PORTLAND, Maine — The Yarmouth boys’ basketball team has heard for a week that it would be hard to beat rival Cape Elizabeth a third time when the teams squared off Saturday afternoon in a Western Class B quarterfinal round playoff game at the Portland Exposition Building.
It turned out to be even more difficult than the Clippers could have imagined.
But they managed to find a way to survive and advance and make history in the process.
Oh yeah, and keep their championship dreams alive.
Fourth-seeded Yarmouth threatened to pull away early in the game, when it went up, 12-5, late in the first half, when it took a 24-16 lead, and late in the third period, when it grabbed a 37-30 advantage, but each time, the fifth-ranked Capers answered and refused to go away.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Cape Elizabeth completed a 10-2 run and took its first lead since the early moments of the game when sophomore Justin Guerette made a baseline jumper with 3:47 to play, making it 40-39.
The Clippers didn’t buckle either and with 3:15 to go, senior standout David Murphy sank a 3 and Yarmouth was back on top.
The Capers answered again on a 3 from sophomore Jack O’Rourke with 1:53 remaining, but 46 seconds later, off an inbounds set, Clippers senior Nate Shields-Auble took a pass from classmate Ethan Gage and made a jumper in the lane to put his team ahead for good.
Junior Adam LaBrie added a free throw with 4.6 seconds to go and Yarmouth, which fended off some anxious moments down the stretch, was able to hold on, 45-43.
Murphy led all scorers with 16 points, Gage and LaBrie each had eight and Shields-Auble added seven as the Clippers improved to 15-4, ended Cape Elizabeth’s season at 11-8 and advanced to face top-ranked Greely (18-1) in the semifinals Thursday at 9 p.m., at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
“Every tournament game is tough,” Gage said. “Every team plays like it’s do or die, so anytime you can beat a team like Cape it feels good, no matter how it’s done.”
A round too early
Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth hoped to avoid one another until a later round, but the vagaries of the Heal Points decided otherwise.
The Capers were competitive all year, but had no answers for the top powers in the Western Maine Conference, losing twice apiece to defending Class B champion Falmouth, Greely and Yarmouth and once to Poland, but they still managed to qualify for the postseason for the 17th year in a row.
The Clippers weren’t able to hold their own against Falmouth and Greely (losing twice apiece), but they beat everyone else to get back to the quarterfinals after falling in the preliminary round last season.
Yarmouth took the two regular season meetings: 66-52 at home and 67-55 at Cape Elizabeth.
The Capers had won the three prior playoff encounters, with a 61-47triumph in the 2011 Western B Final the most recent.
Saturday, a game that was expected to be close did not disappoint.
While teams are often cold and tentative at the start of their first tournament games, that wasn’t the case in this one.
Just 46 seconds in, sophomore Jack O’Rourke knocked down a 3 for Cape Elizabeth and we were off and running.
The Clippers’ first basket came on a 3 as well, courtesy Gage. Shields-Auble then scored on a putback while being fouled and added the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play.
After Guerette hit a jumper for the Capers, Gage made a 3 and Murphy did the same to make it 12-5.
After Cape Elizabeth got back within three on a layup after a steal from O’Rourke and two foul shots from junior Ethan Murphy, David Murphy set up junior Jordan Brown for a layup and Yarmouth had a 14-9 lead after one quarter.
In the second, the Clippers got a little breathing room, but it didn’t last.
After a putback from junior Eddie Galvin and a 3 from O’Rourke allowed the Capers to tie the score, Gage hit a short baseline jumper. O’Rourke then set up Ethan Murphy for a layup to make it 16-16, but LaBrie took a shot from behind the NBA 3-point line and banked it in and the next time down the floor, LaBrie canned another long 3. With 2:20 left, after sophomore Cody Cook kept possession alive with an offensive rebound, sophomore Musseit M’Bareck hit a jumper in the lane for an eight-point advantage, 24-16.
Momentum then turned when Cook was called for a dubious charge and at the other end, Galvin somehow managed to covert an up-and-under scoop shot with his left hand. Galvin added two foul shots and the Capers were only down by four, 24-20, at halftime.
The third period saw more of the same, Yarmouth threatening to pull away and Cape Elizabeth answering.
After Ethan Murphy was credited for a tip-in 22 seconds in (Shields-Auble actually tipped it into the hoop by accident), David Murphy started heating up at the other end, making a jumper.
Guerette made a foul shot and Galvin tipped in a miss to cut the Clippers’ lead to a mere point, 26-25, but after M’Bareck kept possession alive with an offensive rebound, he fed David Murphy for a jumper. Ethan Murphy countered with a 3-ball, but after Brown kept possession alive by tipping a missed shot to Shields-Auble before falling out of bounds, Shields-Auble found an open Murphy up top, who made another 3.
“My teammates did a great job setting picks and finding me,” Murphy said. “My shot wasn’t falling at first. It’s fun shooting here. It’s a fun atmosphere with the fans close to you.”
O’Rourke finished a finger roll in the lane, but LaBrie sank a free throw and Brown took a pass on the break from LaBrie and made a layup for a 37-30 lead.
In the final minute, however, the Capers responded again, as senior John Hall hit a 3 from the wing and Yarmouth’s lead was a mere four points with eight minutes to play.
That set up the palpitating finish.
Guerette pulled Cape Elizabeth within two with a jumper, but Shields-Auble made a fallaway jumper in the lane to push the lead back to four, 39-35.
Galvin then made a free throw and with 4:31 to play, Galvin drove for a layup and the Capers were within one, 39-38.
The comeback became complete with 3:47 to go, when Galvin set up Guerette for a baseline jumper, giving Cape Elizabeth its first lead since 3-0.
It only lasted 32 seconds, as Murphy somehow slipped free, got the ball and buried a 3 for a 42-40 lead.
Back roared the Capers, as Galvin set up O’Rourke for a 3 and the underdogs were on the brink of the upset, but they couldn’t hold on.
After Murphy missed a 3, Brown got the rebound to keep possession alive. Brown then tried a 3 and missed, but grabbed his own rebound. Gage missed a shot, but Galvin was called for his fifth foul and Yarmouth kept possession.
Off the ensuing inbounds set, the Clippers scored their biggest field goal since the 2012 Class B state final.
Gage spotted Shields-Auble in the lane, fed him the ball and Shields-Auble went up for a leaner that was true, making it 44-43 Yarmouth with 1:07 to play.
“Nate did a great job finishing when he had to,” Murphy said.
“It was just eye contact,” said Gage. “We both saw the space. I just tried to put it in a place he could go and come up with it. It worked out.”
“We talk about what we’re going to do out of bounds last second, sidelines last second, so everybody knew their assignment,” added Clippers coach Adam Smith. “That was the exact look we wanted to get. Cape was in a 2-3 (zone) at that point, which made the pass a little easier, but the shot a little more difficult because they had two or three guys right there, but Nate elevated well and had a nice look.”
Ethan Murphy then had a good on the baseline at the other end, but missed and Gage got the rebound.
The Capers got the ball right back thanks to an O’Rourke steal, but Ethan Murphy missed a runner and David Murphy was fouled on the rebound.
With 21.6 seconds showing, Murphy missed the front end of a one-and-one and Cape Elizabeth still had life after Guerette got the rebound.
The Capers’ hopes would come down to unheralded sophomore Marcus Donnelly, who had a good look at a 3 from the wing, but his shot was no good. Guerette managed to come down with the rebound, but LaBrie stole the ball away and with 4.6 seconds showing (an awful lot of time as it would prove), LaBrie went to the line for a one-and-one, looking to guarantee his team nothing worse than overtime.
LaBrie’s first free throw was true.
“It was a little scary,” LaBrie said. “I’ve been in that situation before. Knocking down one was good.”
His second attempt, however, was not, but Yarmouth got a reprieve, as Gage tipped the rebound to LaBrie.
“It came off quickly off the front rim and I just reached for it and got it out to let my teammates make a play,” Gage said. “That’s what happened. Rebounding has to be a priority all the time. We can’t give up rebounds. We have to get the ball and push it and get into our game.”
“I wish I’d knocked down the second one, but Ethan had a nice tip, I got the rebound and got it out,” LaBrie said.
In that split second, it looked like the win was in the bag.
Not so fast.
As time wound down, LaBrie passed to Murphy in the backcourt to run out the clock, but instead of cradling the ball until the buzzer sounded, Murphy tossed it up in the air underhanded.
Problem was, he didn’t throw it high enough and it came down to Guerette near midcourt and as the buzzer sounded, Guerette sent a desperation heave toward the basket.
Had it gone in, the ending would have been Sportscenter-worthy, but the Capers would not prevail in fairy tale, buzzer beating fashion (as they did in upsetting top-ranked Falmouth in the 2004 quarterfinals or Greely in improbable fashion in the 2009 semifinals).
This time, the miracle bid was off target and at last, the Clippers were able to exhale.
“I thought (the throw in the air) would waste the rest of the game out, but I looked back and saw the ball heading toward the rim and it was pretty scary,” said Murphy. “I need to throw it higher next time.”
“We had just discussed that (scenario) in practice,” Smith said. “He’ll hold on to it next time. I told him if you’re going to do that, throw it higher next time.”
After dodging that enormous bullet, Yarmouth celebrated the victory.
“We’re happy we got the win,” LaBrie said. “We didn’t play as well as we wanted to. Cape played an amazing game, but we did what we had to do. We’ve never beaten Cape three times (in one season) or in the playoffs. We finally did that and it’s great.”
“Cape’s a great team,” Murphy said. “We knew they’d come out and play great to the finish. This is huge. We’ve tried to establish ourselves as a team that’s always in the playoffs.”
“I knew it would be a very tough game,” Smith added. “Cape came prepared. In the tournament, they have the perfect team to be patient, slow the game down, take their time and knock down shots. We did not escape. We won the game. We made shots down the stretch and played defense when we had to. The difference might have been our senior leadership. Defensively, I thought we played really well at the end. We didn’t give them great looks and we rebounded well. The seniors really made a difference on the floor late in the game for us.”
Yarmouth’s winning effort was paced by Murphy, who had 16 points, including four 3-pointers. Murphy only had three points at the half, but came up huge in the second half.
“David played the whole game, 32 minutes, and he hit big shots for us,” Smith said. “He defends well, he distributes well. I need his leadership on the floor. WMC teams defend him very well, so there’s not any daylight. Any points he gets, he earns.”
Gage added eight points, six rebounds and one huge assist.
LaBrie had eight points, four boards, three assists and a steal.
Shields-Auble had seven points and six rebounds.
Brown added four points and M’Bareck had two (to go with five assists).
The Clippers turned the ball over 13 times and made 3 of 6 free throws.
Tough to swallow
Cape Elizabeth was led by O’Rourke, who had 13 points, five rebounds, two steals and a pair of assists.
Galvin had 11 points, six boards, three assists, a steal and a block before fouling out.
Murphy, who also left early, had nine points, while Guerette added seven (to go with a game-high 10 rebounds) and Hall had three.
The Capers outrebounded the Clippers, 29-27, committed only 10 turnovers and made 6 of 11 foul shots, but it wasn’t enough.
“We played tough,” Cape Elizabeth coach Jim Ray said. “We just didn’t have the necessary composure. We missed some foul shots throughout and missed contested layups. You have to make those. We gave them a couple looks they shouldn’t have had. Just miscues defensively. It was better than the first two times we played them, but it’s disappointing.
“It would have been nice to move on and play another game, but someone has to lose. We just tried to be better at what we do. We know them so well. They know us so well. We kept working, but it’s tough to simulate what they do in practice. They keep coming. It was a good high school basketball game.”
The Capers’ record might not reflect it, but they came a long way over the course of the season.
“We struggled figuring out how to win games in the summer, but we figured out who had confidence,” Ray said. “We were in a lot of close games this year. We won most of the games we were supposed to. We knew we’d struggle against Falmouth, Greely and Yarmouth. Hats off to every single one of the guys for coming and working hard. They showed a lot of commitment. Most of these guys will be back, but we have to work hard to get better. We won’t just get better.”
Yarmouth will be the decided underdog Thursday when the action moves across town. That’s because the Clippers were swept this year by the Rangers ( 57-49 at Greely and 65-48 at home).
Yarmouth and Greely have played four previous times in the playoffs, with each team winning twice. The most recent meeting came in the 2011 semifinals, when the Clippers upset the top-ranked Rangers, 54-42.
Greely and Yarmouth have appeared to be the two best teams in the region most of the season, so it’s fitting they square off, although once again, it can be argued it’s a round too soon.
“(The Civic Center’s) a great place to play basketball because the fans are far away, so it’s just two teams playing basketball,” Gage said. “It’s fun. I appreciate that atmosphere.”
The Clippers hope to find a way to survive and advance once more.
“We have to compete with (Greely) on the boards,” said LaBrie. “If we can keep them off the boards and push the ball, we have a chance to beat them. We’re looking forward to it.”
“Greely’s a great team,” said Murphy. “They’re very athletic and physical. We just need to come out and play our game.”
“We have to make sure we limit the runs they get,” Smith added. “I thought the two times we played them in the regular season, I allowed their runs to get too extensive. I have to make sure we play a smarter game. They’re a very difficult matchup, but I think we can give ourselves an opportunity hopefully in the fourth quarter to knock on the door.”