Mazzulla leads Hawks past Falcons in return to league action

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The less-than-full-strength Bishop Hendricken basketball team returned to league action on Friday night after a valuable trip to Hawaii, holding off upset-minded Cranston West by a final of 63-42.

The Hawks took on the Falcons after a long day of travel two days prior, with some of the team fighting off an illness.

Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes admitted that it wasn’t the team’s best showing of the season, but considering the circumstances, Gomes was happy that his squad was able to escape with the win.

“I think today we were mentally and physically exhausted,” Gomes said following the 21-point victory. “It was a long plane ride, in a plane for 12 hours with recycled oxygen. We did what we had to do today.”

West picked up a technical foul in pregame warm-ups, as Justin Mazzulla stepped to the free throw line and gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead before a second had even ticked off the clock.

Mazzulla at the line would become a common theme for the game, as the George Washington University commit scored 14 of his game-high 20 points from the charity stripe to go along with six steals.

“He’s a worker,” Gomes said of his senior captain. “We just got back from Hawaii and he had an unbelievable tournament. I think he was maybe the best player in the tournament.”

Mazzulla scored the team’s first seven points, and a steal and score from point guard Bobby Fiorito added to Hendricken’s strong start, as West head coach John Macera signaled for a timeout with the Falcons down, 9-2, out of the gate.

West would respond out of the timeout, with Steve Rocchio swishing a triple to trim the deficit.

A few minutes later, West continued to hang tough. Brett Bucci received an entry pass before spinning off his defender for a layup to make it 16-11 Hendricken.

The Hawks’ full-court press would help them open up the lead late in the half, though.

A couple of steals led to some easy buckets, and a monster alley-oop from Jalen Watson to Mazzulla aided the Hawks’ run, as well, to give the road squad a 29-16 advantage at the break.

Hendricken carried that defensive intensity into the second half.

The Hawks scored five points within the first 40 seconds of the half, with Fiorito stealing and scoring an uncontested basket before an Isaiah Mylers steal resulted in a Watson 3 at the other end to give the Hawks a 34-16 lead.

“I think our kids played hard, probably one of our better efforts for 32 minutes,” Macera said. “That first four or five minutes of the second half hurt a little bit, but I couldn’t ask for much more.”

West had a tough time cutting into its deficit with Hendricken’s depth, but it continued to battle in front of its big crowd down the stretch.

Kevin Mitchell pulled down an offensive rebound and kicked the ball out to Rocchio for a 3.

A few minutes later, junior center Will Such grabbed an offensive board of his own and converted a putback to make it 44-25.

Such was productive off the bench in limited minutes for West, posting eight points, four rebounds and two blocks.

“We’ve been working with him and trying to get him in,” Macera said of Such. “As soon as he came out, I told him ‘You had a good game and build off of it. We want to see you do that every night.’ If we can get that, it would be a nice little extra offensive punch, which we know we need.”

The Hawks were able to hold their lead in the waning minutes. Fiorito dished crosscourt to Watson for a 3, and Chris Hindle hit the glass late for an offensive rebound and reverse layup.

Mazzulla was one of three Hawks in double figures, as Watson netted all 11 of his points in the second half and Fiorito scored five points in each half to finish with 10.

Bucci and Rocchio shared team-high honors for West with 11 points apiece.

West was set to play Smithfield on Monday evening, but results were unavailable at press time. It will travel to play La Salle on Friday night at 7 p.m.

The winless Falcons have endured a tough start to their season, but the team is staying positive.

“They are,” Macera quickly answered when asked if his team was staying positive. “That’s my job. Some days are harder than others, but tonight was good. They just need to build off this and do it again on Monday.”

Hendricken, on the other hand, was looking to keep its momentum going at Woonsocket (1-3) on Monday night, but those results were also unavailable at press time.

The Hawks will then host Smithfield on Wednesday and travel to undefeated St. Ray’s on Friday evening. Both games will tip at 7 p.m.

“We have three games next week,” Gomes said Friday after the win. “It’s going to be a big week for us. Every one of these games matter now.”

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