If all the typical elements of an unbeaten run to a state championship game weren’t enough, the Camden Hills of Rockport boys basketball team has a rare bad memory to draw motivation from as it gets ready for Friday night’s Class B state final against Cape Elizabeth at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.
Just a year ago, the Windjammers were in the championship game and closing in on their second straight state title until star center Tyler McFarland fouled out in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter and Falmouth went on to deny that quest with a 72-65 overtime victory.
“That experience last year is something you don’t want to go through again,” said McFarland, now a senior. “Keegan [Pieri] and I kept that experience in mind when we were training in the offseason and now when we’re out here working toward another state championship during the season. We have a goal we’ve been working toward that’s going to be very rewarding if we can come out on top.”
Camden Hills has fed off that motivation, as well as the presence of two of the state’s top players in 6-foot-6 bookends McFarland and Pieri and an emerging point guard in classmate Joel Gabriele to outclass most of its competition while rolling to a 21-0 record.
During an age in which many teams struggle to score 60 points, coach Jeff Hart’s club has averaged more than 78 points per contest.
Yet that statistic has its roots not in offensive firepower, but in defensive tenacity.
“Everything runs off our defense,” said Pieri. “That’s what we spend the most time in practice on. We’ll get most of our points off our defense and transition if we’re playing our best ball.”
Nathan Catell and Adam Carlsen also play key roles in the starting lineup, while Taylor Hall, Adam Landwehr, Kyle Ohelnik and Andrew Flanagan are among the top subs for the Windjammers.
McFarland and Pieri will face a familiar foe in the state final, as they were key members of the Camden Hills team that pulled away in the fourth quarter to defeat Cape Elizabeth 62-49 in the 2009 state final also played in Portland.
McFarland had 15 points and 14 rebounds in that game.
They’re both very talented kids,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Jim Ray, whose team enters this year’s state final with a 17-4 record after defeating Yarmouth 61-47 in the Western B final.
Cape Elizabeth features 6-3 senior forward Theo Bowe, who averaged 25.2 points per game during the regular season and then was named Western B tournament MVP.
“He’s a kid who can get his own shot, even when bigger people are guarding him,” said Hart. “He’s pretty crafty.”
Finding complementary offense has been one of the chief challenges for the Capers throughout the season, with senior guards Cam Brown and Joey Doane, both at 10 points per game during the regular season and tournament, helping to support Bowe’s scoring.
“For us it’s about balance,” said Ray. “We’ve struggled at times with that, but after we got by the first tournament game we’ve started to have more balance as guys have figured out what their roles are and have been playing within themselves.”
Hart expects the Capers to try to control the pace of the game in an effort to prevent Camden Hills to get its more fast-paced approach going.
“They’re not big but they’re really scrappy,” Hart said. “At least in the tournament they packed it in and tried to force people to play a perimeter game. That’s our big challenge, because [the Cumberland County Civic Center] is not a place that a lot of teams leave thinking they shot pretty well.”