The early season wasn’t very kind to the Bishop Hendricken basketball team, but all of a sudden, the Hawks seem to have hit their stride.
Hendricken won its sixth consecutive game on Friday with a 65-49 victory over Division I-West leading Central. It was only the second loss of the season for the Knights, who fell to 9-2, while the Hawks improved to 7-4 after opening the year 1-4.
On Sunday, Hendricken continued its mid-season resurgence, as it battled undefeated Central Catholic, the No. 1 ranked team in Massachusetts according to the ESPNBoston.com MIAA poll, before bowing out 47-43.
And, on the heels of those six consecutive wins, hanging neck and neck with one of the top teams in New England was just another indication that the Hawks have come around.
“Our month of December, we struggled,” Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes said on Sunday. “But prior to this game, we’d won six in a row, we battled tonight – we’ve turned the corner. We are not the team we were a month ago.”
Central Catholic entered the game with a 12-0 record, and nearly left Warwick with its first loss, of any kind, in hand.
The Hawks led by as many as 10, 23-13, in the first half, and by two at halftime, before the Raiders’ relentless ball pressure wore them down in the second half.
Hendricken turned the ball over 18 times, and lost the lead for the first time at the 9:32 mark when Central Catholic went up 31-30 on a putback from Jake Driscoll.
“Central Catholic’s pressure on the ball is outstanding, and it’s all game long,” Gomes said. “I think what happened is that we were able to stem that in the first half, then just their ball pressure kind of wore us down.”
The Raiders never lost the lead from that point on, and they led by as much as 41-31 after taking command with a 16-1 run.
“That’s a big run for us,” Central Catholic head coach Rick Nault said. “It’s all our defense.”
But even after losing the lead, and suddenly trailing by 10, Hendricken wouldn’t give in.
With just under five minutes remaining, Gerry Manning converted a driving layup, and after Mike Barry put the Raiders back up by 10, Manning scored again to make it 43-35.
Central Catholic misfired on its next possession, and a Nick Bourdeau layup on the other end trimmed the deficit to six.
The Raiders followed that up with a turnover, and Hendricken’s Will Tavares was fouled and converted two free throws, making the score 43-39 with 2:08 to play.
“I’m very proud of our guys,” Gomes said. “We played tough. We could have easily, when they went up six or seven, just folded. We battled.”
Nick Cambio put Central Catholic back up by six with a tough layup, but Tavares drove the lane and scored for the Hawks to cut the deficit to four again.
Two possessions later, Lee Messier knocked down two free throws in a one-and-one situation to bring Hendricken within 45-43 with 23.4 seconds to play.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, Messier knocked the ball off Tyler Nelson’s hands and out of bounds, giving the Hawks possession with a chance to at least tie the game.
The offensive was out of rhythm, though, and the possession ended when Bourdeau’s 15-footer sailed out of bounds, giving the ball back to Central Catholic. Nelson then hit two free throws to seal the win.
“One stop,” Nault said about Hendricken’s final possession. “Just get this one stop. And we were able to do that today.”
Manning led the Hawks with 11 points, while Messier added 10 and Bourdeau scored eight. Nelson was Central Catholic’s top-scorer with 13, and Doug Gemell added 11.
Hendricken jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the first half, and never trailed for the entire 16 minutes.
Ahead 15-13, the Hawks went on an 8-0 run, with Messier hitting a three, Corey Palumbo scoring four points and Manning knocking down one free throw.
The Raiders closed the half on 10-2 run of their own, however, and they scored the final seven points before the break. Cambio’s free throw with 11 seconds remaining in the half cut Hendricken’s lead to 25-23.
In the second half, both teams continued to struggle offensively. Kazre Cummings scored the first points of the half for either team after two minutes and 14 seconds had gone off the clock.
“It was both sides,” Gomes said. “Both of our teams are known for our defense. I know Central Catholic is holding teams most of the year in the high 40’s, and that’s where we’re holding teams. So we knew going into it it was going to be a defensive battle.”
The Hawks went in front 30-25 on a free throw by Manning before the Raiders scored 16 of the next 17 points to jump out in front.
Still, there was nothing but positives for Hendricken to take away from the game.
“I don’t think I’d be any more proud if we won the game,” Gomes said.
Hendricken’s next game is today, when it hosts 3-8 East Providence at 7 p.m. It then travels to Hope on Thursday for another 7 p.m. start.