After an upset of No. 2 North Kingstown last Wednesday, the Bishop Hendricken basketball team was on the verge of another one in the Division I semifinals on Friday. This one didn't pan out, as Classical rallied from a big early deficit to win 45-44.
It was a heartbreaker for the Hawks, but it wasn't the end. In the big picture, the divisional tournament was a mission accomplished. Thanks to a preliminary round win over Cranston East and the upset of North Kingstown, the Hawks qualified for the open state tournament. They'll play their opening round game against La Salle on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at CCRI.
And the Hawks will go into it with the kind of momentum they haven't had all season.
"I told the guys I'm very proud," said Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes. "We've improved tremendously, just in the last week and a half. We took one on the chin here, but they're a good team. I'm proud of our guys. We battled."
That was the story all week.
After the victory over Cranston East last Monday, the Hawks matched up with a North Kingstown team that beat them twice in the regular season. This time, Hendricken took an early lead, watched the Skippers start to take control but held strong. Over the final five-and-a-half minutes, they went on a 12-2 run en route to a 53-49 win. Will Tavares scored 20 points to pace the Hawks.
The victory was a big one, and not just because it advanced the Hawks in the D-I tournament. Bids for the open state tournament are determined by power points, and the Hawks picked up a crucial one with the victory. Had they lost to North Kingstown, they would have been on the outside of the top 16 and would not have qualified.
"This meant a lot," Gomes said after the win. "We don't win this game, we're probably not getting in. Our guys wanted it. They played with passion."
The Hawks brought a similar fire to CCRI on Friday for their semifinal match-up with third-seeded Classical. They jumped out to a 7-0 lead and built it to 17-6. With tight man-to-man defense holding Classical stars Kealen Ives, Ismael Batista and Terrill Toe in check, the Hawks limited the Purple to just one field goal in the first 11:44 of the game and just three for the half. They went to the break leading 20-15.
"Our defense was phenomenal," Gomes said. "We stuck to the gameplan to a T."
The only problem was that the Hawks didn't pull away. Classical got to the free throw line 15 times to make up for its lack of offense, and the Hawks went nearly five minutes without a point late in the half.
Classical made it hurt in the second half, opening with a 10-2 run to jump in front 25-22.
From there, it was back and forth. Tavares put the Hawks on his back with nine points in a three-minute span, but Ives caught fire for the Purple. Hendricken took a 43-41 lead on a runner by Tavares with three minutes left. Toe answered with a bucket in the lane to tie the game.
After Kazre Cummings missed a shot for the Hawks and Toe rimmed out an open three, Batista stole the ball from Matt Duffie and was fouled. He hit one of two free throws to put Classical up 44-43 with 1:35 left.
Cummings got fouled on a drive with 1:27 left and hit the first free throw to tie it. He missed the second but the rebound went out of bounds to Hendricken. Armed with the chance to take the lead, Tavares drove into the lane but his floater caromed off the rim.
Ives missed a shot on the Purple's next trip and committed a reach-in foul on the rebound. Will Parmlee went to the line with 39 seconds left but missed the front end of the one-and-one.
That put Classical in the driver's seat. Toe missed a three-pointer with 17 seconds but got his own rebound and the Purple set up for the last shot. Ives went around a screen at the top of the key and was fouled by Parmlee with just four seconds left. He made the first free throw to put the Purple up 45-44.
"Ives was doing a great job getting in there," Gomes said. "We basically said if they send one of their big guys up to screen, we're going to trap the ball handler. What happened was our guy who came out got a little too close. When you get your hips close like that on a guard like Ives, they're going to call that foul every time."
Ives missed his second free throw, but the only look Hendricken could get was a desperation heave by Cummings that was off the mark.
"We got the game where we needed it to be," Gomes said. "We just didn't capitalize on some plays down the stretch and we didn't make free throws."
The Hawks made just six of 19 from the line.
"Our issue was free throw shooting," Gomes said. "Some of them were in key moments."
On the bright side, there's a lot for the Hawks to be excited about as they head into the state tournament. They forced two of the top teams in the league to play their game and their defense never wavered.
"When we can keep the games in the 40s, we're going to have a chance," Gomes said.
On the other end, the Hawks are playing with a lot of confidence. Tavares, in particular, has surged in the playoffs. The senior scored 25 against Classical.
"He's playing with passion," Gomes said. "He started out the season that way. Midway through the season, he lost his confidence a little bit. The last two games, he's been playing with a lot of confidence."
That's good news as the Hawks head into the state tournament. They'll be taking on a La Salle team that went 15-3 in the regular season, but was upset by Hope in the first round of the D-I tournament. La Salle beat Hendricken by a point in their regular season meeting.
"We'll be ready," Gomes said.