Cape's valiant effort falls short against York
PORTLAND—Two years ago, the Cape Elizabeth girls' basketball team made its first appearance at the Portland Expo and never had a chance against eventual state champion Leavitt.
This time around, the Capers weren't just happy to show up, they were bound and determined to go down fighting against pedigreed No. 2 seed York and that's exactly what valiant, seventh-ranked Cape Elizabeth did.
The Capers weren't overwhelmed at all by the big stage and shot to an 11-2 lead, but all good things must end and eventually the bigger and deeper Wildcats put it together. York rallied within 13-7 after one quarter and drew even with just over two minutes to play before halftime. The Wildcats even took a short-lived lead before a long jumper from sophomore sharpshooter Hannah Sawyer pulled Cape Elizabeth even at halftime, 20-20.
Then, the bottom fell out.
The Capers scored the first three points of the second half, but York, thanks to several easy baskets, most courtesy freshman Chloe Smedley, went on a backbreaking 17-0 run while Cape Elizabeth went six minutes without a point.
The Capers trailed by 18, 43-25, with just over five minutes to play, but had one final surge to get as close as six, 45-39, with under a minute left, but that was where the fairy tale ended as York made two more free throws to close it out, 47-39.
Cape Elizabeth saw its best season in nearly two decades come to a close at 11-9, as York improved to 17-2 and advanced to face No. 11 Wells in the semifinals Thursday afternoon at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
"I was thrilled with the way we came out," said Capers coach Chris Casterella, a one-time star player for the program, who might have done the finest in a series of excellent coaching jobs this winter. "We started knocking down shots, everyone was stepping up, the kids were playing with confidence. I was actually happy at halftime because I know how good York is. To have an even game, we were just starting over. It came down to who was the better team over the next 16 minutes. We just had a couple breakdowns and unfortunately we couldn't counter with something of our own. Still it was a great season."
Quite a ride
Cape Elizabeth went 4-14 last winter and fell short of the postseason. This season, the Capers started slowly, dropping five of their first six. After a 54-42 loss at Falmouth in the opener, Cape Elizabeth sprung an upset at Freeport, 45-33. The Capers were then frustrated by visiting Gray-New Gloucester (45-42), host Greely (37-31), visiting Lake Region (46-23) and visiting Fryeburg (56-48). Everything changed Jan. 3 at Western C power Waynflete when Cape Elizabeth managed a 49-45 overtime win. That sparked a first-time-this-century five-game win streak, which also included victories over visiting Poland (43-35), host Wells (44-35), visiting Yarmouth (63-35) and host Fryeburg (42-31). The run ended when the Capers lost at home to Falmouth, 27-25, on a last-second 3-pointer. Cape Elizabeth then dropped under the .500 mark with a 52-35 loss at York, but the Capers finished strong, winning at Gray-New Gloucester (45-28), holding off visiting Wells (48-39) and after falling in overtime to visiting York (59-51, after rallying a from a huge deficit), beating host Yarmouth (66-38) and visiting Greely (41-36) to boast a winning record (10-8) for the first time this century. Cape Elizabeth earned the No. 7 seed in the region and in its first home playoff game since 2000, the Capers dominated No. 10 Oak Hill Wednesday in the preliminary round, 55-36, for their first postseason victory since 1996.
York, which was ousted by Greely in last year's semifinal round, won its first eight outings: 52-38 over visiting Fryeburg, 39-34 over visiting Greely (avenging last year's playoff ouster), 48-39 at Poland, 70-47 over visiting Yarmouth, 54-27 at Traip, 55-52 at Freeport, 55-37 at home over Falmouth and 62-36 at Gray-New Gloucester. After falling from the unbeaten ranks with a 37-30 home loss to Lake Region, the Wildcats beat visiting Wells (53-31) and Poland (70-61), host Greely (62-39), and visiting Cape Elizabeth (52-35). A second loss to Lake Region, this one at Naples (61-39), followed, but York finished the year with wins over visiting Traip (56-27), host Cape Elizabeth (59-51, in OT), host Falmouth (37-33) and host Wells (53-43) to lock up the No. 2 seed with a 16-2 record.
The Wildcats beat the Capers in both regular season matchups, but Cape Elizabeth's rally in the second encounter had to give York pause.
Entering Tuesday, the teams had met in four prior playoff games, with the Wildcats winning three (please see sidebar). The last postseason contest between the schools came in the 1994 quarterfinals (a 61-57 York triumph).
This time, Cape Elizabeth made things very interesting.
The Capers scored the game's first four points as senior Marlo Dell'Aquila made a free throw and freshman Montana Braxton banked home a 3. After York got on the board on a driving layup from senior Emily Campbell, junior Emma O'Rourke made a driving layup and senior Kisa Tabery set up junior Kate Miklavic for a 3, forcing Wildcats coach Rick Clark to call timeout.
It didn't immediately help as Dell'Aquila made a 3 for an 11-2 lead.
That would prove to be Cape Elizabeth's highwater mark.
York senior Marquis MacGlashing made a layup with 2:42 to go in the first quarter to end a 3 minute, 19 second drought and Campbell added a pullup jumper. Miklavic countered with a jump shot, but senior Ruby Cribby made a foul shot to pull the Wildcats within 13-7 after one quarter.
York had the better of the play in the second period.
A driving layup by Smedley and a pair of Campbell free throws after an offensive rebound pulled the Wildcats within two, 13-11. With 4:14 left before halftime, freshman Shannon Todd scored on a driving layup to tie it.
With 3:27 remaining, Tabery scored on a putback, ending a 6 minute, 17 second drought, but Todd tied the score with a layup. Tabery put Cape Elizabeth back on top with a free throw, but Campbell fed sophomore Paige McElwain for a layup with 55 seconds to go and York led for the first time, 17-16.
Miklavic countered with a putback, but Campbell set up Cribby for a 3 and the Wildcats again had the lead, 20-18. With 5.8 seconds to go, Sawyer tied the score with a long jumper and the teams went to the half deadlocked, 20-20.
The third period finally saw York get some breathing room.
First, Tabery banked home a 3, but that proved to be the Capers' final lead.
After MacGlashing scored on a putback, a driving bank shot by Todd with 5:21 to go in the third, put the Wildcats ahead to stay, 24-23. Todd added a putback and Casterella called timeout to stem the tide.
MacGlashing set up Campbell for a bank shot, Smedley scored on a drive while being fouled and added the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play and Smedley added a runner off the glass to push the lead to 10, 33-23.
Smedley made two more layups, one from junior Anne Graziano, the second a left-handed finish off a feed from Campbell and the run was up to 17-0.
"(Chloe will) tell you I've been on her about being aggressive and not hesitating," said Clark. "She's been good all year with her back to the basket, but I told her to be just as aggressive facing the basket. That's exactly what she did. She set herself and went up with good moves to the hoop. To have it happen that many times in a row, I feel pretty good about that."
With 51.9 seconds left in the quarter, Dell'Aquila finally answered and ended a 6 minute drought with a driving layup, but Campbell added a putback and after three, York was in command, up, 39-25.
"Our Achilles' Heel has been a lull of four or five minutes when we don't score," Casterella said. "We turned the ball over and gave up easy buckets. I don't think we had that many major lapses on defense, just a couple. We just didn't have the offensive piece to keep up.
"We were tired. It's not an excuse. We had a couple mismatches and that's on me. We were one person off. Sometimes we had three people going for a rebound, or three people guarding the person bringing the ball up the floor and no one was guarding the person in the paint and they had easy layups. York is taller than we are. We didn't match up well. My thought was to press all the time, get it out of Todd's hands and into someone else's hands. I wasn't envisioning giving up the easy buckets. Smedley got position every single time. I didn't make the adjustment to prevent that. She just had to get the pass and make the layup. Hats off to her for making them."
The Wildcats won the third period, 19-5, and were benefited by eight Cape Elizabeth turnovers.
In the fourth, it appeared York was going to cruise home, but the valiant Capers had one last run to make to things interesting.
First, Cribby set up MacGlashing for a layup in transition and MacGlashing passed to Todd for a fastbreak layup to make it 43-25 Wildcats with just over five minutes to go, seemingly putting it away.
Drawing on its recollection of the regular season comeback, however, Cape Elizabeth kept fighting and was rewarded.
Miklavic knocked down a 3, Sawyer made a free throw and Tabery scored on a putback to make it 43-31 with just a minute coming off the clock.
After a final Smedley layup, Sawyer drained a long jumper and Sawyer and Milavic hit 3-pointers to suddenly bring the Capers within two possessions and a mere six points, 45-39, with 1:29 still to play.
After a Tabery steal, Cape Elizabeth had a chance to draw even closer, but Tabery missed a shot. Another York turnover gave the Capers another opportunity, but Braxton's runner was off target.
Campbell got the rebound and with 39.8 seconds showing was fouled. She missed the first attempt, but made the second to up the lead to seven.
"It was the same thing that happened last time (at Cape)," Clark said. "We may have had tired legs. We knew (Sawyer) could shoot. They got a couple 3s. We finally snapped back out of it in the last minute-and-a-half."
After a steal from Campbell, the ball came to Cribby, who was fouled and with 15.5 seconds left, Cribby made one free throw to make it official.
York 47 Cape Elizabeth 39.
"From Wednesday night, my first comment to the kids was that we're going at them," Casterella said. "We weren't going to try and keep up. We tried to. It worked with success a lot in the beginning, then we had some breakdowns."
York was paced by 23 points from freshmen Smedley (13) and Todd (10). Campbell finished with 11, while MacGlashing had six, Cribby five and McElwain two. MacGlashing led all rebounders with a dozen. Campbell added six. McElwain had three of the Wildcats' eight steals. MacGlashing also blocked three shots, while Campbell swatted aside a pair.
York finished with 22 turnovers and made 6-of-9 free throws.
"In my mind, (Cape Elizabeth) had a leg up having played a prelim," Clark said. "We had 12 days off. I thought we were rusty. We had a lot of shots go in-and-out, but we've been in close games all year. Four times we came from behind and we also played a game in overtime.
"I've been one of the proponents of Chris and Cape. I think she does a great job there. She hadn't had a lot to work with. She has a young group. I told her after the regular season game, 'I hope I don't have to see you again.' I'm not looking forward to next year. As they believe more and more in themselves, they'll be that much better. They're one of the most improved programs in Western Maine."
End of the line
For the Capers, Miklavic had a team-high 10 points, Sawyer had eight, O'Rourke seven, Dell'Aquila six, Tabery five and Braxton three. Of the Capers' 39 points, only 11 came from seniors, a silver lining.
Cape Elizabeth made six 3-pointers to just one for York and had a 33-28 advantage on the glass (Dell'Aquila and Tabery each collected eight rebounds, while Braxton and O'Rourke had five apiece), with 14 coming on the offensive end. Dell'Aquila and Miklavic each had three of the Capers' eight steals.
Cape Elizabeth might have had a better result were it not for 23 turnovers and 3-of-10 foul shooting.
Regardless, from Jan. 3 (the Waynflete win) on, it was a spectacular ride for the Capers.
"We made it here when a lot of other teams are home watching," Casterella said. "We gave the No. 2 team a run. I'm happy. It was a phenomenal, very special season. There were so many positives throughout. The girls did a great job. I don't have name brand kids. Nobody picked us for anything. I think we made it further than anyone said we would. (The girls are) upset now, but now is when the work starts. We do team stuff during the season. It's the next however many months when they need to remember this feeling and work on their game. I hope we've set the foundation for more."