The game was supposed to be an afterthought, a formality. Just the final step in the inevitable – Camden Hills’ undefeated, largely untested march to the Class B state boys basketball championship.

That’s why fans across the state, in gyms, grocery stores and on Internet message boards, weren’t talking about whether the Windjammers were the best Class B team in the state, but whether they were the best team in the state, period. It’s also why the Camden Hills fans chanted, “It’s all over” before Friday night’s championship against Cape Elizabeth even began.

Someone forgot to tell the Capers they weren’t supposed to put up a fight. The Western Maine champs came out unafraid and undeterred. They took it to Camden Hills early, pressing and forcing turnovers and giving the Windjammers their first halftime deficit of the season. Cape ran out of gas, however, as Camden Hills’ superior size and depth wore the Capers down. Foul trouble, too, played a role, keeping Cape’s two biggest offensive weapons on the bench to start the second half.

In the end, the Windjammers (22-0 and the top seed out of the East) capped their extraordinary season with a 62-49 victory for Gold Ball at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. Cape, the No. 4 seed out of the West, came up short in the state title game for the second year in a row, finishing the season at 17-5.

The discussion over whether the Windjammers are, indeed, the top team in the state – whether they could beat Class A champ Thornton Academy – will rage on. But those fans from Camden were left with well-chewed fingernails, as the game wasn’t over until late in the fourth quarter.

Cape trailed by only one entering the fourth and was within five with three minutes left, but Camden Hills’ Gordon Fischer and Tyler McFarland combined for 17 points in the final quarter to lift their team to victory. After a hesitant and turnover-plagued first half, the Windjammers showed in the second why they are so highly regarded.

“We tried to pick up the defensive pressure, limit turnovers, be more aggressive on the boards and, most of all, attack the basket,” said Fischer, a 6’6″ senior forward who finished with a game-high 22 points, 16 coming in the second half. “We didn’t get to the line that much, but we did get a lot of layups. That was key.”

Down 25-21 at halftime, Camden Hills began the third quarter with a 12-2 run over two and a half minutes to take a 33-27 lead. It happened with Cape starters Alex Bowe (team-high 19 points) and Andrew Dickey (nine points) on the bench, as both picked up their third fouls in the final 1:04 of the first half.

“That changes the complexion of things quite a bit because we don’t have the depth they do,” said Cape coach Jim Ray. But when the two reentered with 5:27 to go in the third, it sparked the Capers.

Dickey immediately drained a 3-pointer to make it 33-30. After a defensive stop, Johnny Messina scored on a drive to get Cape back within one. Camden Hills scored six of the next eight points, but Bowe scored the final four of the quarter and it was 39-38 in favor of the Windjammers entering the fourth.

Fischer was able to get to the rim, scoring his team’s first eight points of the fourth, putting Camden Hills up 47-42 three minutes in.

“I feel like I’ve been thinking about this game for a long time now,” said Fischer, who was on the Camden Hills team that lost to Mountain Valley in the 2007 Class B title game. “I didn’t want to let my last game in high school go away without doing as much as I could to get us the win. It feels good.”

With Cape trailing 49-44 midway through the fourth, Bowe was fouled on a 3-point attempt, but uncharacteristically missed all three shots at the line. McFarland, a 6’5″ sophomore center who finished with 15 points, scored to push his team’s lead to seven, But Bowe responded with a short jumper from the baseline to make it 51-46 with three minutes to go. That was as close as Cape got the rest of the way.

“I didn’t have enough tricks up my sleeve to help the guys,” Ray said. “I felt a little bit helpless at times trying to get them better shots. Camden Hills is a good team. No one is denying that. But I think we represented Western Maine pretty darn well.”

Camden Hills coach Jeff Hart said Cape’s game plan was sound and took his out of its rhythm a bit at the start.

“Give them credit. We haven’t had anybody all year look to put pressure on us. It was a good game tonight by Jimmy (Ray),” Hart said.

“I’ve seen them play. I know what they do,” Hart added. “They’re always well coached. They weren’t just going to sit back and let us go at them. They put us on our heels. They did some things that most teams don’t do. They were pressing even when they didn’t score.”

Dealing with a disadvantage in size and depth (“I kept looking down and they kept sending 6’5″ guys in,” Ray said.), Cape tried to be the more aggressive team. Right from the opening tip, it showed. Rather than try to win the tip, the Capers tried to steal it. It worked.

“Our goal was, don’t listen to what everybody said. Nobody gives us a chance. But we’re going after them. Right from the jump ball, we said, ‘Nope, we’re not going for the tip. We’re going for the steal.’ And they turned the ball over right off the bat,” Ray said. “They turned the ball over four or five times in their first 10 possessions. I think they thought we were going to come in and be careful, and we weren’t. I was proud of my guys. I couldn’t have asked for anything more and I wouldn’t have expected anything less.”

The Capers jumped out to an 11-8 lead after a quarter as Bowe scored five and Dickey added four. Messina (eight points) and Conor Moloney spearheaded the defensive pressure, while Conor Lawler, giving up several inches inside, battled for rebounds and position. The Capers were able to get second-chance hoops and hold the Windjammers to one shot in the early going.

“We’ve dominated the boards all year, so it was weird to see them getting more than us,” Hart said.

In the second quarter, Cape had six players score points. After Camden Hills’ Kiefer Lammi (eight points) tied the game at 13-13 a minute and a half in, Graham Safford gave the Windjammers a 15-13 lead with a pair of free throws. Dickey’s putback put Cape back on top. Bowe sank a turnaround jumper and Lawler scored inside from Messina. A Messina putback (shortly after he made a steal) made it 23-15 with 2:52 to go, finishing a 10-0 Cape run. Camden Hills closed the half on a 6-2 spurt and carried the momentum into the second half.

While trailing at the half was new for Camden Hills, the team didn’t panic in the locker room.

“I don’t have to say a lot to these guys,” Hart said. “We made one little adjustment with their pressure, to swing it around to get it to Graham on the other side of the floor and let him attack it. I just thought we were back and we weren’t attacking. Once we started attacking, you saw what happened at the end – we got layups and second shots, and got our defensive energy going with that, too. You saw a lot of deflections and stuff like that.”

“All year we’ve been focusing on what we’re going to do and how we’re going to play,” Fischer said. “We don’t try and think too much about the other teams. But we knew that Cape was going to play hard and be a tough team. Any team that makes it to the state championship is going to be good competition. I don’t think we expected them to be that aggressive on the boards in the first half. They really made us wake ourselves up and start getting more rebounds.”