Defense leads Hawks past East in prelims
On Dec. 18, Cranston East came into Bishop Hendricken's gym and left with a two-point victory.
There was no repeat performance on Monday.
The Hawks hosted the 'Bolts for a preliminary round game in the Division I playoffs and rode a steady defensive effort to a 48-23 victory. The win moved the Hawks into the quarterfinals, where they were scheduled to play North Kingstown on Wednesday. Results were unavailable at press time.
On Monday, the Hawks were happy to be staying alive.
"We've been right there in all of our games," said senior Ryan Hagerty. "We just want to turn the corner and try to get it going. We came out and executed tonight."
The Hawks finished the regular season at 9-9, salvaging the .500 record thanks to a win over South Kingstown in their season finale. They came in as the seventh seed and matched up with the 10th-seeded 'Bolts, who went 8-10 and were the last team into the playoffs.
While East had reason to be confident based on its December win, the cold shooting made it a moot point. Facing a packed-in 3-2 zone, the 'Bolts got jump shots when they wanted them, but couldn't hit. They made just 10 of 46 field goal attempts.
""In the locker room, I told them I can't even be mad at you guys at all," said East head coach John Smith. "We did what we wanted to do - we just couldn't put the ball in the basket. I don't think I've ever seen us shoot like that before. The killer part of it is that they were all good shots. But hey, that's the way it happens I guess."
Hendricken knows that feeling. The Hawks struggled to score all season, averaging 51 points per game. They weren't on fire either on Monday, but they dominated the offensive glass for 13 second-chance points and used a 15-2 first-half run to take a lead they never lost.
At the other end, the defense never wavered - East made only five field goals in each half.
"Our goal tonight was really to pack it in and force them to make perimeter shots," said Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes. "I thought our defense was outstanding. For the most part, we kept them to one and done. We rebounded the ball, kept possession and we were able to do our thing at the offensive end. I thought our guys stuck to the gameplan very well. I thought we played hard and I thought we played smarter."
East took a 9-7 lead on a run-out layup by Dillan Foss with 7:28 left in the first half.
After that, the drought settled in. East scored just two more points in the half, and the Hawks took advantage with the 15-2 run. It wasn't an explosive surge - it happened over the course of almost seven minutes - but it did the trick for the Hawks. Hagerty accounted for eight of the points, including a putback of a Kazre Cummings miss with just two seconds on the clock.
The Hawks went to the break leading 22-11.
"We had a strong first half," Gomes said. "I was nervous because we haven't played since last Tuesday. We talked about just coming out strong, with positive energy, and we did."
The 'Bolts hung around for the first five minutes of the second half, but the poor shooting caught up to them again. After a driving layup by Aaron Murphy with 9:05 left, East didn't score for almost five minutes. In the meantime, the Hawks went on another extended run, scoring 11 straight to go up 41-19. Hagerty started it with a hook shot in the lane, and Garfield Coustard followed with a free throw and a bucket in the post. Will Tavares streaked in for a layup on East's next possession, before Hagerty scored on a putback. Tavares capped the run with a pair of free throws.
When East finally ended the drought with a jumper by Chris Maples-Campbell with 4:17 left, the Hawks were well on their way.
"It was a strong performance," Gomes said. "For us, defensively, we've got to hold teams to the 30's or 40's to have our best chance to win. If we do that, we're going to be in every game."
Hagerty led all scorers with 16 points. Tavares, who scored 26 in the first meeting between the teams, tallied 13.
"When we played them the first time, they had 52 points and Will Tavares had 26," Smith said. "We really wanted to try to shadow him and have somebody else try to beat us. Hagerty did a really nice job. When he missed, he got his own rebound and he put it back. They did a really good job on the boards. We work hard on defense, and sometimes when you work that hard, the rebounds are the thing you give up."
Ten of Hagerty's 16 points were on second chances.
"Big-time game," Gomes said. "He came ready to play. He's the heart and soul of our team. He's our leader on and off the court. He came with a purpose tonight. He did not want this to be his last game. I'm extremely proud of him."
Not only did the win advance Hendricken in the D-I bracket, but it added a point to the team's total in the overall state power points standings, which determines the field for the open state tournament. Heading into Wednesday's game, the Hawks were in 14th place. The top 16 teams qualify.
"We'll be ready," Gomes said. "We'll put in a gameplan and we'll go. We're looking at every game here as a chance to get into the state tournament."