Raider boys dig big first quarter hole, unable to match York’s firepower in quarters

OUT ON THE SHOOTER is Raider Calvin Southwick during first half Class A South quarterfinal action against York at the Portland Expo last Saturday night. (Rivet Photos)

Turnovers: 14
Field Goals: 18-of-49
Foul Shots: 7-of-12
3-Pointers: C. Cummins 5, MacDonald 2, Linn 1
Rebounds: 22 (MacDonald 7)
Turnovers: 24
Field Goals: 12-of-32
Foul Shots: 8-of-13
Rebounds: 24 (Mahan 6, Buzzell 5)
Scoring: Tucker Buzzell 4-2-10, Eli Mahan 3-4-10, Nathan Knapp 3-0-9, Ethan Bain 1-0-2, Kyle Littlefield 1-0-2, Oscar Saunders 1-0-2.
3-Pointers: Knapp 3

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — To beat a team like York that shoots the ball extremely well from the outside and has both quickness and length to cause problems at both ends of the court, one needs to play an “almost perfect game,” Coach Sedge Saunders felt.

Fryeburg Academy never came close to perfection in any aspect of their Class A South quarterfinal playoff game against the second-seeded Wildcats Saturday night.

Chris Cummins knocked down back-to-back 3 pointers as York raced out to a 19-0 first quarter lead and rolled past the Raiders 53-35 at the Portland Expo. Cummins finished with a game-high 17 points, including five 3-pointers for York (16-3).

With a veteran squad and having prepared to face the Wildcats’ zone defense, Coach Saunders felt good about his club’s chances of springing an upset.

“We rolled the dice and prepped all week for the 2-3 zone. I felt good when I saw them start the game in it. With their depth and athleticism, I thought they could give us trouble with some type of pressure defense, so I thought we could shorten the game and play at our pace if they went 2-3,” Coach Saunders said. “Unfortunately, going against our second team (in practice mirroring York’s 2-3 zone) just wasn’t the same as the length and athleticism we saw in York. I thought the guys attacked it pretty well, but what were open looks in practice weren’t in the game, and what were easy finishes at the rim against our ‘look’ team were blocked by the length of York. No knock on our second team, it just shows how active York was in that zone.”

York was quick and aggressive at both ends of the court. The Cats forced eight turnovers, and extended pressure beyond the arc, giving FA sharpshooters Oscar Saunders and Nathan Knapp few clean looks. Several passes were deflected, recovered by York, and were turned into fastbreak chances.

The Cats scored the game’s first 19 points with Brady Cummins scoring eight of his 12 points during the run.

Fryeburg hoisted just five shots from the field over the first eight minutes of play, and finally erased the goose eggs off the Expo’s electronic scoreboard when Saunders sank two foul shots with 1:52 left in the period. The only two field goals recorded were a power move to the rim off an inbounds pass by forward Eli Mahan, and a layup by Tucker Buzzell, who picked off a behind-the-back pass by York’s Jonathan Donovan.

FA shot 2-of-5 from the field in the opening frame, while York was 7-of-17. FA dug in defensively over the final two minutes, keeping the Cats off the scoreboard.

“I didn’t feel like we matched up well with them defensively so we decided to zone them up. I thought we did okay getting to shooters, but we didn’t box out well off the zone and they hurt us on the boards,” Coach Saunders said.

Another pitfall for the Raiders to overcome was early foul trouble to backcourt mates Saunders and Knapp. Each were tagged with two fouls in the first quarter, forcing them to the bench and turning the ballhandling over to Buzzell, who manned the helm quite well.

“Oscar and Nate picking up two fouls in the first quarter was the last thing we needed. Without our two main perimeter threats, it was difficult to find the soft spots in their defense,” Coach Saunders said.

Fryeburg settled down and got into a mini flow in the second quarter as Knapp ignited the offense with two 3-pointers. An aggressive baseline drive and finish by Buzzell trimmed the Cats’ lead to 26-17 with 2:45 left until halftime.

“I liked the fact that we chipped away and I thought if we could get it to single digits by the half, we’d be in pretty could shape,” Coach Saunders said. “I didn’t want Tucker or Oscar picking up their third foul before the half so I rolled the dice and had them out for the last two minutes.”

In retrospect, it proved to be a big mistake, Coach Saunders said.

York pushed the lead back to 17 as captain William MacDonald drained a foul-line jumper, Chris Cummins flicked in a 3-pointer and converted an offensive rebound into points, and Brady Cummins drove right down the middle of the lane for two more as the Cats lead 35-18 at intermission.

“It’s hard enough coming back from 19 down, but to have to do it again is a lot to ask of these kids,” Coach Saunders said.

At the half, Coach Saunders simply asked his Raiders to go out and compete over the final 16 minutes.

“I emphasized getting the lead down to single digits to start the fourth, but unfortunately when Oscar picked up his fourth foul (on a questionable call early in the third), it really put us in a bind.”

FA’s triggerman, who had just two points on the night, was whistled for two quick fouls to start the third. With Saunders on the bench, the offense struggled scoring just seven points — a Knapp trey, a nifty baseline take by Ethan Bain and two foul shots by Mahan — as the Cats pushed the deficit out to 49-25.

With York substituting freely in the fourth, the Raiders outscored the Cats 10-4 as Buzzell netted four of his 10 points. Mahan made his presence felt throughout the evening, playing a physical style in the lane to finish with 10 points (including an old-fashion 3-point play with 16.1 seconds left) to go along with six rebounds.

“I thought Nate and Tucker played very well in their last high school game. Reece did his usual admirable job, but it’s tough when you’re a 5-foot-10 center going against guys 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3,” Coach Saunders said. “Oscar just never got in a rhythm and he really is the key to our offense. I feel bad that he had to sit a good deal of the game due to foul trouble.”

Another loss that the Raiders had to contend with all season, and showed in the playoff matchup against a talented Wildcat squad, was the absence of guard Caleb Bowles, who was on the court during player introductions greeting players as they were introduced while still sporting crutches.

Bowles missed the entire season due to an injury he sustained during the Raiders’ championship football game.

“Caleb was there for his teammates even though it must have been painful for him to watch and not be able to play during his senior year,” said Coach Saunders. “He was a big loss for the program — a good shooter and an underrated athlete. What a difference he would have made had he been healthy. As much as it hurts to lose to York, we feel terrible for Caleb, who didn’t even get the opportunity to be there. Caleb will be back because he’s a heck of an athlete and a fine competitor.”

Coach Saunders thought sophomore Eli Mahan gave the Raiders solid minutes off the bench, gaining some valuable playoff experience.

“That should bode well for Eli for next year when he will be counted on to anchor the team on defense and provide us with some much need interior scoring,” Coach Saunders added. “All in all, it was a good year. These guys beat the odds and got back to the Expo. They represented themselves well and I wouldn’t trade them for any other team in the tourney. I’m disappointed I couldn’t help them get to the Regional championship, but I’m thankful I got the opportunity to work with them.”

Coach Saunders said he will miss his five seniors — son, Oscar Saunders, Nathan Knapp, Caleb Bowles, Tucker Buzzell and Reece Kneissler.

“We’ve made it to the Expo two years in a row, and the goal is to be back again next year. If these guys work hard in the off-season, I feel confident we will be there again,” Coach Saunders added. “I want to thank our great assistant coaches, Charlie Tryder and Sean Watson. They go the extra mile for the program and are both incredible teachers of the game. They also are calming influences, which is very important.”

Coach Saunders also thanked parents, who were “very supportive of the team and program.” He added, “We will miss the senior parents but hope they come back to check out a game or two.”

The seventh-seeded Raiders finished the season 7-12.

NOT MUCH ROOM TO OPERATE for Raider guard Oscar Saunders against a quick and aggressive York defense.
CUTTING OFF A BASELINE DRIVE by a York player is Raider center Reece Kneissler.
RUNNING WITH A WILDCAT is Raider guard Nathan Knapp.
CONTESTING A SHOT out on the perimeter is Raider Tucker Buzzell.
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