WINDHAM—The Eagles dashed out to a quick lead over visiting Westbrook on Friday night, Jan. 18. The Blazes battled admirably back to briefly seize the lead in the second, but fell behind again as the downhill half unfolded: 44-35 Windham in the end.
“The first half, we kind of started playing the way they wanted us to,” Windham head coach Chad Pulkkinen said. “Kind of slow, and we weren’t thinking, taking quick shots. That stretch we had in the third quarter when we started pulling away – I think we got up by 17 or so – was all just paying attention to the details: making sure that we were looking inside to Dierhow and taking advantage of our height, and then being patient on the offense.”
Cam Brown led the Eagles with 10, and Andrew Wing and Dierhow Bol contributed eight apiece. Kaleb Cidre added four, Ivan Kaffel and Will Mannette three each, Nuar Bol, Sean Cunniffe and Chris Naylor two each, and Hayden Bilodeau one.
“They’re a great team,” Westbrook head coach Dan Legage said of the Eagles. “I think they reeled off like four wins in a row, beat some really good teams in that stretch.”
“If they’re hitting shots from the perimeter,” Legage said, “you’re coming out to challenge those outside shots, and then they have really good size with Dierhow and some of their other bigs. They’re a difficult matchup.”
Westbrooker Kevin Malonda led all scoreres with 11, while teammate Michael Connolly added eight. Chuil Bayak kicked in five, Braiden Pierce and Matt Eugley three apiece, Kyle McKone and Abier Manyiel two each, and Donovin Drummond one.
The Eagles sprang out front 10-2 to start on points by Wing, Dierhow Bol and others. Westbrook looked hobbled on all fronts – but only momentarily: The Blazes surged as the first wended into the second. Malonda hit a three for 10-5 before Brown added a spin-jumper bank-shot from the paint for 12-5. The 6-foot-6 Connolly closed the stretch with a spectacular rejection vs. the similarly towering Bol, stealing some momentum for Westbrook to outpace their hosts 7-2 in the second. Connolly added five of those on a three and a two, while Manyiel kicked in another two. Naylor hashed Windham’s only points of the quarter on a pair of free-throws.
The Blazes began the third with five straight, seizing the lead at 17-14. Kaffel notched his three to balance things, but Bayak responded with a two and pushed Westbrook ahead again, 19-17. That’s when Wing drained a three for 22-19 and the last lead change of the evening: Before the Blazes could score their next point, a Eugley free, the Eagles added eight more, Wing, Brown and Bol all sinking shots.
“Second half, they hit a couple threes, and that kind of loosened the belt for them a little bit,” Legage said of the Eagles’ pulling away. We had to kind of come out, and of course that opens up the interior for them.”
“We just finally knocked ‘em down,” Pulkkinen said of Kaffel and Wing’s key strikes from downtown. “Ivan and Andrew hit some big threes, and Cam hit a big three, and Dierhow kind of did what he does on the block, there’s just a good combination in that stretch.”
“We needed it,” Pulkkinen continued. “All Dan Legage’s teams play hard, and we knew that. We weren’t taking them lightly at all, the way he coaches.”
Westbrook outpaced Windham through the fourth, but only by two, 15-13 – not nearly enough to recoup their deficit and earn a much-sought-after victory. All the usual players figured into the stretch: Brown had a three and a two back-to-back, Malonda complete a three-point play, and several boys stepped to the line. Eugley hit the last two of the game, bringing the Blazes back within eight: 43-35 the final.
Windham changed up their defensive approach as the game unfolded as well, hoping to take control of the pace. “We switched to man so it wouldn’t be a slowed-down game too much,” Pulkkinen said, “to put some pressure on them, to help us get some steals and get them worn down a little bit so they’re playing into our game.”
Pulkkinen applauded his bench for their work in the waning minutes of the game. “I thought Evan (Glicos), and Hayden, and Nuar, and Will and Braeden (McCrillis) did a great job in that last six minutes. We had some fouls that gave Westbrook some points, but those guys were playing hard, so I couldn’t fault them for that.”
Westbrook, now 1-11, currently occupies 12th in A South. The Blazes have given up five of their losses by less than 10 points, though: The team, that is, has been in many of their games. Their relative inexperience is primarily what’s holding them back, but they’re making strides with each passing day.
“Guys worked hard tonight,” Legage said. “All the guys that went in there. We’re a super-young team; we’ve got freshmen, sophomores, predominantly. They’re being put in kind of a difficult situation trying to learn on the fly…Mentally, guys have to get to a level where they understand how to compete at the varsity level.”
“Certainly guys are improving,” Legage said. “The record doesn’t show it, but I think guys are improving. This is a pretty good team. Leavitt was 9-0 and we were tied with them in the fourth quarter.”
Westbrook hosts Greely (No. 1 in A South, 9-3) on Tuesday the 22nd, then travels to Kennebunk (No. 5 in A South, 10-3) this coming Friday, the 25th.
Windham traveled to Lewiston (No. 8 in AA North, 2-10) on Monday the 21st, where they picked up another W, 44-36, and moved to 7-6 on the winter. The Eagles, seventh in AA North at the moment, drop in to challenge Deering (No. 5 in AA North, 7-5) on Friday.
Adam Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.