PORTLAND, Maine — The Camden Hills boys basketball team would have been content with the coronation many fans anticipated at the Class B state championships Friday night.
But having to earn their gold ball the hard way — by pulling away in the fourth quarter — certainly made the final act to a perfect season feel all the more rewarding.
“It was a different feeling,” said Windjammers’ sophomore center Tyler McFarland, whose 15 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots helped Camden Hills outlast Cape Elizabeth 62-49 in the Class B final at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
“I haven’t been in any games like this at all this year. I’d been in a couple last year, but this year when it was close like it was I felt a little tense and I wasn’t that relaxed.
“I just wanted that gold ball so bad.”
Camden Hills earned its fifth state title in the last 11 years under longtime coach Jeff Hart, and first since 2005 with an inspired effort required by the persistence of a Cape Elizabeth team that was back in the final for the second straight year.
The Capers jumped on the Windjammers early, forcing 14 first-half turnovers by pressing a team known for its own fullcourt pressure.
“I think we had a few jitters,” said Camden Hills senior forward Gordon Fischer. “They played a press, and we hadn’t really faced too many presses all season except in practice, so we had to adjust.”
The Windjammers eventually got used to Cape Elizabeth’s pressure, and also did what great teams always do — capitalize on an opportunity.
Two of the Capers’ top players, Alex Bowie and Andrew Dickey, each picked up his third foul within a 13-second span late in the first half.
They remained on the bench to start the third quarter, just long enough for Camden Hills to change the game’s complexion with a 10-0 run that helped turn a 25-21 deficit into a 33-27 lead.
“The kids getting in foul trouble like that really disrupted the flow of what we do because we didn’t have the same depth they have,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Jim Ray. “Some of our younger guys stepped up and played some decent minutes, but we can’t afford to be without Bowie and Dickey on the floor for very long. They provide a level of calm that we needed, and not having that hurt.”
Camden Hills countered with its own measure of calm in Fischer, the 6-foot-6 senior who scored six of his team’s points during the third-quarter run.
“We just started attacking on the boards, because I think they surprised us in the first half with how tough they were on the boards,” said Fischer, who finished with 22 points — 16 in the second half — to go with seven rebounds and four blocks. “We had to regroup and get back to our game plan of running the floor, attacking the hoop and getting turnovers.”
Fischer came up even larger in the fourth quarter, scoring eight quick points and feeding classmate Kiefer Lammi for another basket as Camden Hills stretched a 39-38 lead to 51-44.
“They came out in a 2-2-1 zone, and I started getting the ball in the middle and that really opened things up because I felt wide open and had that little runner going,” said Fischer, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B player of the year. “Then I just kept attacking the hoop trying to get layups.”
Cape Elizabeth, the No. 4 seed in Western B, never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
“We ran out of gas, I think,” said Ray. “It’s hard to keep bringing what we wanted to do at them without having the depth they had. It wears you down, and it’s every possession, every possession, every possession. A few easy baskets — and nothing’s easy in a game like this — but very makeable shots really could have helped, both in the first half and the second half.
“But they keep coming, and they’ve got the speed, the size and the strength.”
For the Windjammers, it was the desired end to a season that for them could have no other ending.
Their run through Eastern B was so dominant that many fans considered Camden Hills the best team in the state this year regardless of class. To fall short of a state championship would have been considered a major disappointment.
But in the end there were no tears of disappointment for the Windjammers, only tears of joy.
“That’s just the best feeling in the world,” said Fischer, who will play at Colby College in Waterville next fall. “It’s kind of sad that it has to end, but it couldn’t have ended in a better way.”