Cape Elizabeth, South Portland ready for Saturday quarterfinals
By Michael Hoffer
The 2009 boys’ basketball tournament began Tuesday night when Scarborough met a most familiar foe and suffered an all-too-familiar result in the Western Class A preliminary round.
The Red Storm traveled south to Biddeford to face the Tigers for the third time in four seasons with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line and as was the case on the two previous occasions, Scarborough was vanquished, 55-38.
South Portland, meanwhile, rallied to beat Portland in its regular season finale to wrap-up another stellar year at 14-4, good for the No. 3 seed. The reward? Another date with the No. 6 Bulldogs in the quarterfinals Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Portland Expo, which just happens to be the Bulldogs’ home court.
In Western B, defending regional champion Cape Elizabeth dropped its final two contests, but still wound up 14-4 and fourth in the region. The Capers battle No. 5 Yarmouth in a quarterfinal Saturday at 3:45 p.m. at the Expo.
Scarborough was up and down during the regular season, winning its first three games under new coach Joe Johnson, then losing five in a row and winning three straight before ultimately winding up 8-10, good for the No. 9 seed in Western A.
The Red Storm played at No. 8 Biddeford Tuesday, a team they’d already lost to twice this winter, 52-46 at home Jan. 27 and 48-37 at Biddeford Feb. 4.
Scarborough found itself down 17-7, but rallied behind a 10-0 run to pull even early in the second period. With the game tied at 21-21, the hosts went on a 7-0 run and led 28-23 at the break. After the Red Storm pulled with two on a 3-pointer from senior Garrett Alofs 36 seconds into the second half, the Tigers outscored them 11-1 the rest of the quarter to seize control. Scarborough got no closer than seven points (41-34) down the stretch and saw its season end at 8-11 with a 55-38 loss.
“We didn’t handle the pressure,” Johnson said. “We turned the ball over too many times, didn’t make layups and missed too many shots. We have to do a better job of handling the basketball.”
Despite the loss, the coach stressed that his first year was memorable and that bigger and better things are on the horizon.
“Coaches don’t like to deal with seniors leaving,” Johnson said. “They were great kids. I asked them to do some things this year they might not have had to do the past three and they performed.
“It’s a great community. I have very supportive parents, administration and players. I’m very excited about the opportunity I have in front in me. We have talent coming back. I’m excited about what lies ahead. They have a monkey on their back. They have to get ready for the third week in November.”
The old adage suggests that it’s very difficult to beat a good team three times in one season, especially if the third game comes on that team’s homecourt in a playoff setting.
That’s the challenge awaiting South Portland Saturday and based on the Red Riots’ body of work this winter, there is every reason to believe the squad will be up for the test.
South Portland had to navigate a brutal schedule without a single senior on its roster and played its final games without one of its best players, junior Matt Lee, who suffered a knee injury.
Undaunted, the Red Riots won 14 games for the second year in a row, as junior Keegan Hyland (a league high 27.7 points per game) elevated his legend while getting consistent help from an under-appreciated supporting cast.
“We had a very good regular season,” said South Portland coach Phil Conley. “We play in a very tough league. We brought our ‘A’ game and played tough on offense and defense. I can’t say enough about what Keegan did for us. He’s just incredible. He was double- or triple-teamed, but he found a way to score. The guys that surrounded him did a great job. It was a true team effort. We really came together.”
South Portland beat Portland 57-49 at home Jan. 27 and rallied for a 56-51 triumph at the Expo Friday night. The teams have met nine times in the past 40 years in the tournament with the Bulldogs holding a 5-4 edge. The latest meeting came in the 2005 quarterfinals (a 58-51 Portland victory).
“Portland’s a very good team,” Conley said. “We’re a very good team too. It should be a great game. Whoever executes on both ends of the floor will win. We’re looking forward to the challenge. We had a good week of practice and we’re confident.”
If South Portland is able to make it a clean sweep of the Bulldogs, it will advance to the Western A semifinals, Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Cumberland County Civic Center against either No. 2 Westbrook (16-2) or No. 7 Windham (12-7).
The Red Riots lost 62-47 at home to the Blue Blazes Jan. 8 and won 68-54 at the Eagles the following night.
South Portland has no playoff history with Windham, but has plenty with Westbrook. The most recent meeting was in the 2000 regional final (won 46-41 by the Blue Blazes).
“Obviously Cheverus is the team to beat, but all the teams left are capable of winning games,” Conley said.
SUBHEAD-Finishing the job
A year ago, Cape Elizabeth earned its first state finals appearance in two decades, but despite a spirited effort, lost to Maranacook at the Bangor Auditorium. This winter, through 16 games, it appeared the Capers were on their way to being the favorite again, but Cape Elizabeth was upset at home by Yarmouth in overtime, then dropped a 59-46 home decision to Greely Friday to finish 14-4.
“We’re different from last year’s team in a lot of ways,” said Capers coach Jim Ray. “That was quite apparent at the end of the season. I have confidence that the kids will get their heads in the right place and compete.”
The Capers earned the No. 4 seed and will battle the No. 5 Clippers in the quarterfinals. Yarmouth (led by senior standout Johnny Murphy) has won six straight. Each team triumphed on the other’s home floor this season (Cape Elizabeth enjoyed a 64-48 victory Jan. 10 in Yarmouth). The teams have met just one other time in the playoffs (a 77-48 Capers victory in a 2002 prelim).
“It’ll be a tough game,” Ray said. “A good test early. Murphy’s the key. It’s more about what we do. We haven’t handled the ball well. It stuck out like a sore thumb. That’s been our focus this week. Our defense will be there.”
If Cape Elizabeth wins Saturday, it will likely get another rematch of a recent loss if it draws No. 1 Greely (16-2) in the semifinals Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Civic Center.
The Capers did win at Greely, 72-64 on Jan. 12 and eliminated the Rangers from last year’s semifinals, 48-39.
“Greely’s the favorite,” Ray said. “They have size and strength and tall guards. It’s tough to match up with them.”
Looking ahead, the Western A Final is Saturday, Feb. 21 at 9 p.m., at the Civic Center. The Western B Final is the same day at the same location, beginning at 3:45 p.m. The Class B state game is Friday, Feb. 27 at the Civic Center, beginning at 9 p.m. The Class A state final is Saturday, Feb. 28 at 4 p.m., at the Augusta Civic Center.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cape Elizabeth boys’ basketball team, featuring senior Johnny Messina, is primed for a run at another regional championship. (File photo)