MANCHESTER, NH — Throw out the records. Throw out past results.
Those in attendance at Monday’s city clash between rivals Manchester Central High School and Manchester Memorial High School would have been hard-pressed to discern the atmosphere and competitive nature of the regular-season contest between two sub-.500 boys basketball squads from a championship duel between the state’s elite.
“It’s a city game,” said Central head coach Sudi Lett. “City games are always great. They’re always well attended. And it’s one of the main reasons I’m in favor of keeping the high schools the way they are and not tearing them down to build one big one.”
“You can be 0-16 and it doesn’t matter,” said Memorial head coach Danny Bryson. “I told these guys to get ready for a playoff-game atmosphere.”
And that’s exactly what the players and coaches received and delivered with the Central carrying a lead for the entire first half, before Memorial knotted the contest late in the third quarter and then pulled away in the fourth and held on for the 67-62 triumph.
“(The Crusaders) played through some tough stretches, so credit to them and their staff,” said Lett. “They played hard for 32 minutes.”
Indeed, the Crusaders trailed the entire first half, falling behind then climbing back over and over before entering halftime with a 37-32 deficit.
The two teams traded jabs throughout the third quarter before closing the frame locked in a 47-all tie.
But the fourth quarter was Memorial’s.
And it was a group effort that got them there. Though senior Johnny Roumraj paced the team through the first three quarters, carrying a game-high 17 points into the fourth, he ceded scoring to teammates Kenray Emadamerho, Brennan Beland, Troy Jutras and Abdalha Ramadhani, who combined for 20 points in the fourth.
“I have five seniors, so pick a card,” said Bryson. “On any given night, one of those guys can go off for 15, 20 points … and if I look at the book at the end of the game and see 10, 10, 11, 9, that means we’re distributing the ball well, so that’s what I like to see as a coach.”
And that’s exactly what he received Monday, with Emadamerho, Beland and Ramadhani each scoring 11, Jutras netting 9 and Tyler Lavallee contributing 8 points in the win.
“We played a lot better than a four-win team,” said Bryson of squad, which improved to 4-12 to move within striking distance of a playoff berth. “At this point, we need a little help, but this one was huge for us because we’re right on that cusp.”
Memorial will not only have to win its final two contests, which are each home matchups, against 2-13 Concord and 6-10 Alvirne on Wednesday and Friday, respectively, but they’ll need some help in a few games outside their control as well.
Whether the Crusaders end up sneaking into the playoffs or not, Bryson said sweeping Central in all three contests – twice in the regular season and once in the Christmas tournament – is a huge accomplishment for his cagers.
“Just doing that alone says a lot about the growth of your program,” he said.
Unlike Memorial, Central can still dictate its playoff future.
To do so, the Little Green – who were led by 20 points from William Gearles and 15 points from Jason Gasana Monday – will have to lick their wounds and refocus for a strong sprint to the finish that includes games in three straight days to close out the regular season.
They’re first scheduled for a tough test against possible first-round playoff opponent Nashua North, which carries a 13-3 record into Wednesday’s contest at Central. They’ll then host Concord on Thursday and travel to 8-8 Salem Friday.
“We control our destiny, but we’ll see how it goes down the stretch,” said Lett. “We’ve got to do a better job of staying consistent. There’s too much disparity between scoring 95 a couple days ago (a 95-59 shellacking of Keene this past Friday) and then coming here and losing, so we’ve got to be much more consistent.”