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Jan. 21, 2006

Blair rallies for a thrilling win

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor

The boisterous Richard Montgomery fans that traveled down Route 355 made Blair varsity boys' basketball feel like visitors in their own gym. Late in the fourth quarter, with the Blazers' lead rapidly fading, tonight's game looked like it would be yet another brutally close loss for the Blazers. RM even had a three-pointer at the buzzer to tie a game they trailed by eight just 80 seconds earlier.

But tonight's script was a little different. The shot fell way short, and the Blazers pulled off a thrilling 76-73 victory over the RM Rockets. After rallying from a nine point deficit of their own in the third quarter, the Blazers held on for the thrilling rollercoaster win. The 76 point total was the most Blair had put up this year, including 50 points in the second half.

The victory snapped a five-game losing streak for Blair (3-8) that dated back to Winter Break, but it wasn't easy. After John Orr hit a three-pointer with under two minutes left to give the Blazers an eight point lead, the win seemed in hand. But the Rockets answered with a three by Sam Martin to stay in the game.

Blair still had a chance to seal the win, but missed three of their next four foul shots. A Mike Fumai three-pointer and a Martin driving lay-up later, the Blazers' lead was just two with 20 seconds left. Dozens of students from RM (7-3) who made the trip from Rockville had seized the momentum and home court advantage from the Blazers.

Blair head coach Orlando Larracuente called a time out. "I told them that we've worked so hard for this victory; don't quit now," he said. After an RM foul, the Blazers hit just one of the two free throws, giving the Rockets a final chance to tie the game and send it into overtime.

The Blazer defense broke down, and Terrell Addison had a wide-open chance at a three. Martin stole the rebound, but his desperation 30-footer fell way short at the buzzer, and everyone on the Blair bench collectively exhaled.

Petros Fentahun, who scored 15 points for Blair tonight, said the Blazers "left the door open [for RM] way too long." But he added that the team as a whole was extremely happy. "We came back ourselves tonight, and got something to build on."

Indeed, the Blazers trailed by nine in the third quarter. The Rockets appeared one or two more defensive stops from cruising to a road win. But those stops never came, and Blair rallied to tie RM at the end of the third. Blair took the lead early in the fourth, and led the rest of the way.

Larracuente was thrilled with the team's effort in rallying, and then staving off an RM comeback. "The light bulb for the team went on tonight; they never gave up," he said. "We shared the ball well, scored in the paint. We won as a group tonight."

Fentahun echoed that statement, saying that Blair caught the Rockets off guard with their strong inside-outside play. "We shared the ball evenly really well. Most teams know us only as a perimeter team with no big men, and they didn't see us down low."

"Every time we got down low," Fentahun added, "we scored."

Blair was much more aggressive getting into the paint tonight, earning 24 foul shots. Jacob Wade, maybe the Blazers' most emblematic inside-outside player, scored 14 points, nearly all of them in the paint. Mohammed Roberson, Noah Johnson and Tori Patton- all interior players, combined for 17 points.

Larracuente said that this was as much a victory as a life raft. "We've been struggling. I've been trying to get my messages across to them for a while, about practicing with purpose and having pride. And there's nothing like a win to get the message from the coach across."

The second-year coach continued, adding: "We have a young group; I want them to get focused together. And when we practice next week, I guarantee they'll be more focused because we're coming off a win. People listen more when you win."

Roberson agreed. "We had fun tonight, and we're going to keep enjoying ourselves. This win definitely helps us focus on what coach has to say."

Larracuente also glowed about his bench, which added 21 points. "The bench gave us big, quality minutes. The bench was phenomenal, really." John Orr was the main contributor off the bench, scoring 14 points, and drawing seven free throws, many down the stretch. "When we were slipping towards the end, John hit a couple big free-throws," Larracuente said.

Fentahun praised the defense the bench played, including seven rebounds from Roberson. "They made defense much easier for us starters. It was great."

The victory also moved Blair into sixth place in the Maryland 4A East standings, meaning if the season ended today, they would avoid having to play powerhouses Magruder and Springbrook in the first round of the playoffs.

Magruder is ranked as the third-best public school in the region, behind Herndon in Fairfax County and Eleanor Roosevelt in Prince George's.

Tonight's game was maybe the most frantic, and entertaining game the Blazers had played all season. After a first quarter where Blair came out with energy and intensity; prompting Larracuente to call it "our best first quarter of the season," the Blazers slumped in the second quarter. Down 31-26 at the half, Larracuente gave a halftime "speech" that left some of the Blazers visibly shaken as they took the floor for the second half.

Whatever he said, it worked. Blair struggled out of the gate in the third quarter, but then began an offensive explosion. The Blazers scored 25 points in each quarter of the second half, as the game turned in to a track meet. "What that showed," Larracuente said, "was that we can run with teams in this county."

With half the season left, the Blazers seemed to agree that there were a litany of positives to take from tonight's game. "We're teaching them about pride," Larracuente emphasized. "And tonight made me proud to be the coach at Blair. It's a really good feeling."

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  • helen on January 23, 2006 at 3:50 PM
    good job boys!
  • hmm on January 29, 2006 at 8:28 PM
    I bet the RM fans used route 495
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