By Michael Hoffer
PORTLAND — For the second year in a row, the Cape Elizabeth boys’ basketball team surprised the pundits and had a shot at springing an upset in the Class B state final.
Unfortunately for the Capers, for the second year in a row, they weren’t quite able to finish the job.
Last Friday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center, Cape Elizabeth led undefeated and highly-touted Camden by four points at halftime and trailed by just a point entering the fourth period, but the Capers weren’t able to stop the Windjammers’ myriad weapons down the stretch and saw their season end at 17-5 with a 62-49 setback.
“Who would have thought we’d be within a point going to the fourth?” said Cape Elizabeth coach Jim Ray. “It was a great effort. The kids should be proud.”
Another formidable foe
Last winter, the Capers won their first regional title in 20 years, but despite a valiant effort, lost 56-46 to powerhouse Maranacook in the state final in Bangor.
This season, Cape Elizabeth dropped a pair of two-point decisions in December, but won 11 straight and appeared primed for the top seed when it was shocked by visiting Yarmouth (in overtime) and Greely to end the regular year.
Cape Elizabeth wound up 14-4 and slumped to the No. 4 seed in Western B. The Capers had a chance to avenge three of their four losses in the playoffs and made the most of the situation, downing No. 5 Yarmouth 66-58 in the quarterfinals, top-ranked Greely 46-45 (on junior Andrew Dickey’s epic buzzer-beater) in the semifinals and No. 2 Falmouth (58-48) in the regional final.
The top-ranked Windjammers were hardly even tested in the regular season, then eliminated No. 9 Maranacook in the quarterfinals, No. 5 Hermon in the semifinals, and No. 3 Rockland in the Eastern B Final.
Cape Elizabeth was seeking its third championships after winning the Class C title in 1956 and the Class B crown in 1988. The Capers lost in the Class B state game in 1966, 1971 and last year.
Camden has been a perennial title threat in recent seasons, beating Gorham in 2001, 2002 and 2005. It lost to Mountain Valley two years ago in the state game on the Civic Center floor.
Friday, the Windjammers couldn’t hold on to the ball at the beginning, turning it over 12 times in the first period.
The Capers got the jump on a putback from Dickey. Camden then showed its range when sophomore Graham Safford buried a 3. Cape Elizabeth senior standout Alex Bowe answered with a putback before the Windjammers pulled even on a foul shot from their senior star, Gordon Fischer. Junior Conor Moloney put Cape Elizabeth up with a foul shot and Dickey put back another miss for a 7-4 lead, but sophomore Tyler McFarland (hinting at a huge game to come) made consecutive layups to give Camden an 8-7 lead.
Bowe answered with a foul shot, then he made a leaner for a 10-8 advantage, but with 54.1 seconds left in the first, he was whistled for his second foul. Sophomore Theo Bowe came in and promptly made a foul shot and the Capers had an 11-8 lead after one.
The teams traded runs in the second.
After the Windjammers got a free throw from Safford and Alex Bowe answered with a jumper, Camden scored six in a row for the lead. The Windjammers got a pair of foul shots from Fischer, a layup from senior Kiefer Lammi and two free throws from Safford to go up 15-13.
Cape Elizabeth then ripped off 10 in a row as Camden’s turnover bugaboo returned. Sophomore Cam Brown tied the score with a runner. Dickey then scored on a layup after an offensive rebound for the third time to put the Capers up. Bowe followed with a turnaround jumper, senior Conor Lawler took a pass from classmate Johnny Messina and made a layup and Messina scored on a putback for a stunning 23-15 advantage.
The Windjammers answered as senior Taylor Gartley hit a jumper and Fischer made a layup, but Moloney made a layup while being fouled to put Cape Elizabeth ahead 25-19 with 1:16 left in the half.
Just seconds later, however, the Capers suffered a blow when Bowe, then Dickey picked up their third fouls.
“The type of fouls disrupted the game in the first half,” Ray said. “I was frustrated by the way the officiating crew was calling ticky-tack stuff. But you can’t blame (the loss) on that.”
With 51 seconds to go in the half, sophomore Keegan Pieri made two free throws for Camden to pull the Windjammers to within 25-21 at the break.
Bowe and Dickey began the second half on the bench and Camden took advantage.
After a Fischer layup was answered by a Messina layup, Gartley hit a spinner off the glass, McFarland made a layup after a steal and after a block at the other end, Fischer raced in for a layup to put the Windjammers up for good, 29-27, and force Ray to call timeout.
He didn’t reinsert his stars, however.
After Fischer made another layup and Safford hit two foul shots for a 33-27 lead, Bowe and Dickey returned.
Dickey immediately made his presence felt with a 3 from the left wing to end Camden’s 12-2 run. Messina then made a driving layup and the Capers were back within one, 33-32. With 3:46 to go in the quarter, McFarland missed a layup after a steal, but Pieri was there for the putback and a 35-32 advantage.
After Fischer fed McFarland for a layup, Lawler sank a bank shot. Lammi made a putback at the other end, but Bowe answered with a patented turnaround jumper. Bowe hit another jump shot with 40.2 seconds to go to make it 39-38 Windjammers and after Lawler was just off on a shot at the buzzer, it was anyone’s game heading for the fourth.
Cape Elizabeth had six turnovers in the third quarter. After 17 in the first half, Camden didn’t turn it over once.
“We don’t have that many turnovers in a game sometimes,” McFarland said, alluding to the first half miscues. “We’re used to spreading it out, not being pressured in the backcourt. I had huge respect for (the Capers). They worked harder than any other team we’ve played all year. They hustle so well and play such good pressure defense.”
Ultimately, the game came down to the Windjammers holding on to the ball, getting good looks and knocking them down.
Fischer started the deciding period with a layup. After Bowe made two foul shots for the Capers, Fischer scored on a putback. Messina answered with a driving layup, but Fischer hit a short jumper in the lane, then made a leaner for a 47-42 lead with 4:53 to go.
Brown cut the deficit to three with a layup, but Lammi made a leaner to make it 49-44. With 4:11 to play, Bowe was fouled while shooting a 3, but shockingly, he missed all three free throws. McFarland then made Cape Elizabeth pay by making a layup and Ray took a timeout with 3:38 left and the Capers trailing by their biggest margin of the night, 51-44.
Cape Elizabeth got a break with 2:56 to go when Bowe scored on a leaner after a steal, but with 2:01 left, Lammi got free in the lane and made a layup for a 53-46 advantage. McFarland followed with a layup. After Bowe answered with a layup, McFarland converted a three-point play with 1:10 to go to give the Windjammers a 58-48 lead and put the Capers on the ropes.
“We ran out of gas,” Ray said. “We wanted to press, but we didn’t have the legs. Their depth and their size and the extra possessions they got were the difference. We didn’t turn the ball over as much as people thought we would against their vaunted press, but we had a few at critical times. Those hurt.”
Dickey fouled out with 50.4 seconds to go. Two seconds later, Safford was fouled and made two free throws. With 33.4 left, Fischer made two more and both coaches cleared their benches. With 12.2 seconds to play, Brown made a free throw and that was the final act of Camden’s 62-49 win.
The Windjammers had nothing but praise for their vanquished foe.
“I’d seen them play and I knew what they could do and that they’re well-coached,” Camden coach Jeff Hart said. “I knew they wouldn’t just sit back and let us do our thing. They put us back on our heels. They did things most teams don’t do. They pressed us, even when they didn’t score. They got a lot of rebounds. We really haven’t had anyone put that much pressure on us all season. It was a great game plan. Credit to Jimmy.”
Fischer led all scorers with 22 points. McFarland had 15.
An effort to build on
While Cape Elizabeth was disappointed with the result, the Capers left it all on the court and perpetuated a program’s strong tradition with their effort.
“I told the kids that it was just one game,” Ray said. “We had to go out and win one game and we went after them. When I told them that our first practice, that’s what they wanted to hear. I told them we’re going to the basket and shooting good shots. We weren’t going to sit back.”
Rising from the depths of a late-season slump to deliver the signature moment of the tournament against Greely, then win consecutive regional crowns for the first time, gives Cape Elizabeth plenty to hail.
“We made a stand,” Ray said. “We had to get better and get the right mindset. We practiced hard and worked on discipline in the halfcourt on offense. When we played two teams in a row we lost to, that’s what we did. We executed better than they did. That’s what it came down to.
“It’s fun telling (the Greely story). They had a little pep rally for us. The little kids were getting autographs and stuff. We went over why you never quit. It was nice to be able to share that lesson with the little kids and the high school kids who were there. There are a lot of positives to take from this.”
Bowe bowed out with 19 points. Dickey added nine, Messina had eight, Brown finished with five, Lawler had four, Moloney three and Theo Bowe added one.
Cape Elizabeth loses seven seniors, most notably Alex Bowe, Lawler and Messina.
“It’s a great senior group,” Ray said. “Several of them didn’t get a lot of playing time, but their attitudes were so good. They came to practice every day and didn’t complain. They were outstanding teammates. They were proud to be on the team. So much more than basketball goes into this experience. Camaraderie and fun. I would have loved to have been able to get them more minutes.”
The Capers do return the likes of Theo Bowe, Brown, Dickey and Moloney and will try, try again to ascend to the pinnacle next winter.
“We have some good kids coming back,” Ray said..” We have some work to do. Some of these guys need to grow and put some meat on their bones. They’re nice basketball players. Our JV crew did a great job this year and didn’t lose a game. These kids coming back have heart and a good work ethic. If they want to do the work, I think they’ll reap the results. It’s a good goal to shoot for. We will try.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cape Elizabeth senior standout Alex Bowe didn’t have an easy time of it in the Class B state final last Friday, as he was often the focal point of the Camden Hills defense. (Jason Veilleux photo).
Junior Conor Moloney drove past a Camden Hills defender for two during the Class B state final. Moloney and his teammates put forth a valiant effort, but ultimately fell 62-49 to Camden. (Jason Veilleux photo)