Let the madness begin.
This week will kick off the majority of the Rhode Island High School playoffs, which means that I will be a little all over the place physically and mentally, which is fine by me. There is plenty to look forward to.
The regular season has been a pretty standard one … many local powerhouses delivered and are sitting pretty with the postseason set to begin, there have been some surprises, there have been some disappointments. I’m going to break down some of the teams and competitions that I have my eye on as we head into what is arguably the busiest 2-3 week stretch of the year.
Before I dive into it though, let me start by saying congrats to the Bishop Hendricken indoor track and field team that took home another state title last weekend. I would have mentioned them in this column, but with so many last-minute games that had to be played in other sports, I would not have been able to do so. The Hawks are once again state champions, and have once again proven to be the top club in the state’s history and one of the elite programs in New England and the country … so congrats to you all on your hard work and consistency.
The Hendricken basketball team cruised through the regular season, only dropping one game to this point as it travels north to Woonsocket for its season finale. It is no surprise to see the three-time defending champs atop the standings, and I fully expect them to once again cruise to a title. North Kingstown gave the Hawks a battle, and Cranston East always plays them tough (despite what the final scores may indicate), but I’m pretty sold on this team from what I’ve seen, so it will be fun to see if it can pull off the 4-peat.
As great as Hendricken has been, there has been no hotter team in Warwick this winter than the Toll Gate boys basketball team in Division III. With guys like Brandon Scott, Kavi Simpson and Aidan Areson, we all kind of expected the Titans to do well … but now … at 17-0 with one game remaining, few believed that they would surge to the best record in the state across the board. It looks like a two-team race in D3 between Toll Gate and Ponaganset, who are squaring off this evening in their season finale. The Titans took the first game 83-82, and regardless of who wins tonight, we will probably still have no clarity as to who is the top dog heading into the postseason.
The Pilgrim-Toll Gate rivalry added another chapter to its history on the court in girls basketball. The Lady Pats, who moved down to D3 prior to the season, made the most of the move and are sitting at 13-3 and in third place in the standings. Across town the Titans have quietly put together a solid campaign, sitting at 10-6 and earning a surprise-win over the Pats early this season. Tolman looks to be the favorite to win it all, despite falling to Pilgrim in Warwick … however … I am hoping to see the Pats and Titans square off one more time, with everything on the line.
Warwick once again runs boys hockey, as Hendricken and Pilgrim both wrapped up first-place finishes this regular season. In D1, it looks like the Hawks and La Salle Rams are on a collision course for the title. The two teams battled to a 4-4 tie their last meeting, and I’m sure a state title matchup would deliver as well. Some wondered if the defending champion Pats would be able to get back to the top, and after surging to 34 points scored in their final four contests, it seems like they may do just that as they are hitting their peak at the right time.
Nothing is a given in sports, especially at the high school level, but it appears that the Hendricken swim team is a lock to take home its 28th title in 29 years with an undefeated regular season and a big win at divisions last weekend. That said, my attention will be more so on the girls side. Pilgrim has one of the youngest teams in the state, but have surprised the league by finishing in the middle of the pack and pulling off a few upsets in the process. The Titans at Toll Gate lost their three top performers, who all went on to swim collegiately this season, but have somehow managed to finish above .500 and also look to compete with some of the top swimmers at the state meet this upcoming weekend.
Lastly is wrestling. The Hendricken club is a younger-than-normal core, with a handful of its starting lineup being occupied by freshmen. Despite the youth, Hendricken pieced together an undefeated regular season, and is sitting as arguably the favorite to win it all for the first time in three years. Toll Gate has also been impressive this winter, finishing atop D2 with a 13-2 record, and topping some of the best teams in the state. It will be interesting to see how things pan out for these two programs.
Like I said, it is going to be hectic the next couple of weeks … but embrace it, because before we know it, it will be spring, then summer, and a whole new batch of teams next fall to watch for.