Cape Elizabeth senior Nate Mullen drives to the basket between Spruce Mountain’s Brandon Frey, left, and Jayden Perrault during the Capers’ 44-35 win in a Class B South quarterfinal Friday. Cape Elizabeth advanced to meet Wells in Tuesday’s semifinal round. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald photos

BOX SCORE

Cape Elizabeth 44 Spruce Mountain 35

CE- 17 3 7 17- 44
SM- 7 11 5 12- 35

CE- Bowe 5-2-15, Mullen 2-6-11, Bassett 1-3-5, Smith 2-0-5, Concannon 0-4-4, Thornton 1-2-4

SM- Frey 4-1-10, J. Bryant 2-3-8, Grondin 3-2-8, O. Bryant 2-0-5, Perrault 2-0-4

3-pointers:
CE (5) Bowe 3, Mullen, Smith 1
SM (3) J. Bryant, O. Bryant, Frey 1

Turnovers:
CE- 10
SM- 17

FTs
CE: 17-20
SM: 6-9

PORTLAND—On Dec. 28, Cape Elizabeth’s boys’ basketball team came to the Portland Exposition Building and got demolished, 58-25, by Falmouth.

Friday evening, the Capers returned and enjoyed themselves exponentially more.

Cape Elizabeth, the No. 7 seed and defending regional champion, took on second-ranked Spruce Mountain a Class B South quarterfinal and led almost throughout, riding strong first quarter perimeter shooting and superb fourth period foul shooting to an upset victory.

The Capers got a pair of 3-pointers and 10 points total from sophomore Will Bowe in a first quarter that culminated with a buzzer-beating 3 from senior Nate Mullen for a 17-7 lead.

Cape Elizabeth only mustered three points in the second period, on a Bowe 3, but it was enough to retain a slim lead at halftime, 20-18.

The Phoenix took the lead on a 3 from senior Brandon Frey in the third quarter, but Mullen put the Capers on top to stay with two foul shots, then senior Nolan Smith, making a triumphant return from injury, scored five quick points to help Cape Elizabeth hold a 27-23 advantage heading for the final stanza.

There, after Spruce Mountain drew within two, the Capers put it away with defense and free throw shooting, converting 13 of 14 attempts, and they went on to a 44-35 victory.

Bowe led all scorers with 15 points, Mullen added 11 and Cape Elizabeth gave longtime coach Jim Ray his 350th career victory as it improved to 8-11, ended the Phoenix’s season at 14-5 and in the process, advanced to meet No. 6 Wells (9-10) in the Class B South semifinals Tuesday at 6 p.m., back at the Expo.

“We knew we were capable of more than the seven seed,” said Bowe. “We knew we were better than that. We had something to prove. We were prepared mentally.”

Their time of year

Cape Elizabeth seemingly saves its best for February year in, year out.

A year ago, the Capers peaked at the right time, captured the regional title in dramatic fashion, then were a missed 3-pointer away from taking home a Gold Ball as they lost to Caribou in double-overtime in an epic Class B state final.

This year’s squad had a lot of holes to fill and took its time to hit its stride, but Cape Elizabeth managed seven victories against a tough schedule (see sidebar, above, for links to previous stories), including handing Waynflete its lone defeat. The Capers also managed to defeat Freeport and won at Wells.

While Cape Elizabeth mustered its fewest victories in eight years, the Capers got battle-tested in the process.

“Playing against tough, talented, skilled, bigger, stronger teams helped us grow this year,” said Ray.

Spruce Mountain has been a playoff regular and was solid throughout this winter, winning its first six games, breaking the 100-point barrier in a domination of Wiscasset (111-25) and capturing 14 games in all.

The Capers and Phoenix don’t play in the regular season and prior to Friday, had no postseason history.

Cape Elizabeth couldn’t have asked for a better start, as Bowe started out hot and helped the Capers build a seemingly comfortable lead.

Bowe set the tone 33 seconds in with a 3-pointer.

“It helped some to hit that first shot,” Bowe said. “Missing a couple doesn’t faze me, but making them is great. It was my first good game at the Expo.”

After senior Jack Bassett scored on a leaner with his left hand, junior Will Thornton’s foul shot put the Capers up 6-0.

Spruce Mountain’s first points came with 5:37 to play in the first quarter, as junior Lorne Grondin banked home a shot, but Bowe countered with a 3.

After an old-fashioned three-point play (bank shot, foul, free throw) from Phoenix senior Jack Bryant, Cape Elizabeth got a putback from Bowe, a leaner from Bowe that rolled in, and a free throw from Thornton for a 14-5 lead.

Spruce Mountain got two free throws from Grondin, but at the horn, Mullen’s long 3 made it 17-7 Capers.

“I work on that between-the-legs pull-back all the time and it finally fell,” Mullen said. “That felt good. I like this court. I think it’s better depth perception than the Civic Center.”

Bowe had 10 points in the frame and Cape Elizabeth appeared to be on its way, but points suddenly became a lot tougher to come by for the Capers and the Phoenix came back.

Just 10 seconds in, Bryant set up sophomore Owen Bryant for a layup.

After sophomore Jayden Perrault banked home a contested shot, Owen Bryant sank a 3 from the corner and with 1:56 left in the half, Frey’s transition bank shot pulled Spruce Mountain within a point.

They couldn’t take the lead, however, as with 1:37 to go, Bowe’s 3 ended a 6:23 drought and the 9-0 run.

Grondin answered with a bank shot, but Cape Elizabeth was still ahead by two at the break, 20-18.

Cape Elizabeth senior Jack Bassett dribbles up the floor.

Bowe led all scorers with 13 points in the first half, while Grondin paced the Phoenix with six.

The third period saw offense at a premium most of the way before an unlikely source helped the Capers re-open the lead.

It took 4 minutes, 40 seconds for a single point to be scored when Spruce Mountain took its lone lead of the night on a 3-point shot from Frey.

Cape Elizabeth went back on top with 3:07 remaining, as Mullen hit two free throws.

Then, it was Smith’s turn to shine.

Smith first drained a 3-pointer, then he took a pass from Mullen and made a layup for a six-point lead.

“Nolan was huge for us,” Bowe said. “Especially playing like that his first game back.”

“Nolan’s missed some time, but it was big for him to come back and step up there,” said Mullen.

“Nolan had a big shot,” Ray added. “That was pure. Hopefully he’s getting his legs under him. He injured his knee and we thought it might have been season-ending, but thankfully it wasn’t.”

With 42 seconds to go, Frey hit a short jumper, but the Capers took a 27-23 advantage to the fourth quarter.

There, Cape Elizabeth made its free throws and did enough to advance.

With 5:48 to play, Spruce Mountain pulled within two on a layup from Grondin, but Bowe made two free throws and senior Will Concannon added two more for a 31-25 lead with 4:36 remaining.

Perrault made a layup to cut the deficit to four, but after Bassett sank one of two free throws, Bowe set up Thornton for a layup and with 2:44 left, Mullen sank two more foul shots for a 36-27 advantage.

A Frey foul shot, followed by a pair of free throws from Jack Bryant with 1:43 to play gave the Phoenix hope, but Mullen countered by breaking the press and driving for a layup.

With 1:12 remaining, Jack Bryant sank a long 3 to pull Spruce Mountain within five, but that’s as close as it would get, as first Bassett sank two free throws and after a leaner from Frey for the Phoenix’s final points, Concannon hit two free throws and Mullen sank two more to ice the 44-35 victory.

“We work on free throws every day,” Mullen said. “We’ve struggled, but to see them go in today was big for us. I’m pretty sure we all got some. We knew we had to grind it out defensively. We just waited for the offense to come to us and it did in the fourth quarter.”

“We practice free throws every day and it shows,” Bowe said. “Those were huge in this game.”

“The guys shot free throws well,” Ray added. “They believed. That was good to see. A win in the tournament is a win. Survive and advance, right? I’m happy for these kids because they’ve experienced their share of losing some tough games this year. They showed grit and determination tonight and we can build on that.”

Bowe led the way with 15 points. He also grabbed five rebounds.

“Bowe played tough minutes as a sophomore,” Ray said. “It’s nice when he gets into rhythm. He’s a 6 (foot)-3 (inch) kid who works hard.”

Mullen added 11 points, while Bassett and Smith had five apiece. Concannon and Thornton finished with four each.

“Our supporting cast gave us some good minutes,” Ray said. “They played with a little more confidence.”

The Capers only turned the ball over 10 times and made a sparkling 17-of-20 free throws.

Spruce Mountain was paced by 10 points from Frey, who also had four rebounds and two assists.

Jack Bryant (six rebounds) and Grondin (five rebounds, three blocks) added eight apiece, Owen Bryant had five and Perrault four (to go with five rebounds).

The Phoenix had a 31-19 advantage on the glass, but turned the ball over 17 times, while sinking 6-of-9 free throws.

Wells, again

If it’s February, it’s absolutely no surprise to see Cape Elizabeth and Wells doing battle in the tournament again, even if the seeding suggested it wouldn’t happen this winter.

Last year, in the regional final, the Capers held on for dear life to eliminate the Warriors, 39-38. The teams have played nine times in the tournament, with last year’s victory giving Cape Elizabeth a 5-4 edge.

This winter, each squad won on the other’s home floor, as the Warriors prevailed, 52-47, Jan. 14 at Cape Elizabeth and the Capers won, 53-38, Jan. 31 in Wells.

Cape Elizabeth knows it will get a battle Tuesday from a Warriors squad which dominated No. 3 Lisbon (61-36) in their quarterfinal, but the Capers are primed for the challenge.

“They know how we play and we know how they play,” said Bowe. “We just have to come in mentally prepared.”

“I’ve played since freshman year and every single time, it’s Wells,” Mullen said. “They play tough defense. We know each other really well. There will be a lot of strategy. We won there and they beat us at our house, so it’s going to be interesting.”

“Wells looked good today,” Ray added. “We’ll see what we can do to disrupt them. We need to execute more consistently on the offensive end. I don’t have a magic wand. I don’t have many tricks up my sleeve. We’ll just try to do what we do better, with more consistency.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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