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Feb. 19, 2006

Blazers lose heartbreaker on Senior Night

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor

Standing at half court with six seconds left in the game, Blair's Che Larracuente saw nothing but two teammates streaking towards the basket and an easy lay-up. Overtime was just one pass to Petros Fentahun away.

Larracuente's pass was right on the mark. Right into the hands of Quince Orchard's Alex Knoblach, who stepped in front of Fentahun to seal the 38-36 win for the Cougars. For the Blair Blazers, it was a bitter end to a tough regular season.

Knoblach's steal ended a frantic final 45 seconds of a game that had been beyond sluggish and sloppy to that point. Trailing by three, Fentahun intercepted a QO pass and scored an easy lay-up to pull Blair (4-16) within a point of the lead.

With 40 seconds remaining and no shot clock, the Cougars (5-16) could have run out the clock if they had wanted to. Blair head coach Orlando Larracuente elected to press QO and try for another steal. The Cougars held on to the ball and Blair didn't foul for half a minute, to the dismay and confusion of the home crowd.

After QO's Omar Siddiqui made one free throw, Blair had one chance to tie or win. Larracuente's pass ended that opportunity.

Discussing the final play that didn't work, Larracuente the coach said first said he "didn't decide that. That wasn't a decision." But later he changed his reasoning, saying that he wanted to get the ball to Fentahun. "We needed to get the ball in Petros' hands quickly. But we're 4-16; obviously we're going to make mistakes. We needed to get him the ball and we didn't."

When asked why he put his son, a sophomore who spent the first half of the season on the junior varsity team, on the court in the last seconds of the Senior Night game, Larracuente defended his choice and his son. "Che is a good three-point shooter, that's why he was there. He held the ball a little long, sure. Did he lose the game for us? Absolutely not. And if I'm in that situation again, I'll call on Che."

As for his choice to not foul QO for 30 seconds, Larracuente was vigorously defensive. "With 40 seconds left you don't have to foul! There's a lot of time and you can switch on defense. Unfortunately, we didn't press on defense and they were able to keep the ball away from us."

Then, seemingly mocking his critics from this year, he said sarcastically, "Yeah, it's all my fault. We lost because of me, and because I'm an idiot. Okay?"

Whatever the case may be, tonight's game was especially sluggish. The first half was full of turnovers on both sides, bad shots and a lot of standing around. The second quarter, where the two teams combined for just eight points was nearly unwatchable. But Blair did go in to the half with a lead, 14-11.

Larracuente agreed, saying "we turned the ball over way too much. We really have got to work on our zone passes. Quince Orchard's zone defense was great."

Blair's zone defense in the first half was strong as well, allowing a season-best 11 points. But midway through the third quarter, Larracuente took the Blazers out of the zone and into a man-to-man. QO responded by posting 21 points in the third and taking 32-26 lead.

Larracuente explained that choice, reasoning that the Cougars were getting good looks out of the zone in the first half, and just not making them. "We were giving QO good shots in the first half. I know we were winning, but it was less our [defense] and more their mistakes as to why we were ahead. I thought they wouldn't be able to run in the man to man."

But QO did, and after Blair went back to the zone, the scoring dropped. Blair allowed just six Cougars points in the fourth quarter.

Blair seemed to also struggle in the second half without a solid bench. After the departures of Ross Williams, John Orr and Chris Follot, the Blazers have become a very thin team talent-wise. Larry Johnson had all four bench points for Blair tonight.

Petros Fentahun closed out his home career at Blair by leading the offense with eleven points. Jacob Wade scored 10 points in his final regular season game. Darius Smith had nine points, all off three-point baskets.

The Blazers still do have at least one playoff game remaining. The seeds and match-ups will be determined Wednesday, but since Blair is last in the Maryland 4A East standings, they will almost certainly have to play one of the division powerhouses on the road next weekend. However, Larracuente feels positive.

"We're actually becoming a better team as the year goes on," he said. The team's last four games have been a win and three losses by five points or less. "We could have quit, but the guys are still putting out the effort."

As for Blair's chances in the single-elimination tournament, Larracuente was blunt. "Obviously we're not going to win the state title this year. We're 4-16. But there's no pressure because nobody expects us to win. The odds are against us, no doubt, but all we can do is work hard."

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  • former player on February 21, 2006 at 11:30 AM
    where is francois???
  • damn on February 21, 2006 at 12:09 PM
    BLAIR SUCKS thanks to larracuente
  • young boi on February 21, 2006 at 3:37 PM
    well at least the coach knowa that there not going to win.
  • d's nutz on February 22, 2006 at 1:42 PM
    stop hatin cause u got cut
  • so on February 27, 2006 at 7:47 PM
    i think it was a good decision to put che in at the end of the game. he has extensive varisty experience, ligthing speed, and solid ballhandling skills. it was not his fault he passed the ball to the wrong team. or was it?
  • stop hating on March 6, 2006 at 8:19 PM
    i bet half of u don't no che/....come on fess up how many of you can handle te pressure of makng the last shott..yeah thats what i thought no of u
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