UPPER MARLBORO – Once the regional championship plaque was presented to Frederick Douglass High School boys basketball Head Coach Tyrone Massenburg, he took a quick breath before taking it in his right hand.
The 10-year veteran coach kept the plaque raised over his head as his Eagle players cheered and celebrated the accomplishment.
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For the first time in a decade, the Eagles will be soaring into a state semifinal game after defeating Lackey 80-59 in the 1A South Regional Final on March 8.
For Douglass, the journey to the state semifinals has been a constant climb of improvement since the start of preseason.
While the team has three seniors, its main core of players is relatively young consisting of juniors and sophomores.
Despite a tough outside league play schedule, the young Eagles rose to the occasion, gaining valuable experience and netting positive results that included a No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
“This group is unbelievably confident in themselves and likes to play together,” Massenburg said. “They like to win and compete; I have no problems getting them hyped up for games, and they take care of that themselves and let me, coach, while they do the physical part. As long as we work together that way, you will see the results.”
Following a tough loss against Eleanor Roosevelt in the County Championships, the Eagles (20-4) defeated Largo and Chesapeake Math & IT Academy to host the regional title game.
Against Lackey, Douglass had the upper hand on rebounds and additional offensive opportunities thanks to six-foot-eight Abdou Samb. The sophomore collected several boards with relative ease and scored eight points in the first quarter. However, Samb could have more as he missed several layups, which allowed Lackey to tie the game.
Following a quick conversation with his head coach, Samb clalmed down and began to wreak havoc in the paint offensively and defensively. The Chargers had no answers in stopping the sophomore as he finished with a game-high 24 points.
“(Massenburg) told me to keep my head up, keep fighting and in the second half, I will make those layups,” Samb said. “I listened to him, and I came out and played better in the second half. I had the height advantage, and my coaches and teammates needed me to dominate in the paint, so I dominated the paint for us to get this W.”
Douglass, as a whole, quickly began to find a rhythm, rushing into an 11-3 run to start the second quarter. In the same span, the Eagles were able to keep senior point guard Rasheed Cooley, who scored nine points in the opening period, scoreless until after halftime.
The Prince George’s County side entered the intermission with an eight-point lead after a zig-zag passing play in the dying seconds ended with a quick layup by junior Darnell Snowden that beat the buzzer.
The Chargers attempted to keep the game close with senior Amareay Walters scoring 12 of his team-high 23 points in the second half. However, Douglass exploded into two-scoring runs, including scoring nine unanswered points in the fourth quarter, that stretched their lead into the double-digits.
Role players like sophomore Mike Jones came off the bench and continued their Eagles’ momentum, scoring four of his final seven points in the final period that caused the gym to start celebrating. As the final buzzer sounded,
Douglass players rushed into center court to celebrate after the postgame handshake and surrounded their veteran coach with hugs and cheers.
Massenburg could not help but come out of the huddle with a thunderous fist into the air.
“I knew we could this,” Senior Kaylen Vines said after scoring eight points. “After all the work we put in during the summer, and during the season, all we had to do was push each other… We have done something that a lot of people have not done, and I am just grateful to be here.”
The journey does not get any easier for the Eagles as they take on last year’s 1A state champions Lake Cliftonon March 15. Massenburg took his players to the side in a private moment following the postgame celebration, reminding them of the goal to win a state title is not finished yet. While still young, the Eagles now are fully experienced and prepared for the challenge in their way.
“This is what we wanted to do this whole time; this is the mission,” Samb said. “We feel great about this and that we accomplished this goal…(But) we got to keep our head up and stay focus because we still have boxes we have to check. We have to focus on that and finish it.”