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Feb. 24, 2011

Blazers claw past Wild Cats in frantic finish

by Gardi Royce, Page Editor
NELSON H. KOBREN GYMNASIUM, Feb. 22 -

In a season that hasn't lived up to the hopes of players and fans, the Blazers (5-17) beat Walter Johnson (7-15) on senior night to end their regular season on a two-game winning streak. While the Blazers endured many ups and downs this year, these last couple of games have shown the potential that many hoped for months before.

The seniors pulled the team together with well-executed fundamentals for the last game of their careers. Andrew Kirwan
The seniors pulled the team together with well-executed fundamentals for the last game of their careers.
With the season coming to a close, the Blazers hoped to send their seniors off with a triumphant and rewarding night. Fielding a small, seven-man rotation, the Blazers relied heavily on their seniors throughout entire game, believing that they had the ability to pull through for the win.

After the first quarter, the Blazers were playing some of the best basketball of the season, jumping out to a quick 12-2 start and maintaining this lead throughout the period. Throughout two quarters, the Blazers managed to beautifully execute the fundamentals of the game, something that the team has struggled with for the entire season. With one pass after another, the Blazers shredded the Wildcat defense and knocked down their shots. As the half came to a close with the score of 21-17, it was their transition game that allowed them to keep the lead and momentum.

As the third-quarter horn sounded, the Blazers raced out with the same intensity and execution that they had shown during the first half. Though at times their defense has lacked intensity and strength, the Blazers out-played the Walter Johnson team, controlling the rebounds and inside shots.

It was senior guard Charles Ruffin who lead the team with his aggressive play and knack for distributing the ball. Always a passionate player, Ruffin lead by example: getting assists, diving on the ground and sprinting up and down the court. According to head coach Mark DeStefano, Ruffin consistently infuses the team with energy and passion. "Charles is always going to give us a very good complete game when he plays that hard. He wants his team mates to play on that same level, and he leads by showing his intensity," he said.

Despite their execution and hustle, Blair's control appeared to be slipping as Walter Johnson started out the fourth quarter with a barrage of three-pointers to get back into the game. With a little over five minutes remaining, the Wildcats tied the game, 37-37. The game appeared to be unraveling as junior standout Tucker Canary was called for a foul that enraged the riled home crowd. On their next possession, the Wildcats stole the ball and capitalized on the Blazers mistake to take a two-point lead, 41-39.

Anthony Curcio drives against the Walter Johnson defense. Andrew Kirwan
Anthony Curcio drives against the Walter Johnson defense.
The Blazers regained their composure as Ruffin made a move to the basket to tie up the game. As the game wound down, both teams played good defense and senior Lucas Babinec, who lead the Blazers with 11 points, caught the ball on the baseline with the chance to put the Blazers ahead. With the crowd screaming, Babinec calmly drained the go ahead shot, which would prove to be the difference. "We knew if we settled down and focused, we could get the win at the end by not rushing anything," Babinec said.

Then in a turn of events, Walter Johnson split the Blazers defense and appeared to have a completely uncontested layup with 45 seconds remaining. However, the shot hit the bottom of the rim, missing the wide-open shot and sending the home crowd in to frenzy. Yet the Wildcats would regain possession and once again have an absolutely unguarded lay up to tie the game, and miss. As Walter Johnson tried to continue play after their missed opportunities, Canary drew a foul and went to line. His free throws would be the nail in the the Wildcats' coffin, as he calmly knocked down both.

From the beginning it was evident that the Blazers were going to relay on their seniors' efforts and enthusiasm. "We came out strong, believing in our seniors and our effort we knew we could win," senior forward Ethan Brown said.

With a two-game win streak under their belts, the Blazers look to barge into the playoffs against heavily favored Paint Branch. Though they have recently started to see success with their team and potential, DeStefano expressed just a twinge of remorse about the season. "We've been playing well, we're patient on offense and are just playing smart," he said. "But you kinda scratch your head wondering and wishing why this couldn't have come together earlier."

Babinec expressed the team's feelings as they start to come together. "We know when we play great and together, we can beat down on other teams. With this two game win streak we're going make some noise in the playoffs," he said.

The boys' varsity basketball team will play their first playoff game at Blair on Friday, Feb. 25, against Paint Branch at 7 p.m.



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