Hawks to face Skippers in Final Four
Hendricken and North Kingstown will meet for the third time this season on Saturday, but the stakes this time will be much higher than the prior two meetings.
The top-seeded Hawks powered their way past No. 9 East Providence in the Elite 8 at Brown University’s Pizzitola Center on Sunday, 74-55, behind a game-high 19 points from Jalen Watson and 14 from T.J. Weeks.
Conversely, North Kingstown posted a dominant performance of its own, leading from start to finish in a 55-42 victory over Narragansett to punch its ticket to the Final Four.
The pair of Elite 8 victories secured a matchup in the state semifinals between the Hawks and Skippers at 4 p.m. at The Ryan Center on Saturday.
The game will unquestionably test both teams after Hendricken and North Kingstown split their season series, 1-1, with both teams winning a game on the road.
“If there are two teams that know each other well it’s Hendricken and North Kingstown,” Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes said on Monday. “I have tremendous respect for their program and Coach Aaron Thomas, who has done a great job over the years. They have a very tough team, they had a great season and play great defense with a 1-3-1 zone that gives a lot of teams fits.”
The Skippers have featured a balanced scoring attack all season.
During the first regular season game between the Hawks and Skippers, for instance, North Kingstown had four players in double figures led by junior Ryan Maloney with a team-high 19 points. North Kingstown went on to win that game, 85-68, on the Hawks’ home floor.
That’s how the Skippers recorded a 13-5 record in Division I to earn the No. 5 seed in the state tournament – with balance.
North Kingstown has been led by five players, all of whom have posted similar production this season.
Thor Brochu is the Skippers’ leading scorer, averaging 11.1 points per game, but Maloney (10.8), Mike Williams (10.4), Mike Ferrie (9.1) and Bruce Coppola (9) aren’t far behind.
“They execute on the offensive side of the ball,” Gomes said. “They are a very strong team. We’re going to have to be on our game, play tough defense and execute on the offensive end to have a chance to move on to the title game.”
Hendricken has been impressive at both ends of the floor for the last two months.
The last time the Hawks lost a game was back on Jan. 13 at St. Raphael, winning 16 games in a row since that point. A couple teams have pushed Hendricken over that stretch, but pesky defense and a wide-range of offensive contributors have helped it string together the lengthy streak.
The third victory of this current 16-game winning streak came at North Kingstown in a 50-46 victory, as Mazzulla netted a team-high 17 points and Weeks added 12.
Mazzulla was shouldering a great deal of the scoring duties early on in the season, but Weeks becoming eligible gave the Hawks another go-to scorer, and Isaiah Mylers, Bobby Fiorito, Angel Sanchez and Jalen Watson, in particular, have upped their games, as well, making Hendricken even tougher to beat.
If the Hawks play like they have over the last eight weeks, it’s going to take a special effort from an opponent to stop Hendricken from capturing a second straight state title.
But, the Skippers are undoubtedly a formidable foe, as they have already proven that they have the ability to defeat Hendricken.
Gomes knows that he will need a full team effort to get by a sound team like North Kingstown.
“We’re not looking past that game by any means,” Gomes said. “We have four days to prepare. We’re going to put a good game plan together and give it our best. We’re taking our season to the farthest point that it can possibly go, and hopefully come out on a positive side.”
The winner of Hendricken-North Kingstown will play the winner of St. Ray’s and Shea – a pair of Pawtucket teams – on Sunday at 6 p.m. for the state title at The Ryan Center.
“That should be an exciting matchup with the battle of Pawtucket,” Gomes said of the St. Ray’s-Shea game. “Shea looked very good [Sunday], very athletic. Then St. Ray’s and Coach Saar (Sorrentine) has done a great job with that team all year long. That’ll be an exciting game. Hopefully we’ll have a shot if we can get by North Kingstown on Saturday, but Saturday comes first.”