Raiders roll on, eye playoffs

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

When his team started the season with eight straight losses, Coach Sedge Saunders wondered how his Raiders would respond.

Would they give up and simply go through the motions over the second half of the season.

Or, would they work harder and fight?

Remarkably, Fryeburg Academy has won six of their last eight games and the Raiders (7-10) find themselves possibly one victory away from making the Class B West playoffs.

Playoffs?

Yes, the playoffs!

At 7-10, the Raiders are on the heels of Lincoln Academy for the 12th and final playoff spot. The Raiders face a must-win game tonight, Feb. 9, against Poland. The Knights are ranked ninth. Game time at Wadsworth Arena is 6:30 p.m.

The Raiders crept into the playoff conversation with a 73-57 win at Lake Region (3-14) Monday night behind a 14-point and 8-rebound effort from junior point guard Bright Amoako.

“The difference has been a more favorable schedule, but also the team has jelled. It usually takes us a while to find ourselves. Early on, they probably didn’t know what they were all about. After the break, we had more time to work together and started to figure things out,” FA Coach Saunders said. “Part of it, is my responsibility to find out what they can do. We tried to play man (defense) early on and it wasn’t happening. We’ve gone to a zone (defense) and they seem to have a lot of confidence playing it.”

When asked if he remembered a specific a turning point, Saunders simply said, “These kids are tough. They were 0-8, and they could have easily packed it in. They never did. The fact that they practice hard every day; they didn’t care what their record was; they made a point to get better; they stuck together; they never pointed fingers at anybody; now, we’re seeing the results of a hardnosed team that likes to play together.”

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Raiders 73

Bright Amoako 6-1-14, Jon Burk 1-0-2, Mike Costa 4-0-12, Kevin Knowles 2-0-44, Walker Mallory 3-1-10, Djordie Obradovic 10-2-22, Lionel Rutabayiro 0-2-2, Tyler Saunders 2-1-7. Totals: 28-8-73.  3-Pointers: Costa 4, Mallory 3, Saunders 2. Turnovers: 24. Free Throws: 7-of-18. Rebounds: (25) Amoako 8, Burk 1, Mallory 3, Rutabayiro 3, Saunders 3, Obradovic 4, Costa 1, Kevin Tang 1, Zach Sargent 1.

Lakers 57

Ben Chaine 2-1-6, Erik Christensen 3-0-6, Devonn Dearborn 1-0-3, Cody Gibbons 1-3-5, Alex Hall 1-0-2, Alex Hartford 8-3-19, Mike Mageles 2-0-6, Shane Porter 1-0-2, Sam Smith 1-0-3, Mike Triglione 0-5-5. Totals: 20-12-57. 3-Pointers: Chaine, Dearborn, Smith. Turnovers: 30. Free Throws: 12-of-20. Rebounds: (30) Hall 2, Gibbons 4, Morton 6, Hartford 9, Christensen 3, Mageles 1, Triglione 2, Porter 1, Quinn Piland 1, Smith 1.

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The victory over the Lakers resulted in a good balance between steady defensive pressure and consistent ball movement on the offensive end, which resulted either in inside hoops by 6-foot-6 senior Djordie Obradovich (game-high 22 points) or a barrage of 3-pointers. Mike Costa knocked down four 3-pointers for 12 points, while Walker Mallory connected on three treys, finishing with 10 points, and Tyler Saunders netted two to score 7 points on the night.

“We felt we could pressure their guards, and wear them down. We thought our depth was a little better than theirs, and certainly we wanted to take Alex (Hartford) out of his game as much as we could. If we were able to speed things up, and not let them pound the ball inside to Alex, it was to our advantage. We’ve done a better job pursuing the ball and being relentless,” Coach Saunders said.

The relentless pressure forced 30 Laker turnovers — 10 each in the opening two quarters as the Raiders jumped out to a 14-2 start, keyed by two treys from Costa.

Over the final four minutes of the first quarter, the Lakers finally developed some rhythm as Hartford sliced through the FA defense for two hoops and Mike Triglione sank two foul shots to cut the deficit to 17-8.

Each time the Lakers seemed to gather some momentum in the second, the Raiders answered. LR trimmed the deficit to nine when Ben Chaine scored on a fastbreak, and added a free throw with 2:48 left until halftime. Saunders quickly scored on a bank shot. LR’s Cody Gibbons scored on a hard drive to the hoop, and FA was whistled for an intentional foul. Gibbons sank one foul shot, but the Lakers were unable to cash in on another possession. Instead, Mallory drained two 3-pointers, including one with 2 seconds left to put the Raiders up 37-23 at halftime.

“We’re not the biggest team or the best team in the interior, but we make a point to establish ourselves inside early and then go from there, whether it is penetration or dumping it in. We had good balance because guys have accepted their roles. We have some guys who can knock down the outside shot, Bright can get to the basket, and our big guys are good enough that they can finish if they get the ball inside,” FA Coach Saunders said. “Coach (Billie) L’Heureux has worked with the big guys all year long and has done a nice job of emphasizing making the catch, being balanced, not rushing things and going up strong.”

Coach Saunders liked the Raiders’ first half intensity, but told his club at halftime they needed to eliminate “the silly fouls” and keep their composure.

“I thought our execution was not great and we lost our cool a couple of times (the intentional foul). We needed to be more poised and keep the pressure on, be mentally tougher and not let them back into the game,” he said. “They did a good job at that.”

Laker forward Erik Christensen got his team off to a good start with two strong moves inside for four quick points, but the Raiders went on a 10-0 run three minutes into the second half as Obradovic scored 8 points. Meanwhile, Amoako was brilliant at the point guard spot, either finding open players or making acrobatic moves to the hoop.

“You can never question Bright’s heart. He always plays hard. That’s infectious for the rest of the team,” Coach Saunders said.

LR closed out the quarter with a 9-5 run behind a 3-pointer from the corner by Chaine and 7 points by senior forward Alex Hartford (19 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks).

Obradovic had the hot hand in the fourth quarter, scoring eight straight points as the Raiders went up by 23 points. The FA center showed off all his post moves, knocking down a baseline jumper, dumping a soft hook shot just over the rim and making a nifty spin move for another two points.

LR guard Mike Mageles sank two rainbow 3-pointers, while Devonn Dearborn and Sam Smith (at the buzzer) also netted treys.

Following a sweep of their rivals, the Raiders turn their attention to Poland.

“The key for us is to sustain a great effort for 32 minutes, and play to our strengths. Obviously, we need to defend like crazy,” Coach Saunders said.

When asked if the game was his club’s playoff, Coach Saunders said. “It’s been that way for five to six games now. I feel like they can handle it. They weathered a tough start early on, they’re tough mentally, they’re not nervous or scared. They’re going to go out and have some fun. They’re ready. We’ll let the chips fall where they may. This team is feeling pretty good about itself right now, and we just want to keep it going.”

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