at different times and I told her she’s our unsung hero. I need her on the floor. Her shot fell tonight. She’s struggled of late, but she takes good shots. She’s such a smart player. It was nice to see shots fall for her.”
Harvey had four points (and three assists), Tinsman finished with three and Braxton (eight rebounds, two steals) and Sawyer (four rebounds) were held to two points apiece.
The Capers only turned ball over nine times and made 4 of 6 foul shots, but just didn’t have enough firepower and couldn’t make enough shots to continue their fantasy run.
“(Greely’s) good,” Casterella said. “They made shots and we didn’t make shots and that’s what it came down to. They make you work for your shots. We’re good in spot-up shooting, but tonight, finding an open shot was at a premium. It was difficult. We hung tight as long as we could, but when your shots don’t fall, it’s only a matter of time.”
While the loss was disappointing, it’s a mere footnote in what was a glorious week for a once downtrodden program, which made fans everywhere (especially those from Cape Elizabeth) smile and applaud.
“What I tried to tell them was to remember the feeling,” Casterella said. “I said, ‘Watch (Greely) cut down the nets. You don’t realize how special it is and how hard it is to get to this game. It doesn’t matter if you’re a preseason favorite. You still have to go out and win games and you have to win them when they count.’
“I’m just so happy for them, that they got to experience this. I learned a lot about the kids the past couple weeks. They really came into their own. I don’t know if it means anything going forward. We had a great year. I hope it carries forward, but I think they realize how unbelievably difficult and how special it is to get to this point.”
The Capers only graduate two players, Sawyer and Tinsman, but their loss will be seismic.
“They’re such great kids,” Casterella said. “I was so lucky to coach them. They set a wonderful example for the younger kids.
“Ashley took sophomore year off to focus on softball. I don’t usually go after kids, but she’s a competitor who wants to win. I want kids like that on my team. She has that competitive edge. She did a phenomenal job for us. She was solid and made good decisions. As the season went along, she figured out what her role was and that helped us down the stretch.
“I’m so happy for Hannah for the Lincoln game. She is such a beautiful shooter. I know she’ll think about this game, but she went out on top. She had a performance people won’t forget. She was such a huge part of the success of our program. She’s the kid I got on the most and she took it with grace. She has such poise.”
With the likes of Bowe, Braxton and Harvey returning as starters and players like junior Kate Breed and freshman Erin O’Rourke due to play bigger roles, Cape Elizabeth should be in good position to contend again in 2015-16, not that any future squad will be able to replicate what the stardust-sprinkled Cinderella Capers of 2014-15 accomplished.
“It’s so difficult to get back here,” Casterella said. “Preseason talk means nothing. You have to have so much working in your favor. We made it as close to the top without being at the top as we could get. Hopefully it’s the carrot dangling in front of them that will make them want to spend some extra time on their game in the offseason.”
Friday night, Greely will seek the school’s fourth girls’ Gold Ball and the first since 2004 (the Rangers also went back-to-back in 1983-84).
Presque Isle, led by standout Hannah Graham, is no stranger to the big stage. The Wildcats beat Lake Region to win the 2012 and 2013 state titles.
Greely and Presque Isle don’t play in countable games, but they did see each other in the preseason.
“It was an amazing game up there in the County on a Saturday morning,” Rogers said. “We were down at halftime, but we had a big second half and beat them by 18.”
That game means little at this stage and the Rangers know they’ll have to produce another 32 quality minutes to receive the ultimate trophy.
“It all starts on defense,” Storey said. “It’s a great opportunity. I’m excited. We can’t wait until Friday.”
“We know it will be a lot tougher now,” Chapin said. “We have to stay mentally focused and not let this win distract us from our goal. We’re not satisfied until we win the Gold Ball.”
“It feels great, but we still have one more game,” Sarah Felkel said. “We have to keep working on our defense, move the ball and don’t force shots.”
“They have the experience, but we have hard workers,” Haley Felkel said. “We’re ready. We just have to step it up on defense and take the open shots our offense provides us.”
“Hannah Graham’s a great player,” Rogers added. “She’s wonderful to watch, but I think we’re very good defensively, as good as anybody around. We have enough weapons, so we just need to get into the 40s offensively). We’ll spend the week trying to continue to perfect what we do well.”
Cape Elizabeth junior Maddie Bowe, who had a terrific game, shoots over Greely junior Maddie Cyr.
Cape Elizabeth junior Montana Braxton shoots over Greely junior Sarah Felkel.
Greely sophomore Isabel Porter is defended by Cape Elizabeth junior Montana Braxton on a drive to the basket.
Cape Elizabeth senior Hannah Sawyer drives on Greely sophomore Moira Train.
Greely senior standout Ashley Storey is no match for Cape Elizabeth senior Ashley Tinsman (22) or junior Montana Braxton.
Greely sophomore Moira Train goes hard to the basket.
Greely’s fan section had a lot to cheer about Saturday.
Greely senior Haley Felkel waves the net in celebration following the win.
Greely senior Ashley Storey shows off the regional championship plaque during postgame festivities. Storey was named the regional MVP.
Cape Elizabeth’s postgame reaction was more subdued. Senior captains Hannah Sawyer (right) and Ashley Tinsman receive the runner-up plaque.
Greely’s girls’ basketball team unleashes a celebration 11 years in the making following Saturday’s 53-28 win over Cape Elizabeth in the Western Class B Final. The Rangers will square off against Presque Isle Friday night in Portland, seeking their first state championship since 2004.
Jason Veilleux photos.
More photos below.
CE- 7 6 7 8- 28
G- 11 11 19 12- 53
CE- Bowe 5-3-17, Harvey 2-0-4, Tinsman 1-1-3, Braxton 1-0-2, Sawyer 1-0-2
G- Storey 6-1-14, H. Felkel 5-1-12, Train 3-2-9, Chapin 3-0-8, S. Felkel 2-0-5, Porter 1-0-3, Kane 1-0-2
CE (4) Bowe 4
G (7) Chapin 2, H. Felkel, S. Felkel, Porter Storey, Train 1
1996 Western B semifinals
Cape Elizabeth 57 Greely 48
1983 Western B semifinals
Greely 59 Cape Elizabeth 36
1982 Western B preliminary round
Cape Elizabeth 45 Greely 41