By Michael Hoffer
The defending Western Class B boys’ basketball champion Cape Elizabeth Capers ended the regular season in disarray, losing their final two games, both at home. But once the stakes were raised with the start of the regional tournament Saturday afternoon at the Portland Expo, the Capers rediscovered their form.
No. 4 Cape Elizabeth was far from perfect, but rode its championship experience to clutch play down the stretch and got 21 points from senior Alex Bowe and 16 from junior Conor Moloney to hold off No. 5 Yarmouth, 66-58, in a quarterfinal round showdown, to advance to the semifinals to face top-ranked Greely (in a game played Thursday night, too late for this edition).
“We knew (Saturday) would be a good game,” Bowe said. “This is definitely a big step. I think it definitely helped being there last year.”
The Capers lost early-season two-point decisions to Falmouth and Lake Region before winning 11 in a row to seemingly gain the inside track on the top seed. Home losses to Yarmouth (63-59, in OT) and Greely in the final week, however, left Cape Elizabeth fourth with a 14-4 mark.
Yarmouth, led by senior Johnny Murphy, the program’s all-time leading scorer, also went 14-4, courtesy of a six-game regular season-ending win streak.
The teams split in the regular season, each winning on the road. They had met just once prior in the playoffs, a Cape Elizabeth victory in the 2002 preliminary round.
The 4-5 game is usually memorable and this one certainly was.
Yarmouth missed its first 12 shots, but was right in the game after one period.
The Capers got the first nine points as Moloney hit a 3, junior Andrew Dickey drained a jumper and Bowe made a pair of layups. The Clippers then scored eight in a row to make it 9-8 after one.
Cape Elizabeth senior Johnny Messina opened the second with a layup. After a free throw for Yarmouth, Dickey made a layup and Moloney canned another 3 to make it 16-9. The Capers slowly stretched the lead to as many as 12, 32-20, before settling for a 32-22 advantage at the break.
For most of the second half, the Capers tried to pull away while the Clippers stayed close enough to keep things interesting. On five occasions in the second half, Yarmouth got as close as five points, but each time Cape Elizabeth answered.
The biggest scare came midway through the fourth period when Murphy made two free throws to make it a 54-49 game. Murphy then had a chance to draw his team closer, but he missed a short jumper. After senior Conor Lawler grabbed an offensive board at the other end, Moloney scored on a layup, then Dickey stole the ball, raced in, scored on a layup as was fouled. With 3:03 left, he hit the free throw to push the lead to 10, 59-49.
The Clippers got back within five, 61-56, with 1:19 remaining, but Bowe hit three of four free throws and after Yarmouth sophomore Luke Pierce scored on a putback, Messina hit two more with 13.5 seconds left to clinch the 66-58 win.
Cape Elizabeth had survived.
“It’s nice to get that first one,” Capers coach Jim Ray said. “I’m happy with the win, but in the first half, we looked really tentative. Our ball-handling again was suspect and we had foolish fouls. (The Clippers) get after you. They’re physical, they rebound. We struggled with them all three times we played them.”
Bowe led all scorers with 21 points.
“(Alex is) a senior tri-captain,” Ray said. “You’ll rarely see Alex Bowe get rattled. He had major time last year. He knows what he can do. It’s the composure of the players out there that makes the difference.”
“I’ve had a lot of trouble here the past two years,” said Bowe. “Today was a little better. Most people have more trouble at the (Cumberland County) Civic Center, but I’ve had more luck there.”
Moloney added 16 points.
“Moloney had the best game of the year, hands down,” said Bowe. “No one else had their rhythm going in the first half. He hit some big 3’s that boosted us and got us off to a good lead.”
“It was good to see Moloney hit his shots,” Ray added. “He had a good game. He can be streaky. When he has that rhythm he can be tough.”
Yarmouth finished 14-5. Murphy ended his career with 20 points. He’ll graduate as the Clippers all-time leading scorer. Pierce added 13.
Cape Elizabeth split with Greely in the regular season, winning 72-64 in Cumberland Jan. 12 before falling 59-46 at home Feb. 6. The teams have met five prior times in the playoffs. The Rangers hold a 3-2 lead, but lost 40-31 to the Capers in last winter’s semifinals.
If Cape Elizabeth was able to pull the upset Thursday, it would meet either No. 2 Falmouth (16-3) or No. 6 Lake Region (15-4) in the regional final Saturday at 3:45 p.m. at the Civic Center. The Capers lost 55-53 to the visiting Yachtsmen Dec. 16 and won 73-70 at Falmouth Jan. 30. They fell 68-66 at Lake Region Dec. 20.
The Class B state game is Friday, Feb. 27 at the Civic Center, beginning at 9 p.m.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
Cape Elizabeth senior Johnny Messina races in for a layup during the Capers 66-58 Western Class B quarterfinal round win over Yarmouth Saturday. (Jason Veilleux photo).