By Michael Hoffer
After a pair of early-season two-point losses, some might have viewed the Cape Elizabeth boys’ basketball team as vulnerable.
Over the past week, however, the Capers have reminded everyone that the road to the state game will still have to go through the defending regional champion.
Saturday night, Cape Elizabeth watched Yarmouth senior standout Johnny Murphy score his 1,000th career point, then the Capers spoiled the party in pulling away to a 64-48 road victory.
Monday evening, at Greely, the Capers trailed once, by one point, for all of 49 seconds, as they made a major statement with a 72-64 win over the Rangers.
Tuesday, Cape Elizabeth defeated host Wells 56-39 to improve to 9-2 with their sixth successive victory.
“It’s shaping up well for the end of the year,” said senior Johnny Messina, who had 17 points in the win at Greely.
SUBHEAD-Protecting the throne
The Capers won their first regional championship in two decades a year ago before falling to Maranacook in a hard-fought Class B state final.
This year’s squad returned plenty of talent and was considered the favorite by many pundits, but the road was rocky in the early going. After beating Fryeburg and Gray-New Gloucester, Cape Elizabeth lost to visiting Falmouth on a last-second 3-pointer. After beating Freeport, the Capers suffered a two-point loss at Lake Region to fall to 3-2.
The team is playing now like it doesn’t plan to lose gain.
Cape Elizabeth closed the 2008 portion of its league schedule with a 30-point home win over Poland. After beating Gorham and Deering and losing to Cheverus in a non-countable Christmas tournament, the Capers began 2009 with a 57-50 victory at York and an 82-24 home pummeling of Waynflete.
Saturday, at Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth demonstrated how quickly it could seize control of a game.
Murphy made a layup late in the first period for a 13-10 lead, but the Capers erupted for the next 16 points and took a 10-point advantage, 29-19, into the break. By the end of the third, Cape Elizabeth was up 52-31, thanks to a 16-4 run, and it went on to a 64-48 triumph behind 19 points from senior standout Alex Bowe and 13 points from junior Andrew Dickey.
Monday, the Capers played the role of road warriors again.
At Greely, the team that gave it fits in last year’s semifinals, Cape Elizabeth raced to an 18-8 lead after one quarter, thanks to 11 points from Bowe, including three free throws after the horn. Up eight, 20-12, early in the second, the Capers went on a 9-1 run and eventually stretched their lead to 16, 35-19, at the half.
Bowe almost matched Greely’s point production in the first 16 minutes, scoring 18 points on his own.
“We dug too deep a hole,” lamented Greely coach Ken Marks. “You can’t let a kid like Bowe go off like that and expect to come back.”
“Alex was tough,” added Capers’ coach Jim Ray. “He got us through a lapse offensively. He knocked down a few shots. We were defending pretty good and clogging up the middle pretty well. (The kids) were jacked up at halftime. I was trying to convince them (the Rangers) weren’t going away and that they needed to come out and play.”
Greely senior Chris Young would erupt for 32 second-half points (he finished with 38), but Cape Elizabeth was able to fend off the Rangers’ comeback attempt. The closest Greely got down the stretch was five, 69-64, but that was in the waning seconds and the Capers held on for the 72-64 victory.
Messina’s 17 points were eclipsed only by 23 from Bowe.
“It’s always a lot of fun to play Greely,” Messina said. “They’re a big rival. We always look forward to it and prepare well for it. We just tried hard. We get pumped for the big games. We never really felt like we were in jeopardy.”
“It’s really nice to win this one,” added Ray. “To lose to another contender would have put us in a tough place. We know we can beat a contender. We played well enough to do that. I’m very proud of the way the kids responded in the first half. Greely’s a very good team.”
Tuesday night, Cape Elizabeth led 20-12 after one period and 40-23 at the half at Wells. The Capers were never threatened down the stretch and went on to win 56-39. Bowe had 16 points. Sophomore Theo Bowe added 13.
Cape Elizabeth (fifth in the latest Western B Heal Points standings) is home with York Friday, then has a week off before going to Traip. The Capers still have huge tests remaining at Falmouth (Jan. 30) and at home versus Yarmouth (Feb. 3) and Greely (Feb. 6).
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com