Valiant raiders just miss playoffs

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Just short.

Facing a must-win situation, Fryeburg Academy continued its spectacular late-season surge last Friday night riding 16 points from center Djorje Obradovich and 15 points from Bright Amoako to beat Poland 55-44 at Wadsworth Arena.

“I just hope it is enough,” said Raider Coach Sedge Saunders after his club won its eighth game in the last 10 outings. “Obviously, we’re going to need a little help.”

Fryeburg didn’t get any help.

The Raiders fell short of the final playoff spot — by less than 3 tourney index points — as both Lincoln Academy and Maranacook both won in the regular season finales. Lincoln beat Oceanside (Rockland and Georges Valley) 60-52 while Maranacook downed Oak Hill 55-38.

After watching another stellar performance by his club, Coach Saunders couldn’t help but think “what if” the Raiders had beaten Cape Elizabeth back on Jan. 14 — a 3-point loss, a game FA could have put on their side of the ledger.

“Even if we fall short, I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” he said after Friday’s game. “

Fryeburg (8-10) received a big lift early on behind the spirited play of senior Lionel Rutabayiro, who grabbed two offensive rebounds and scored the team’s final 4 points of the opening quarter to give the Raiders a 13-8 lead. Rutabayiro would net 10 points on the night to go along with a team-high 8 rebounds.

“I thought our kids came out feeling pretty good. Every game has been a big game for us over the last 10. We’ve had to win every one of them. We’ve found ways to win, so that was what we were going to do tonight. If the shots weren’t dropping, we were going to pound it inside. The main thing was we wanted to out hustle them and out work them. I thought we did,” Coach Saunders said.

The Raiders continued to enjoy success inside the lane as Obradovich connected for two inside hoops to give FA a 19-14 lead. With the Knights dropping their defense toward the hoop, FA sharpshooter Mike Costa buried a 3-pointer with 3:10 to go in the half to push the lead to six. Fryeburg’s size inside paid off big in the final minute as both Rutabayiro and Obradovich each scored on putbacks for a 28-21 halftime lead.

Seeing a zone defense exclusively in the first half, the Knights used patience and pinpoint passes to find open players along the baseline. Drew Peterson scored four quick points and a CJ Martin lay-up with 5:03 left pulled Poland to within 28-27.

“Our hands weren’t up all the time so the passing lanes weren’t protected the way they needed to be,” Coach Saunders said. “Our forwards weren’t dropping down to protect the box. We had to take that away, and not allow (Ricky) Bryant to kill us inside. We felt our guys could get out on their shooters, who weren’t pulling the trigger very quickly tonight.”

Nearly four minutes into the quarter, Rutabayiro broke the ice for FA by grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring over two Knight defenders.

“Lionel was the ‘X’ factor. It’s been the theme this whole season — someone stepping up when we needed it. We’ve had Zach Sargent and Jon Burk do it, giving us some big games. Tonight, it was Lionel. He shows good poise inside and has some good post moves. The problem is, he’s not very tall and he can’t jump. But tonight, against a team that isn’t very big, he was able to utilize some of his skills. He positioned himself well and didn’t rush things. He’s a smart player,” Coach Saunders said.

Then, the game became a little chippy. Three technical fouls — two on the Raiders, one on the Knights — were whistled.

“I probably need to keep my cool better, but I can’t and probably never will. I had to say something because I thought they were getting an advantage inside,” Coach Saunders said. “It was a high intensity game and you need to keep your cool. I thought our guys got emotional at times, but they regrouped quickly.”

Rather than become unglued, the Raiders regained their composure and focus. Amoako took control of the show, scoring on an inside drive then picking a Poland player’s pocket for an uncontested lay-up. Amoako made a nifty pass to Walker Mallory for a hoop, giving the Raiders a 37-30 lead. Obradovich made it 8 straight points for FA when he tipped a pass across the lane to Mallory for a lay-up.

Poland made a couple of runs in the fourth quarter, including back-to-back 3-pointers by Nate Rybeck and Logan Nichols to trim the FA lead to 41-38.

“I never felt too worried. I thought we would have the advantage inside and if we pounded it in, we would be okay. I’m a little stubborn to call a timeout just starting the half. I thought our guys were confident and wouldn’t panic,” Coach Saunders said. “They’ve learned to work through things. I have a lot of faith in them to get through the tough times. And, they did.”

The Raiders battled through the challenges with key hoops by Obradovich and Amoako, along with clutch free throw shooting (6-of-9) down the stretch.

“What’s fun about this team is their willingness to share the ball. No one cares who gets the glory or the credit. They just want to win,” Coach Saunders said. “There is a fine line between extra effort and getting into foul trouble. In the second half, we were aggressive but smarter going for the ball.”

A boisterous crowd, from start to finish, proved to be a sixth man advantage for the Raiders.

“The crowd noise made me feel pretty good. It reminded me of the good, old days when the gym was rocking, the crowd was into it, and it seemed to elevate our game. We definitely thank the crowd for their effort, it made a difference tonight,” Coach Saunders said.

People may wonder how the Raiders managed to turn around a season that halfway through appeared headed nowhere fast. There was no magic dust or secret game plan or inspirational speech. It was all about the character of this cast of Raiders.

“I really didn’t do anything that different from a coaching standpoints. These guys are tough kids. They love to play. They weren’t worried about anything too far in the future. They just went out and gave it their all, and good things started to happen for them. They never gave up,” Coach Saunders said. “This team has great chemistry. There is a lot to be said about that. You can win with a team that is willing to get along, share the ball and work hard. That’s been the story with this team.”

Unfortunately, they just came up short in the final Heals.

For the Raiders, Costa scored 6 points, Jon Burk 4 and Mallory had 4. Top rebounders were: Amoako 6, Obradovich 5, Burk 4 (26 total to Poland’s 24).

Senior Ricky Bryant paced the Knights with 17 points and 15 rebounds.

Turnovers: FA 9, P 18.

FT: FA 8-of-16, P 13-of-18

All Conference: Bright Amoako was selected third team Western Maine All-Conference. Djorje Obradovich was named an alternate to the Senior All-Star game.

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