PORTLAND—If it’s late February, it must be time for another title run by the Cape Elizabeth boys’ basketball team.
The Capers, who won the 2008 and 2009 regional titles before losing to eventual champion Falmouth in the Western B Final a year ago, are up to their old tricks.
Ranked second and coming off a close call against Wells in the quarterfinals, Cape Elizabeth stepped its game up a notch, not only got expected strong showings from its sensational senior triumvirate of Theo Bowe (a game-high 24 points), Cam Brown and Joey Doane, but also received key contributions from senior Kyle Danielson and sophomores Henry Babcock and Chris Robicheaw in a solid 32-minute effort against No. 3 York Thursday evening in a Western B semifinal round showdown at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
The Capers trailed for all of 14 seconds and gradually pulled away from the Wildcats en route to a 55-42 triumph, avenging a pair of regular season losses, improving to 16-4, ending York’s season at 15-5 and setting up a delicious regional final tilt (Saturday, 3:45 p.m., at the Civic Center) against the 16-4 Yarmouth Clippers.
“The kids handled the pressure of the fourth quarter lead that we’d given up the last two times we played them,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Jim Ray.
Cape Elizabeth went 14-4 in the regular season, but had to go 36 minutes in a thrilling 49-44 overtime win over Wells in the quarterfinals Saturday.
York enjoyed a solid campaign as well and beat Leavitt in the quarterfinals to make it to the semifinals for the first time since 2006.
On Jan. 15, York won at Cape Elizabeth, 62-57. On Feb. 4, the host Wildcats held on for a 49-45 triumph.
The Capers and Wildcats have met seven times previously in the playoffs, dating to 1968, with Cape Elizabeth holding a 5-2 lead. The most recent meeting came in the 2007 quarterfinals (a 61-50 win for the Capers).
This time, Cape Elizabeth would not be denied.
Just 23 seconds in, Brown hit a jumper in the lane for a quick lead. Babcock followed with a jump shot before York answered behind a layup from junior Michael King and a King foul shot. A Danielson putback was countered by a putback from Wildcats sophomore Aaron Todd. After Babcock made another jumper, York went on top, 9-8, behind consecutive layups from sophomore Zachary Leal, but that would be its first, last and only lead.
Bowe started to heat up late in the quarter, as his 3 with 1:20 to go put the Capers ahead for good, 11-9. Brown scored on a driving layup before a Todd layup made it a 13-11 Cape Elizabeth advantage after one.
Bowe scored on a driving layup to open the second quarter. York junior Kyle Robinson answered with a putback, but Robicheaw, just into the game, drained a 3 to give the Capers an 18-13 lead.
Wildcats junior Liam Langaas responded with a 3 of his own, but Bowe came right back and buried a shot from way downtown and Brown followed with two free throws to make it 23-16.
Langaas would make another 3 with 4:12 to go before halftime, but Robicheaw countered with a layup. After junior James McCafferty hit a foul shot for York, Cape Elizabeth got two free throws from Brown and two more from Danielson for a comfortable 29-20 halftime lead.
“We adjusted defensively,” Ray said. “We had played our same defense, but we moved some people and we pinched the middle a little bit more. We wanted to see if they could make it from the outside. Langaas made a couple early. We adjusted at the top with Cam to shadow him a little bit more. It worked tonight.”
In the first 16 minutes, the Capers got good shots, gained confidence, turned the ball over a mere two times and hit 6 of 7 foul shots, while the Wildcats only made 2 of 7.
Cape Elizabeth got more separation in the third quarter.
After Leal scored on a putback, Bowe took over, first canning a long 3-pointer, then racing in for a layup after a steal, picking up the foul and making the free throw to complete an old-fashioned three-point play. When Danielson scored on a putback with 6:25 to go in the third, the Capers’ lead was up to 15, 37-22.
King momentarily stemmed the tide with a layup, but Bowe made two foul shots. A layup from York sophomore Hayden Webster pulled his team within 39-26 heading for the fourth.
There, the Wildcats hoped to duplicate their two come-from-behind wins over Cape Elizabeth in the regular season, but it wasn’t to be on this night. The Capers’ lead never dipped below seven as they sealed the deal.
A 3 from McCafferty 52 seconds in cut the deficit to 10, but Doane went coast-to-coast for a layup and his only points with 6:15 left for a 41-29 advantage.
York hung tough, however, as Leal scored on a putback and with 5:39 showing, Robinson made a 3 to make it 41-34, but 10 seconds later, in transition, Danielson got free for a layup to push it back to nine. After Todd made a foul shot, Bowe hit a tough fadeaway in the paint, Bowe made a layup and with 3:45 left, Bowe hit two foul shots for a commanding 49-35 lead.
“We prepped for holding a lead in practice,” said Ray. “(York) got us in the fourth quarter both times (in the regular season). We knew coming in at halftime and I didn’t have to tell them, but I did. I said, ‘Nine points, I’d rather be up nine than down nine, but they aren’t going to go away and they’re so accustomed to coming back and grinding it out and you have to really step up.’ They did. We knocked down baskets at key times.”
A 3-ball from sophomore Adam Bailey with 1:53 gave the Wildcats fleeting hopes, but Brown calmly made two free throws two seconds later. After a jumper from Langaas with 1:43 to go made it 51-40, Brown made a free throw. Bowe hit two more and Babcock added one to ice it. A late layup from York sophomore Luke Claflin accounted for the 55-42 final score.
“It was great,” said Babcock. “I thought we played great as a team. It was a great team win. We executed better in the fourth quarter. That was a big part of it. We were successful in beating their pressure. We didn’t break tonight.”
“We weren’t comfortable, but at the same time, I, at least, wasn’t thinking they’d come back,” said Bowe. “Our defense turned into offense tonight. Rebounds and loose balls led to offense.”
Bowe, who’s made a habit out of sparkling on the big stage, had another stellar performance, leading all scorers with 24 points, adding four rebounds and three steals.
“They didn’t really box-and-one me,” Bowe said. “It was just faceguarding. They’re a great defensive team. I felt better than I did against Wells. That was the first playoff game and we were rusty. I wasn’t too worried about me scoring, more about us scoring.”
“Sometimes you have to let it come with the flow,” said Ray. “We try to get (Theo) touches.”
Brown quietly put together a solid game, scoring 11 points, adding four boards and a steal. Doane had just one basket, good for two points, but he cleaned the glass at both ends to the tune of 10 rebounds.
“They’re great leaders,” Babcock said, of Bowe, Brown and Doane. “They’re the heart and soul of the team. They’ve helped the underclassmen progress and turn into much better players.”
“The three of them have an advantage having played here,” Ray added. “The tradition and expectation has a carryover effect. It has a positive impact. That’s what we strive for. We use the slogan, ‘Excellence is never an accident.’ I think they demonstrated that pride. It’s good to see that coming at the right time.”
Then, there was the supporting cast, which was superb.
Danielson had eight points, two rebounds and a steal, Robicheaw finished with five points and Babcock also had five points, with seven boards.
“A big part of (rebounding) is just position,” said Babcock. “(York’s) a great inside team. You can’t out-jump or out-muscle them. It’s all about getting position on offense or defense and that’s what I did.”
“It’s not a surprise to us,” Bowe said. “It might be to the people on the outside. When they key on Joey or Cam or I, it opens up things and we’re confident in everyone on the court.”
“Other guys did a tremendous job of stepping up tonight,” added Ray. “There’s an awful lot of attention on Theo. Guys got the ball where they could be successful. Danielson had some big baskets. Robicheaw gave us some nice baskets. Babcock has rebounded and played defense for us all year. The offensive part of his game he’s struggled with down the stretch, but he had some big baskets. Those were all key. The balance really helps.”
Cape Elizabeth finished with 10 turnovers, five of which came in the fourth period, but they didn’t hurt.
“Fortunately for us, we had a big enough cushion to overcome turnovers,” Ray said.
The Capers made an impressive 17 of 23 free throw attempts.
For York, which returns virtually its whole roster next winter when it will be on the short list of title favorites, Langaas and Leal led the way with eight points each. Todd had five points, seven rebounds and a block. King and Robinson also scored five apiece, McCafferty had four, Bailey three and Claflin and Webster two each.
The Wildcats gave the ball away 11 times and made just 3 of 13 shots from the charity stripe.
Saturday, Cape Elizabeth will play in its fourth straight regional final its eighth in the past 13 years. Yarmouth, conversely, hasn’t been to this round since 1974.
The Capers split with the Clippers in the regular season, losing, 84-61, at home Dec. 21 and rolling in Yarmouth, 61-39, Feb. 8.
Cape Elizabeth won the two prior playoff meetings, 77-48, in the 2002 preliminary round and 66-58 in the quarterfinals two years ago.
This one figures to be a thriller which could go either way. Rest assured, the Capers know what they need to do and are primed for the challenge.
“We have the win the rebounds and we have to not turn the ball over,” said Babcock. “When we do that, we’re successful in winning. Those are two big things. If we can successfully shut down their outside game, because they can hit 3s, then I think we have a good chance of winning.”
“It’s going to be an exciting game,” Bowe said. “We have to win the rebounding battle again and get loose balls and get defense to lead to offense. It would be very nice to get back to states as a senior. I think this team has a run in it.”
“Yarmouth’s very athletic,” added Ray. “It’s going to be a tough matchup.”
The Class B state final is Friday, March 4, at 8 p.m., at the Civic Center. The Eastern B Final is between undefeated Camden Hills and Ellsworth.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @foresports