PORTLAND—As expected, the top-ranked Cape Elizabeth boys’ basketball team got a scare from No. 9 Lake Region Saturday afternoon at the Portland Exposition Building, but the two-time defending regional champion Capers turned to their championship heart and experience and pulled away in the second half to advance with a 53-37 victory in the Western Class B quarterfinals.
By virtue of its win, Cape Elizabeth will meet No. 4 Greely (14-5) in the semifinals Thursday.
“Obviously there were nerves,” said senior Conor Moloney, who had a team-high 13 points. “We wanted to get in the flow of things and get things going. We did well defensively all game, we just had to get in the flow on offense. Get everyone involved, get touches and get rhythm going. That’s what happened in the second half, we got easy baskets.”
Despite being hit hard by graduation and playing a daunting schedule, Cape Elizabeth finished the regular season with a 17-1 mark, its best since the 1993-94 squad finished 18-0. The Capers capped the regular year by handing Falmouth it’s first loss, leapfrogging the Yachtsmen for the top spot in the region in the process.
Lake Region went 11-7 in a competitive regular year, then came to life in the preliminary round, drubbing host Yarmouth, 56-41, in a game that was never close.
Cape Elizabeth swept the Lakers in the regular season, winning 60-41 at Lake Region on Dec. 12 and 70-53 at home Jan. 16. The teams’ last playoff meeting came in the 2004 semifinals (a 84-65 Lake Region triumph). They also played in the 1980 quarterfinals (the Capers won, 83-60), the 1981 quarterfinals (the Lakers won, 62-60, in OT), the 1983 semifinals (a 75-64 Lake Region victory) and the 1985 regional final (won by the Lakers, 64-50).
Saturday, Cape Elizabeth got off to a hot start, then began turning the ball over and was in a dogfight for the remainder of the first half.
Lake Region took a quick lead on a layup from senior standout Matt Langadas just 24 seconds in. The Capers then rattled off eight straight, as Moloney and senior Andrew Dickey hit 3s and Moloney buried a jump shot. The Lakers ended a 4 minute, 55 second drought and an 8-0 run when Langadas hit a foul shot with 2:41 to go in the first quarter. Senior Anthony Kennedy buried a 3-ball 37 seconds later and it was 8-6 Capers after one.
Just eight seconds into the second, Langadas tied the game with a layup. He then made a free throw 34 seconds later for a 9-8 Lake Region lead. A jumper from junior Cam Brown ended a 7-0 run and 5:28 drought, but Langadas made a layup and Kennedy buried a contested 3 to make it 14-10 Lake Region. After Dickey answered with a spinning layup, Moloney hit a shot that was originally ruled a 3, changed to a 2, then, after the officials huddled, ruled to be a 3 after all, for a 15-14 advantage.
After Moloney and Kennedy traded single free throws, junior Theo Bowe made a leaner for an 18-15 lead. Kennedy answered with a leaner of his own, but with 3.9 seconds to go in the half, senior Will Pierce made a jumper. Langadas was fouled at midcourt as time expired (Dickey’s third) and went to the line with a chance to tie the score, but he missed all three shots and Cape Elizabeth was up 20-17 at the break.
The Lakers had seven first half turnovers and hindered their chances with a woeful 3-of-14 performance from the charity stripe. The Capers were able to overcome nine turnovers and rode their defense to the lead.
“Defense in a tournament really sustains a team,” said Cape Elizabeth’s longtime coach Jim Ray. “The kids were worried about what to expect from them.”
In the third, senior Matt Donovan helped Cape Elizabeth take control. Just 14 seconds in, Donovan made is first hoop, a layup. After Kennedy made another 3 to make it a 22-20 game, Moloney made a layup, Bowe hit a bank shot, then buried a long jumper. With 3:06 to go in the quarter, Donovan canned a 3 and the lead was into double figures, 31-20. Donovan followed with a putback to make it 33-20, before a layup by Langadas ended a 5:05 drought and an 11-0 run.
“I was just shooting the open shot,” Donovan said. “All of us can put the ball in the basket. It’s pretty equal. I was feeling it. I was hoping we could come strong out of the gates, but we had nerves in the first half.”
“Donovan did a great job,” added Ray. “I couldn’t be more happy for anybody. I’ve been on him pretty hard as of late. He’s a senior. He understands. He responded very well tonight.”
Capers senior Ben Brewster and Langadas traded layups and Cape Elizabeth had some breathing room, up 35-22, heading for the fourth.
After Dickey started the fourth with a layup, Bowe made a foul shot, but Kennedy hit another 3 to make it 38-27. Dickey countered with an old-fashioned three-point play. Langadas and Pierce traded hoops. Moloney then hit two foul shots and Brown netted another to make it 46-29. The Lakers would get no closer than 14 the rest of the way and Cape Elizabeth cruised to the 53-37 win.
“It takes kids a little bit to get comfortable,” said Ray. “If they knock down their first three shots, they’re OK, but it didn’t work that way. We knew Lake Region played good defense. Kennedy’s a handful. They made it difficult for us to get in the flow. We got some key baskets that eased the pressure. Our balance has been our strength all season. We got through it and we have another chance to play. Hopefully we’ll relax.”
In addition to Moloney’s 13 points, Dickey had 12, Donovan nine, Bowe seven, Brown six, Pierce four and Brewster two.
For the Lakers (12-8), Langadas had 17 points, Kennedy 15, senior Justin Peterson three and senior Sam Maker two. In the first three periods, only Langadas and Kennedy scored.
“We knew to take them seriously,” Moloney said. “Kennedy can pull up from anywhere. We treated him like (Stefano) Mancini from Falmouth.”
Thursday at 7:30 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the Capers (18-1) will battle Greely (58-54 quarterfinal round winners over No. 5 Maranacook Saturday) in the semifinals.
Cape Elizabeth beat the Rangers twice this year, 66-55 at home Dec. 19 and 57-46 in Cumberland Jan. 22. Of more resonance, last season in the semifinals, Dickey’s buzzer-beater on a fullcourt pass as time expired gave the Capers a 46-45 win against Greely, meaning the Rangers will be very fired up, looking for revenge this time around.
“Greely’s always tough,” Moloney said. “They’re a lot bigger than us. We’ll have to play to our advantage.”
“I always like playing Greely,” Donovan said. “I’m expecting the same as always. They can beat us, they want us bad.”
“They’ll be fired up to play us,” Ray added. “It’ll be a little extra special. It’s a tough matchup, but that’s what makes it so much fun. We look forward to it. It’s good for the fans.”
Since 1984, the rivals have played six times in the posteason, with each winning three.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com