If the Bishop Hendricken basketball team doesn’t qualify for the postseason, the Hawks will remember a handful of close games as the ones that made the difference.
Thursday’s one-point loss at Coventry might be the one that really sticks out.
Holding a three-point lead with 23 seconds left, Hendricken watched the Oakers score the final four points of the game, with the last bucket coming on a layup by Sean Roles just before time expired to lift Coventry to a 57-56 victory.
It was a stunning loss for Hendricken, which fought all night to maintain its slim lead, only to see it disappear at the last - and worst - possible moment.
“We battled,” Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes said. “I told them it was nobody’s fault, just unlucky. But we fought, we battled and we put ourselves in position to win that game. They made a big play at the end - that’s what it came down to.”
Hendricken has now lost four in a row, with the last three coming by a grand total of seven points. It lost to La Salle last Monday by one point, and then lost to Cranston West the next night by five points.
The Hawks have also suffered four other losses of eight points or fewer, including a two-point loss to Cranston East and a four-point loss to Classical.
Thursday was par for the course.
From the 11-minute mark until the end, no team held a lead larger than four points and there were nine lead changes during that time.
And after all that jockeying, it was the Hawks who put themselves in position to walk away with the victory. Trailing 53-52 with 33 seconds left, Hendricken took the lead on a baseline drive by Will Tavares.
The Oakers turned the ball over on their next possession, and the Hawks inbounded the ball to Ryan Hagerty, who was fouled and went to the line to shoot one-and-one. He knocked them both down, giving the Hawks a 56-53 lead with 23 seconds on the clock.
Coventry struck quickly to make it a one-point game, scoring inside with Brendan Haynes. Hendricken responded by in-bounding the ball to Matt Duffie, who was fouled with 12.2 seconds left.
“This is how things have been going,” Gomes said. “Every game is coming down to the end.”
Duffie, shooting one-and-one, missed the front end, and the Oakers’ Austin Gagan rebounded the ball. He pushed the ball on the right side until it looked like he was corralled by Duffie and Kazre Cummings near the block.
Coventry’s last effort seemed like it couldn’t possibly work.
“I wasn’t going to call [a timeout] until we got into trouble,” Coventry head coach Tom Campbell said. “We got in a little trouble and I actually started trying to call it. They missed me - thank God - and we ended up getting the nice look off of it.”
It was Gagan who made it happen. Instead of forcing a shot, he jumped and slipped a pass across the lane to a wide-open Roles, who calmly converted the layup with seconds remaining.
Hendricken, which was out of timeouts, scrambled to inbound the ball, but as they threw it in the buzzer went off and the crowd stormed the court, celebrating an improbable win.
“We wanted to slow them down, we wanted to prevent him from getting in the lane because he’s very good at that,” Gomes said. “Once he gets in there, the defense collapses and he made a great pass for a layup. We did everything we needed to do to win that game, except at the end.”
Gagan was a star all night for the Oakers, as he finished with a game-high 22 points. Roles had 11.
“He was real aggressive,” Campbell said of Gagan. “It was great. That’s what we need out of him. He goes to the basket real well.”
For the Hawks, Tavares finished with 18, Cummings had 12, Hagerty had 10 and Duffie had nine.
In the first half, the teams traded the lead five times, with Hendricken going into the break holding a 27-23 lead. Tavares scored 11 points over that span, including three three-pointers.
The Hawks extended their lead to five points early in the second half at 35-30 on a Cummings layup with 12:22 to play, but Coventry came back to take the lead at 43-42 on an and-one play by Gagan five minutes later. From there it was back-and-forth, until the Oakers pulled off the win.
The game was enormous in terms of the Division I playoff picture, and the state tournament. Hendricken fell to 8-9 in D-I, while Coventry improved to 10-6.
The Oakers, who weren’t guaranteed a spot in the 10-team D-I tournament until that win, are now in, as are North Kingstown, La Salle, Classical and Mt. Pleasant.
That leaves five spots, and the Hawks are in a battle to grab one of them. Cranston West and East Providence are 8-7, Cranston East is 7-8 and Hope is 6-9. The Hawks are currently in ninth place, but they also have to worry about being caught by both St. Ray’s and South Kingstown, each of which is 6-10.
With just one regular season game remaining, at home against South Kingstown on Tuesday at 7 p.m., Hendricken is fighting for its playoff life. South Kingstown beat Hendricken 66-50 back on Jan. 11, but with a win against the Rebels, the Hawks should be safe.
With a loss, they could be looking at missing the playoffs for one of the only times in program history. They haven’t even finished with a regular season record below .500 since 2001-02, when they went 6-10.
“That’s why this game was so important,” Gomes said. “We need a win, and even that’s not a guarantee that we’re going to get in to either of the playoffs. In these close games, you like to come out on the other side. It didn’t happen, so we’ve got to move on.”
State tournament-wise, the top 16 teams make it, and the Hawks are on the bubble there as well. They’re in a five-way tie for 12th, yet would likely miss the tournament if they didn’t qualify for the division tournament.
The close losses are beginning to catch up to Hendricken, which just hasn’t been able to finish off games.
A win today will make everybody feel a lot better about the team’s postseason future. That said, everything won’t be perfectly clear until this weekend, as the regular season doesn’t end until Sunday.
Then the division tournament starts on Monday. The Hawks are hoping to be there.
“It’s been like that all year,” Gomes said. “We had many years where we were on the other end of games like this. It’s tough to swallow, but I’m proud of my guys.”