St. Albans guard Manny Quezada is just one of those guys. He's that player every basketball team wants -- late in a close game, give him the ball and watch him win it.
That's what happened Friday night at Bullis in the Interstate Athletic Conference battle of the Bulldogs. With one minute left in the third quarter and St. Alban's leading by four, Quezada entered a zone where few others tread. He scored his team's next 17 points and Bullis had no one to match him and eventually fell, 74-64.
"I want the ball in my hands," Quezada said. "I didn't feel pressure; I just felt we had to get stuff done. ... This team did a great job to just get the ball in my hands where I could make plays."
Quezada's explosion spoiled a stubborn comeback by Bullis (8-6, 1-1 IAC), which trailed by as many as 14 points in the first quarter. The hosts actually took a 57-54 lead in the midst of Quezada's single-handed run when senior Brandon Chasen hit back-to-back three-pointers.
But the Rutgers-bound Quezada just wouldn't quit. He cut his team's deficit to one with two free throws. Following a layup by Bullis' Jeremy Myers, Quezada cut the lead back to one with two more free throws. Then he hit a jumper. Then he hit a layup. Then he took a steal the length of the court for another layup. Suddenly, St. Alban's (12-2, 1-0) was back up by five, and it was a matter of free throws.
"I thought we were doing a great job on Manny, and then I look down and he's got 32," Bullis coach Mike Hibbs said. "But we made him work for those 32 points. Our guys gave a great effort."
Quezada scored 21 of his 32 points in the second half, 14 in the fourth quarter. Senior forward Travis Lay contributed his typical double-double to the Bullis cause, with 21 points and 17 rebounds.
But the hosts had no one to stop Quezada. The St. Alban's ace brought the ball up the floor for most of the fourth quarter. Bullis' go-to player, Lay, is a forward, which means the team has to work harder to get the ball in his hands in critical spots.
"We don't have that [go-to player] as a guard," Hibbs said. "Their guards are more experience than ours. I'm hoping we learn."
Beyond Lay and Chasen, Bullis is still a very inexperienced team. It showed during gut-check time Friday. After St. Alban's took the lead back on Quezada's jumper with 4:18 to go, Bullis shot 2 of 13 from the field and committed four turnovers.
"Down the stretch we've got to make plays," Chasen said. "I think it'll come with the more experience the guys get. Me and Travis are the only guys we have with IAC experience from last year. This year, a lot of our guys aren't used to the IAC atmosphere on the floor."
Chasen drew a tough assignment Friday. In addition to scoring 12 second-half points (including three three-pointers), Chasen was charged with man defense on Quezada.
"There were some stretches where I could get some steals and some blocks, but he's just relentless," Chasen said. "If you try to take away his shot, he drives. And he was just hitting shots tonight."
It was the second time in a row Bullis fell to St. Alban's, which handed the three-time defending IAC champion its only league loss last season.
The rest of the conference will be gunning for Bullis yet again this year. Last Tuesday, the Bulldogs had a narrow scrape with Landon (2-7, 0-1), which erased an early 17-point deficit before Bullis put the game away, 68-60.
Those three Bullis championships kept Quezada from getting too high after Friday's game. It's still early, after all.
"They've been the conference champs ever since I've been here," Quezada said. "The road to the title still goes through them. They're still a well-coached, solid team."