Unexpected playoff runs, like the Whitman boys’ basketball team’s 2014 showing, are often sparked by unexpected heroes: good players rising to turn in great performances, little-used bench players morphing into last-second stars, names the fans may not know becoming names they can’t forget.
The Whitman student section knew the name of its emergent hero in the Maryland 4A West region final Friday night and knew it well.
The Vikings faithful called out Josh Fried’s name — simplified to a drawn-out “FRIIIEEEDDDD” — time and again as the 6-foot-7 senior center became the go-to player against the shorter Clarksburg defense, dropping 19 points to propel Whitman to a 49-44 win and an improbable Maryland 4A West region title, its first since 2006.
“We had a size advantage, and when we get him going early, it opens things up for us,” Vikings Coach Chris Lun said. “We got him the ball, and he hit some big shots for us in crunch time. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person. We’re real happy for him to have such a big game.”
Whitman (21-6) needed every point Fried could find in the paint, as Clarksburg’s explosive back court had an answer for every bucket and the Coyotes’ defense stifled the Vikings’ attack, holding them scoreless through the game’s first five minutes.
But Whitman’s committed help defense slowed Clarksburg (20-6) just as much, and the unfamiliar Montgomery County squads — they didn’t play each other in the regular season — traded 14 lead changes through the first three quarters.
Fried failed to finish a few first-half layups, and leading scorer Kyle Depollar couldn’t find a point in the first 16 minutes. But Fried’s size was impossible to ignore, so the Vikings adjusted at halftime.
“We knew we had a mismatch inside,” said Depollar, who helped the Vikings storm back from their biggest deficit of the game — a whopping six points — with eight points in the third quarter alone. “So we just said, ‘Let’s get it into Fried, it will open up stuff for our guards.’ And that’s what happened.”
The Coyotes’ collapse on Fried certainly cleared space for Depollar (16 points) and the other Whitman guards, but it didn’t exactly slow Fried much. He provided four of the Vikings’ final five field goals and grabbed a few big fourth-quarter rebounds to propel Whitman into the Maryland 4A state semifinal against Annapolis next Wednesday.
“I felt like I was on a roll, a little unstoppable,” Fried said. “Right after halftime, I hit a few shots and said ‘Okay, the nerves are done.’ I’m just going to go full speed to the future.”