Blue Devils Fight Hard in Losing Effort
By Ross Laorenza
Seeing is definitely believing when it comes to the five starters for the Manchester Memorial Crusaders. Seniors Joel Mayola, Zoubel Iradukunda and Tong Akot lead an impressive starting five. They are solidified by play from Kabongo Ngalakulondi who has incredible quickness; and Omaura Kante whose jump shots had me wondering “How can they stop this kid!?”
Patience in the passing lanes, never passing up an open look that was available and fighting through a vaunted Salem Blue Devil zone defense were just a few of the things those Varsity Crusaders did so well, Tuesday night. And that’s just on offense. Akot and Iradukunda were sporting pink shoes and pink socks with the “Breast Cancer Awareness” emblem. I didn’t get to talk much with the boys in Red and White, but you can tell that even at a young age they are true professionals. Boys and men carry themselves differently in every walk of life. Those five kids proved to me tonight that it takes a boys to have fun, and it takes a man to step up and make big plays.
Salem defenders were left spinning as Zoubel, wearing jersey #24, went whizzing by; up and down the court. His classic Mohawk haircut makes him easy to recognize on and off the court. Had he not slipped on the near sideline in the 3rd, I feel he could have played straight through the game without breaking a sweat. He and his fellow Crusaders made the game of basketball look effortless.
Iradukunda started with the game off with a huge block of a Salem lei-up. I wish I had brought a tape measure so I could have better judged how high he jumped to knock the ball away from the hoop. The crowd was energized from that point on. It appeared to me the Memorial attacked fed of the play off the young man with the pink shoes and stylish hair. But I was wrong, his teammates, as in any team sport were all keys to victory.
Big Men in the Paint and on the Perimeter
Tong Akot (#35), Joel Mayola (#11) and Kabongo Ngalakulondi (#14) played what I can only describe as “keep away” with the Salem defense. If Salem covered high Memorial passed the ball inside to Akot. When Salem doubled Akot down low, the ball went to Mayola or Ngalakulondi on the perimeter. They reined three pointer after three pointer and I’ll even admit, as an alumni from Salem High, it was down-right depressing seeing the Blue Devils get outmatched the way they did in the first quarter. When the buzzer sounded at the end of the 1st quarter, it was 25-4 in favor of the Memorial Crusaders.
But the Devils did settle in to a rhythm after the 'shock and awe' first quarter.
No quit in Felix
Mike Felix is a junior guard for Salem High School. His effort and leadership skills showed in the second quarter of the game tonight. His Blue Devils were down 21 points. Their bench was quiet, their fans were quiet. Some players even looked ashamed of being out-played as bad as they were, but not Mike Felix. He fought screen after screen running the point for Salem and started feeding the fire to what can be the Salem Blue Devil’s offensive attack. It takes a real man to admit defeat; and it takes even a bigger man to know you’re outmatched and still fight out. Hats off to you Mike. You proved that the Blue Devil spirit lives on in every generation from Salem High.
The Devil’s begin their Dance
“Let’s hope they put on a good show for you,” said coach Rob McLaughlin, court side. After a forgettable first quarter his boys started showing up when called upon. Seniors Jack Hartman and Steve Nugent led the charge with the assistance of Mike Felix. Slowly, Salem began to chip away at the 21 point deficit. Salem started the 2nd quarter on a 12-10 run and had the score at 35-20 before Tong Akot hit a 3-pointer for Memorial that pushed the lead back to 18.
The teams exchanged baskets as the half wound down and the first half came to a close with Memorial leading 40-22. A fire had been lit in the Blue Devils and it would continue in the second half.
Leading in the Cheers
Everyone needs a break in the action, which was provided by the Memorial cheerleaders. The varsity squad totals 17 in all. They are led by junior Alyssa Robinson and senior Emily Gervais. “We don’t really have a captain,” said one Memorial cheerleader. “We all kind of support each other as a team,” said her friend. When they’re not rooting for their Crusaders, they are active in the community. The Varsity coach for the Memorial Cheering team is Jaime Campbell.
Devils Don’t Lie Down Easy
As they emerged from the locker room Salem’s team looked renewed. They were carrying themselves differently from that deflating first quarter. All of them knew they could make it back into this game. Whatever their coaches said during halftime should be etched on tablets and handed out across the land, because it worked to near perfection. With Mike Felix feeding all of his teammates, Salem started another big run, gouging into the Memorial defense. The whole coaching staff was on their feet when Steve Nugent hit a three ball that cut the lead to 29-42. The points kept coming as Nugent and Hartman hit a bucket each. The score was 33-42.
“Extend….Extend,” yelled their coach from the sideline, whenever the Devils needed a stop on defense. And stops they made. Their zone was very effective and they began pushing Memorial's outside shooters further and further from the hoop.
Kabongo Ngalakulondi stopped the bleeding with the 3-point shot that brought the lead back up to 44-35 with a little over three minutes remaining in the 3rd.
Time to Shine, Time to Win
Oumaru Kante may only be a sophomore, but he plays like a junior in college. Driving the lane #4 for Memorial helped bring the tempo of the game back into the Crusader’s favor. After surviving the onslaught by the Blue Devils at both ends of the court, Memorial found their rhythm again. With the clock ticking away its last few seconds in the 3rd quarter, Kante through up a half court prayer that was answered by the cheers of the Memorial fans when the ball swished through the net.
At the end of three quarters the Memorial still led 53-44.
With Kante and the rest of the Crusaders back in rhythm, Memorial made their big push. After exchanging threes with just over six minutes left Joel Mayola hit another three and then Omaru Kante hit one off the glass down low to build Memorial’s cushion to 62-47. They closed the game on a 13-4 run with the final score being Manchester Memorial 73, Salem, N.H. 51.
Coach McGlaghlin said that his team had a lot to work on and that they were doing their best to stay positive after a tough loss. Salem plays their next game versus Trinity on Thursday.
Memorials coach Jack Quirk quoted one of my favorite authors as we chatted about the phenomenal Crusader’s performance.
“It was the best of times…It was the worst of times. Charles Dickens,” said coach Quirk. I smiled having had read A Tale a Two Cities by Dickens as a kid.
I told him “I was promised a good game” and he said, “You saw what we can do…”
All five starts for Memorial scored in double digits in points. Kabongo Ngalakulondi led the team with 22, followed by Omaru Kante with 17, Tong Akot and Joel Mayola with 12; and the “Man with the Mohawk” Zoubel Iradukunda scored 10 points with some very impressive blocks as well.