PORTLAND—The Blazes converted a small halftime lead into a big end-of-game lead at the Expo vs. Kennebunk on Saturday evening, Feb. 17. Westbrook standout Zac Manoogian seized control of the action and tallied 21 while teammates Abier Manyiel and Jeremiah Alado contributed 13 apiece en route to a 53-31 W over the Rams.
Westbrook head coach Dan Legage tipped his hat to the Rams – indeed, to the entire field of competitors. “If you took all the seeds, two through seven, in our league, you could flip them around, mix them up, and they’re all really good teams,” said Westbrook head coach Dan Legage. “It doesn’t really make a difference. The only one that’s really distinguished themselves has been Greely, but two through seven are all great teams. Class A South is a really tough league.”
“So for us to win here,” Legage said, “it’s good for this program.”
“They always throw, like, a box-and-one or something,” Manoogian said, asked what Westbrook expected from Kennebunk, whom they also topped in the regular season. “They faceguard me, or they faceguard Jeremiah. So it’s really up to the four others to step up, and I thought they did a very good job.”
Westbrook opened the game on a 6-0 run: Manoogian kicked things off with a two, then assisted Manyiel on another two. Manyiel followed with an unobstructed drive on a Rams defensive lapse for two more before Ram Tripp Bush finally put his boys on the board, knocking down two of three from the line.
Manoogian incurred a traveling call on the Blazes’ next possession, but soon pulled down a defensive rebound to regain control for Westbrook. Alas, momentarily he traveled again – or at least, an official claimed he did. The sheer number of traveling calls in the game, against both teams, was frankly a bit bizarre.
Ram Cam Lovejoy then added a three for 6-5; Lovejoy ultimately finished the night with Kennebunk’s highest total – 19, almost a match for Mannogian’s output. After Manyiel earned a traveling call, Lovejoy drained a second three, putting the Rams out front for the first time, 8-6.
Alado hit a three to slice Kennebunk’s advantage to one at 10-9, but in the early second Lovejoy hit a fadeaway jumper to keep his boys out front 13-10. The teams traded a pair of traveling calls before Manoogian notched a scoreboard-balancing two: 13-13.
“We know that they are kind of a rhythm team,” Legage said of the Rams. “They rely a lot on the perimeter game – and you saw that in the first half. Lovejoy was fantastic, and they were making shots and their confidence was really high.”
From there, the Blazes inched out front again, 15-13, on a Manoogian end-to-end drive; Lovejoy answered, but then, in transition, Manoogian assisted Landon Sjoberg, dishing the ball across, underneath the net, for Sjoberg to grab and drop in.
It would be the last go-ahead bucket of the game. Westbrook – and, specifically, Manoogian – gradually compounded the Blazes’ lead in the waning minutes of the half, adding 10 more before the buzzer.
“Zac showed everybody how good he really is, tonight,” Legage said. “And you know what the funny thing is? Not only is he a great player, he’s an unbelievable human. He’s an incredible kid. He accepts the challenge, he accepts the coaching. Then he produces. I’ve had so much joy, coaching him…I’m really proud of him. He’s worked so hard, the past three years, to help our program.”
“It’s really the team,” Manoogian said. “The team does a good job getting me open, running me off screens and finding me…[Spruce] played like a triangle-and-two, and [the guys] still did a job of finding me lanes and getting me open.”
Westbrook outscored the Rams by a big margin – 13-6 – in the third. Manoogian and Kyle Champagne both hit threes for the team; Alado hit a two; Champagne grabbed a d-reb he relayed into a long up-court feed for Manyiel, who converted in crowd-pleasing fashion. By the end of the third, the Blazes stood on top 40-28.
“We knew we need to control the tempo of the game,” Legage said. “We don’t mind playing [either fast or slow]. I thought we did a better job in the second half. And we did a better job defensively in the second half, adjusting to their double-screens, getting out and hedging and helping, making their shooters a little more uncomfortable.”
Westbrook outscored Kennebunk by an even bigger margin, 13-4, in the fourth. Manoogian, Alado and Manyiel again led the charge, and in the end, the Blazes emerged the victors.
“We know you’ve got to play good d in the tournament,” Legage said. “Defend and rebound.”
“Collectively, defensive-wise, too, we played awesome,” Manoogian said. “I’m really proud of the guys for that.”
Westbrook entered the bracketing ranked third in A South, at 12-6. The Blazes meet Biddeford, the two-seed, in the semis on Wednesday the 21st.
It’s the first time in some time that the Blazes have advanced past the quarterfinals. Naturally, talk of reaching the next round brought a smile to Manoogian’s face: “I’ve never been to the Civic Center; first time, my senior year,” he said, chuckling.
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CurrentSportsME.
Zac Manoogian lays in two of his 22 for Westbrook.
Jerry Alado stretches toward the basket for Westbrook.
Westbrooker Zac Manoogian races Kennebunk’s Tripp Bush up-court.
Abier Manyiel tallies a high-flying two for Westbrook.
Wetbrooker Kyle Champagne shoulders past Kenneunker Kyle Pasieniuk.
Barreling up the lane, the Blazes’ Landon Sjoberg battles Kennebunker Max Murray.