Bishop Hendricken’s basketball team stepped on the court at the Thomas M. Ryan Center on Friday night for the first time since 2010. Back then, they were celebrating the last of their seven consecutive state championships.
This time, in stunning fashion, they were celebrating again.
The fifth-seeded Hawks shocked top-seeded La Salle 70-62 in the state tournament semifinals Friday at the Ryan Center then returned Saturday and clinched their first championship since 2010 with a 50-35 victory over 10th-seeded Central in the title game.
“Our goal from day one was to get here,” said Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes. “[Friday] we got here. Our second goal was to win it. What a tremendous season and a tremendous effort from our guys. I’m very proud. Very happy.”
Senior Garfield Coustard led a balanced attack with 11 points against Central and earned Most Outstanding Player honors. The Hawks limited the high-scoring Knights to their lowest point total of the season, riding the momentum from the upset of La Salle to another impressive performance.
The Hawks, who went 13-5 in the regular season before losing in the Division I quarterfinals to La Salle, won four straight in the state tournament, seemingly getting better each time out. They trailed for just one minute, 25 seconds in their final three wins, with the only deficit a 2-0 hole against Central.
The surge culminated with a Ryan Center sweep as the Hawks celebrated a title that had proved elusive since the end of their streak. Hendricken hadn’t advanced past the state tournament quarterfinals since winning the title in 2010, when its current seniors were in eighth grade.
“We haven’t raised a banner in a while,” Coustard said. “We finally got it done. We worked so hard. The past four years, we struggled. We finally got the pieces of the puzzle together this year and we did it.”
Unlike their status in the old state championship streak, the Hawks were decided underdogs as they headed into the Final Four. La Salle went 17-1 in the regular season and stormed to the Division I championship. In two meetings with the Hawks, the Rams were in control throughout and won both by double digits.
Hendricken turned the tables Friday. Coustard scored on a driving layup and Matt Duffie hit a three as the Hawks raced to a 5-0 lead.
They would never trail.
The Hawks limited the run-and-gun Rams to four fast-break points and executed well on offense en route to a 17-point first-half lead.
La Salle came at them hard after the break and slowly chipped away until Keon Wilson cut the lead to two on a three-pointer with 1:01 left. It never got closer, as the Hawks got a driving layup by Kyle Henseler to go up four. After one free throw by the Rams, E.J. Nygren hit a free throw for the Hawks and La Salle turned the ball over on consecutive possessions. The Hawks made their last four free throw attempts and won by eight.
Coustard, Duffie and Nygren had 12 points each while Will Parmlee scored 11. Off the bench, Jason Rosario and Chris O’Brien chipped in five big points each. The Hawks limited the Rams to 37 percent shooting from the field.
“We were able to control tempo and score baskets,” Gomes said Friday. “We knew we were playing a great opponent. I said to the guys, ‘It’s been a long, great season. Don’t let each other down. Let your love for each other show out on that court today.’ And it showed.”
With less than 24 hours before the championship game, the Hawks didn’t bask in the glow of the upset win for long.
But they did ride the momentum.
Against a Central team that was on a magical ride of its own, the Hawks fell behind 2-0 but answered with a 13-0 run and stayed comfortably in front most of the way. The Knights got as close as three early in the second half but the Hawks responded with an 8-0 burst and cruised from there.
The early run was sparked by a Parmlee dunk that put the Hawks ahead 4-2 with 12:35 left in the first half. Off a turnover, Justin Mazzulla buried a three-pointer and Coustard followed with a fast-break layup after a Central miss. Henseler hit a baseline jumper a minute later and, after consecutive Knights turnovers, Parmlee scored inside to make it 13-2.
“Momentum was huge,” Henseler said. “It took us right into this game. The first timeout came, we were up big. There was no stopping us.”
The Knights were coming off a 70-51 win in the semifinals.
Stuck on two points six minutes into the game, it was safe to say they were off that pace.
“We had that tough loss to La Salle in the divisionals,” Duffie said. “We came back yesterday and then today and just held them on defense. That’s what we did.”
The Hawks used a match-up zone to keep Central’s lethal three-point shooters from getting clean looks, and it worked to perfection. The Knights made just three of 18 shots from beyond the arc.
And the Hawks kept rolling.
Mazzulla’s three with 2:39 left in the first half put the Hawks up by 11 and they went to the break leading by seven. Central standout Wayne McKinney scored four quick points to start the second half, making it 25-22, but the Hawks held strong. The Knights missed their next six field-goal attempts and committed three turnovers. The Hawks took advantage, getting four free throws from Coustard, two from Parmlee and a layup from Henseler for an 8-0 run. The Knights stopped it with a free throw, but Nygren followed with a three to put Hendricken up 36-23 with 8:58 left, its largest lead of the night to that point.
“Our coaches made us say we’ve got 10 minutes, the game’s not over,” Henseler said. “We had to keep pushing and we won.”
Central never got within single digits after Hendricken’s run, and the Hawks led by as many as 18 down the stretch.
By the two-minute mark, they were celebrating and they were soon joined by their court-storming fans.
The Hawks were back on top.
“This is probably the greatest moment of my life,” Henseler said. “Words can’t describe it – playing on this court against these two great teams. It’s been amazing.”