SPORTS

Winter playoffs are finally here

Posted 2/25/21

First off, let me start by saying how happy I am that we have completed the regular season for the winter. There was so much doubt heading into this season as to whether or not we would see an end to it, and now we are just about there, which is an

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SPORTS

Winter playoffs are finally here

Posted

First off, let me start by saying how happy I am that we have completed the regular season for the winter. There was so much doubt heading into this season as to whether or not we would see an end to it, and now we are just about there, which is an unbelievable accomplishment.

Remember two months ago? The thought of moving events indoors seemed so daunting and obviously it still is. Fans have not been allowed in attendance which is a bummer, kids have had to be inconvenienced with the lack of locker rooms. Things like that.

But overall, what a great thing to see. We made it through another season without any major outbreaks or issues. We still have a couple weeks left with the playoffs, but the fact that things have gone so smooth here in the last few weeks is remarkable.

Much credit to all the athletes, coaches, officials, school departments, and the Rhode Island Interscholastic League for getting this done. We still have another few weeks to go and then we will seamlessly transition into the third season, so things will continue to be a process, but the fact that we made it this far is something to celebrate. Brighter days are ahead.

Having said that, here are a few of the things that I am keeping my eye on heading into the postseason:

As I have been saying all season long, the Division I boys basketball tournament should be exciting.

The defending champion Hawks have once again worked their way into contention and into the favorite spot with another solid few weeks of play. With wins over North Kingstown and La Salle, as well as a few other big ones sprinkled between, Hendricken enters the playoffs with momentum and experience and should be in the driver's seat to claim their second straight title.

Across the city is Pilgrim, who has had another strong campaign after breaking out last season.

Pilgrim dropped its first game to East Greenwich, who is still undefeated, but it was competitive for the first three quarters in reality, and the Pats have been surging ever since and are right in the thick of the battle in Division II.

Many people, myself included, considered them to be the dark horse heading into the playoffs last season. However, they were eliminated early in disappointing fashion. Now, with one of the state’s elite players in Tyriek Weeks, along with guys like Peter Kay, Jared Reminder, Kenny Rix, can Pilgrim take the next step and reach the promised land? They have everything they need … but it all goes through East Greenwich. Can they take the rematch?

Hendricken swim and indoor track and field will also look to make some noise in the next couple of weeks. The Hawks had a historic finish to last season in the pool, being led by CJ Sheldon who has become one of the best swimmers to ever come out of the state. He’s had another stellar campaign along with a handful of other leaders and Hendricken looks poised to add another title to their resume.

As for track, like always, it’s likely going to come down to Hendricken and La Salle this weekend at the Providence Career and Technical Institute. Should be fun to follow.

The Toll Gate girls have also seemed to hit their stride entering the postseason. They have a young roster and experienced some growing pains early. However, girls like Sydnee Perreault and Amelia Areson have enjoyed breakout years in the backcourt and all of a sudden the Lady Titans could be the dark horses of the Division III tournament.

The Cranston West girls team will also be interesting. The Lady Falcons have a very large junior core that has been, for the most part, competitive with some of the top teams in Division I. This seems like a team that will be the favorite heading into next season, but could the girls arrive a year early and pull off the upset? It will be an uphill climb, but stranger things have happened.

Am I crazy for feeling like the Division II hockey tournament is going to be more compelling than Division I?

I said it in a recent column, but I feel like it will come down to Warwick and Cranston. Sure, North Smithfield has leapfrogged each team and has taken first place in the standings, but they have all been pretty even and it really is anyone’s title to take.

Heck, even the fourth-ranked Rogers/Middletown/Rocky Hill co-op has lost only one contest and could be a dark horse. No matter which way you chop it up, there really seems to be an even, four-way race for the championship. Division I is always fun to watch, but I feel that we may be getting ourselves into a dog fight in the Division II race. It really can go in any direction.

As for swimming, the scene in Cranston is pretty impressive and dare I say underappreciated? It seems like for the East boys and girls, every year is a brand new roster that will likely have a tough time competing against the top competition … but they always find themselves right in the thick of things until the very end. Although the Bolts have not blown the division away, they are right back in the hunt and could see some swimmers make noise here in the next couple of weeks.

The West girls have also flown under the radar and sit in second place as of this writing. Could they break out and gain some momentum for the future?

Last but not least, let’s head north to Johnston.

The boys basketball team had a massive senior core last winter and made it all the way to the Division III finals. They reached overtime and dropped a heartbreaker if you don’t recall.

Now, this team has picked up right where last year left off and is peaking at the perfect time.

The Panthers won five of six and are now toward the top of the division standings. Could a team that underwent so much roster turnover really make a deep run the season after? I think it can in this case.

Thomas Zednik has lived up to expectations as one of the premier big men in the state. Guys like Anthony Tavares, Derek and Justin Salvatore have thrived in their roles. Not to mention the fact that they are playing under their third coach in as many seasons. These guys deserve to make a deep run, and I am expecting it at this point.

My Pitch, sports

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