WESTBROOK—Jeremiah Alado erupted for 18 vs. visiting Fryeburg on Friday night, Jan. 5, leading the Blazes to a 65-33 victory. Westbrook began the evening looking drowsy, but woke up in the late first, and caught fire after standout Zac Manoogian drained a deep, buzzer-beater three.
“It was a good win,” Manoogian said. “It was good to get a W after a loss. This should put us in the right way to keep going.”
“Last year, we had a pretty bad game against them,” Alado said of Fryeburg. “Pretty slow team, but they shoot the ball good. We wanted to outrun them; first quarter, we were kind of slow. Second half, we got more into it and they got tired and we kept pushing.”
Believe it or not, Fryeburg held the upper hand for the majority of the first: Westbrook posted the icebreaker points – Manoogian dished sharply from up top to Landon Sjoberg underneath for an easy two – but the Raiders then jumped ahead on a Scott Parker three. Contributions by Oscar Saunders and Joe LeBrun helped push Fryeburg all the way to 9-4, at which point Westbrook head coach Dan Legage called timeout.
“They’re a good, well-coached team that plays hard,” Legage said of Fryeburg. “In our schedule…it seems like we’re playing the best teams in all three leagues. We have to understand the energy, the passion – defensively, rebounding – that you need to play with, for 32 minutes, in order to be successful. I think we took a step closer to that tonight. But we still have a lot of work to do; we still have to get more consistent.”
When the outfits returned to the court, Kyle Champagne knocked one down from the line to inch Westbrook forward; Champagne then turned a defensive steal, hurling a long-ball ahead to Alado for his first bucket of the evening. Soon – following another timeout by Legage – Manoogian whirled into a picturesque jumpshot for two and Sjoberg converted an offensive rebound into a layup for two more. Suddenly, the Blazes had chewed through their deficit: The scoreboard glowed 11s.
“We’re just trying to figure out, early on, what’s going to work, offensively, defensively,” Legage said. “[We talked] about what they’re doing to us, about who’s scoring for them, how are they beating us, how are they staying close – what are the adjustments we needed to make. Those two timeouts were about that.”
“We came out a little flat,” Sjoberg said. “Didn’t have a lot of energy. [Coach told us to] step it up defensively, because usually that translates well to the offense. Offensively, to cut harder, share the ball a little bit – it was sticking a little bit, the first quarter. The more balanced we are, scoring-wise, the better off we are.”
Alado described the action. “We’re moving the ball around a lot,” he said. “Coach wanted to move the ball side-to-side a lot, and find me open – I was getting open. We’re running fast down the court; four guys are boxing out, one would go down.”
Westbrook really sank their teeth into the Raiders at the end of the first, when – with just 1.3 seconds to play – Sjoberg pitched an inbounds ball from well beyond halfcourt directly into Manoogian’s eager hands. Manoogian spun, and fired off a swishing three from not just downtown, but downtown in the next town over. The buzzer buzzed with the Blazes on top, 14-11.
“We looked up, and there’s like a second left,” Manoogian said, “and coach said, ‘Just find Zac,’ and Landon did a good job of finding me. I just turned around, no space open. It was good momentum, going in the second quarter.”
“I just looked for him, and he’s open,” said Sjoberg of Manoogian. “I don’t know how it went in, but he made it. And I think it was a big momentum swing. It got us going; we came out a little slow in the first quarter. After that, we got going on defense, and it translated; we were able to get out and run a little bit.”
“Any time you can finish the quarter well,” Legage said, “whether it’s in dramatic fashion like that, or just run a good play and get a bucket – we run situations every day in practice, and when a situation works out like that, [the kids] are happy. It jazzes them up – ‘Hey, that hard work is worth it.’”
Manoogian kicked off the second with another three for 17-11; fellow Blaze Jacob Connolly shortly followed him up with an o-reb and two, and Westbrook were off and running.
The Blazes outpaced the Raiders 14-5 in the second quarter. Sjoberg and Sabri Najar both sank threes, Abier Manyiel a two and Manoogian a free. It would be Manoogian’s last point of the night: He never went off quite like he’s capable of; instead he did the more mature and leaderly thing, stoking his teammates’ fire, and – when they were good and roaring – handing off scoring duties to them.
“It was more just staying within the framework,” Manoogian said. “Really try to focus on moving the ball and stuff. I thought it showed well; we did a good job doing that.”
Alado in particular picked up where Manoogian left off. Alado undergirded a 20-point Westbrook third with 12 (three twos and two threes) of his own. Najar, Manyiel, Sjoberg and Deny Jany also dropped in twos during the stretch. For their part, Fryeburg managed just seven in the same time.
Westbrook thus controlled 48-23 at the dawn of the fourth. The game obviously belonged to them, but – to their credit – rather than flipping on autopilot and checking out until the handshakes rolled around, they continued to battle hard. The Blazes extended their lead by four more before time expired: Kevin Malonda made his first deposits of the night, a pretty pair of baseline threes, one from either side, and Alado, Jany, Sjoberg, Thomas Lok and Michael Connolly each nailed a two. Jany also had a free.
“I was really happy with the guys coming off the bench today,” Legage said. “They did a lot of nice things. Thomas Lok came in, Jerry came in, Abier came in, Jake Connolly – they did some nice things, coming off the bench.”
“I think we all played good, as a unit,” Alado said; “moved the ball around. Landon, Zac – everybody. Good guys off the bench: Kevin, Abier, Thomas.”
In the end, 11 Blazes tallied points, and seven of those 11 notched more than one basket. Alado earned game-high honors, with 18, while Sjoberg also broke double-digits, with 11. Sjoberg, notably, scored in every quarter. Manoogian finished with nine.
The pieces appear to be in place for Westbrook to burn through many more opponents in the coming weeks: They boast multiple All-Conference-caliber players, as well as good depth, experience and chemistry. Happily, Alado is also largely recovered from an injury that sidelined him for quite some time.
“Jerry has come back from an injury where he didn’t play any preseason games,” Legage said. “This is really his second or third game back. He had a hip injury.”
“I’m feeling all right; I’ve been getting a lot better,” Alado said, “getting more loose with my physical trainer.”
“And Abier Manyiel,” Legage said, “who adds a lot to us, coming off the bench, defensively – he’s been out with a dislocated shoulder. Zac’s had kind of a bum ankle; the snow day helped us with that, he got to rest that a little bit. So we’ve been kind of snakebitten by the injury bug, and illness, early in the season. Hopefully we can get by that.”
“The pieces are starting to fit a little bit,” Sjoberg said. “It took us a little while, but I think we’re turning the corner. Now that we’re playing together every day, everyone’s getting more healthy, in practice getting that chemistry back…it builds a trust.”
“It can come, on and off,” Alado said of the team’s chemistry, “based on our energy. Coach has been telling us about our energy.”
Westbrook moved to 3-3 on the win, and jumped two slots in the standings, from eighth place to sixth – in so doing, they leapfrogged the No. 7 Raiders, who dropped a slot. The Blazes played a makeup bout with No. 2 York the following evening, prevailing 46-44 to push all the way into fourth. And, in fact, their first real statement victory of the winter had come in early December, when they upended Kennebunk, currently ranked third. Greely, at 7-0, sits in first at present.
“I think we’re realizing we need to step it up,” Legage said. “It’s a long process. I tell the guys, ‘The season doesn’t end tomorrow.’ As long as we’re…getting better every single day, and they’re coming together as a team – the end of the year is the goal, to be winning at the end of the season. We’ve just to remember that it’s one game at a time, one day at a time, one play at a time.”
Westbrook travels to Falmouth on Tuesday the 9th; they host Biddeford on Thursday the 11th.
Adam Birt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CurrentSportsME.
Jeremiah Alado tallied 18 for Westbrook vs. Fryeburg.
Landon Sjoberg lofts up an inside jumper for the Blazes.
Abier Manyiel fires off a baseline shot for Westbrook.
Sabri Najar takes aim at the basket for Westbrook in their huge win over Fryeburg.
Zac Manoogian sparked the Blazes’ rout of visiting Fryeburg on Friday night.