COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND - Yes folks, that's right, the name of the institution is Friendly High School. And they downed Blake High School 71-51 in the Class 3A Maryland State semifinals Thursday afternoon at the Comcast Center on the defending NCAA champions Maryland's campus.
Friendly's 6-6 junior Sam Young led the game with 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting. He also grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds with seven boards on each end of the floor and added three blocks and two steals. Friendly added three more in double digits with Chris Howard at 12, King Miner 11 and Trevon Jackson 10.
Behind Young's strong inside play, Friendly pulled away to a 16-9 first quarter lead as Young scored 10 of those points. Blake came back to tighten the lead to 18-15 on an E.J. Lucas to De'von Cook interior pass for a layup as time was winding down in the period.
The Patriots ran eight straight points, including two traditional three-point plays, to take a 26-15 lead before Blake got on the scoreboard in the second quarter. Following an exchange of turnovers, a wide-open Rusty Rulapaugh hit a three-pointer with 4:26 left in the half. While Friendly maintained control of the game, six straight free throws in the final 1:33 kept Blake in touch, down 32-24 at the half.
After exchanging baskets to open the second half, a Young block created a breakaway for Chris Howard's dunk; they repeated that exchange to extend the lead to 43-31. Blake Coach Damon Pigrom's game plan to find an open player by making the extra pass was working, though today those shots weren't dropping. Sean McNeely's three-pointer, the last score of the third priod, brought the margin back to 11 at 51-40.
Blake was able to cut the lead to eight twice in the fourth quarter. Then the Bengals lost Rulapaugh to fouls as he attempted to draw a charge, the score 55-45 with 3:11 left in the game. The Patriots outscored Blake 16-6 down the stretch to seal the win.
Blake guards again paced the Bengals' attacks as Rulapaugh canned 17 and McNeely 16 points. Friendly coach Gerald Moore, Sr. observed, "We've faced three-point scorers throughout the season, but this was the first game where we encoutered one (Rulapaugh) who moved as well without the ball." Pigrom added, "I'm really grateful for the seniors (Rulapaugh and McNeeley). They've been here since day one."
McNeeley noted, "This game was the first time we've played in a big gym." He and Rulapaugh are looking at Division III programs such as Clarkson and Widener and wouldn't be adverse to keeping the backourt together in college.
As interesting, and refreshing, as it is to find a school named Friendly, Blake may be just as unique. Basketball-wise, the program is in just its fourth year. Making it to the state semis out of Montgomery County is pretty impressive.
But this type of accomplishment shouldn't be that surprising since Blake, full name James Hubert Blake High School, is named for the legendary jazz songwriter Eubie Blake. Self-described as a school of Fine arts and Humanities, the institution offers studies in areas such as digital arts and animation, jazz dance and human values and beliefs.
Friendly next matches up with Chopticon High from the Eastern Shore who secured a 73-70 overtime upset of the Baltimore Sun's number one team, Randallstown. Game time Saturday back at the Comcast Center is 6 p.m.