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Thursday, February 10, 2011
New England Roundup: Rhode Island

By Mike Scandura

For those of a certain age, it was the equivalent of the U.S. Calvary coming to the rescue in an old John Wayne movie. But there wasn’t anything “entertaining” about the facts leading up to the crisis.

Rhode IslandAs February dawned on the calendar, the Cranston School Committee was on the verge of eliminating all sports at the city’s two high schools – Cranston East and Cranston West. The move would have been part of an attempt to eliminate a projected $3.7-million deficit in the proposed school budget for the 2011-12 academic year.

But nearly at the last moment, the New England Laborers/Cranston Public Schools Construction Career Academy’s board of directors opted to transfer a $79,928 surplus from its budget to restore all varsity sports. (The latter is a joint effort of the New England Laborers Union and the Cranston Public Schools). Otherwise, the School Committee would have been left with few options and varsity sports like football, basketball, hockey and baseball would have become a distant memory.

As it is, funding is still lacking for freshman football, basketball and baseball. That was the case last year at this time but private donations enabled the School Committee to restore freshman football. But at the moment, any word of similar donations is still lacking. SIGNED ON THE DOTTED LINE
Perhaps the most intriguing Rhode Island football player who signed a letter of intent was Middletown running back Rico McCray, who’ll play his college ball at Bryant University (which is in the process of making the transition to a full Division I school).

McCray, a two-time All-State selection, missed the entire 2010 season after blowing out his left ACL and meniscus cartilage during an Injury Fund game (i.e. exhibition game) the first week of September.

McCray was a three-year starter prior to the injury and was a key player in the Islanders’ run to the 2009 Division II Super Bowl championship.

A trio of Burrillville High players also will be continuing their football careers: two-way lineman John Pacheco at Wesleyan plus quarterback Roger Blanchard and linebacker Dan Mattera at WPI.

But Burrillville isn’t the only school that will have a trio of players on college gridirons come the fall.

Moses Brown School, an elite prep school, will send three life-long friends to the next level: Daril Geisser will be attending Presbyterian as will C.J. Handley while Vincent Porcaro will venture to New York and suit up for Marist College.

Barrington, which has emerged as a Division I power over the last decade, will send running back Alex Speiss also to Marist.

The University of Rhode Island, meanwhile, inked three Rhode Islanders – linebacker Greg Doutre from Johnston, center John Greenhalgh from Chepachet (a Second Team All-State pick) and Toll Gate’s lineman Doug Johnson.

ARE HAWKS ON ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST?
No school has dominated boys’ basketball in recent decades like Hendricken.

Under the guidance of coach Jamel Gomes, the Hawks have captured a state-record eight consecutive Division I championships.

Whether or not the Hawks can extend that streak is problematic – one reason being Hendricken lacks the “go-to” scorer it’s had in the past. That list would include the sons of University of Rhode Island coach Jim Baron, Jimmy and more recently younger brother Billy (who last week transferred from Virginia to URI).

Recent losses to Division I-South rivals Coventry (66-62), who is in first place (12-4) and North Kingstown (47-42), who’s just over .500 (8-6), underscore the Hawks’ lack of proficiency when it comes to putting the ball in the basket.

Conversely, the surprise team at the Division I level is St. Raphael Academy which leads I-East with an 11-4 slate – barely a year after finishing a mediocre (by Saints standards) 9-9. SRA displays the type of balanced scoring Hendricken sorely lacks in the person of Cesar Mejia (17.2), Charles Correa (15.6) and Trevor Vasey (10.8).

LIGHTS OUT
“Lights Out” isn’t just the name of a new TV series. It’s also applicable when describing the recent performances of North Providence’s Austin Van Bemmelen and St. Andrew’s Michael Carter-Williams (who’s already signed with Syracuse).

Van Bemmelen torched Central Falls by scoring 51 points (21 of which came on seven 3-point shots) – the highest one-game total by any interscholastic League player this season as the Cougars mauled the Warriors, 87-78. Carter-Williams poured in 39 points as the Saints whipped Worcester Academy, 84-75.

What Van Bemmelen and Carter-Williams did on the male side so did Emily Caswell do on the female side. Caswell, a senior at the Prout School, scored 22 points during the Crusaders’ 53-32 victory over Tiverton and reached the magic 1,000-point mark for her career. A co-captain and guard, Caswell is averaging a double-double (21 points and 10 rebounds per game).

SERVED ON A PLATTER
Revenge, as the saying goes, is a dish best served cold.

Just ask the La Salle boys’ hockey team.

After enduring an embarrassing 7-2 loss at the sticks of Mount St. Charles, the Rams rebounded on Feb. 4 and blanked the Division I-leading Mounties, 3-0, as sophomore goalie Joe Noonan made 27 saves.

In fact, Mount out-shot La Salle, 27-9, so the quality of Noonan’s performance can’t be emphasized enough.

Then, 24 hours later, Hendricken beat Moses Brown, 6-3, as Robert Bueher scored one goal and assisted on three. As a result, the top of the Division I standings remained tight with Mount leading (12-1-1) with 25 points followed by Hendricken (10-3-1) and Moses Brown (10-2-1) who’re tied for second with 21 points and La Salle (8-2-2) in fourth with 18 points.

PASSAGES
The Rhode Island sports world was saddened by the recent passing of two former prominent student-athletes – Barrington’s Marilyn Picerelli and Coventry’s Tony Almeida.

Picerelli arguably was one of the greatest female athletes in the history of Rhode Island interscholastic sports. A member of both the Barrington and Rhode Island Interscholastic League halls of fame, she was the first Barrington female athlete to make three All-State First Teams in the same academic year: tennis, basketball and track and field.

In fact, Picerelli was the leading scorer on the basketball team and set a state record in the outdoor long jump that stood for a decade. In later years she won the R.I. Golf Association Mixed Team Championship four times.

Almeida played on the 1972 Cranston East football team that captured the Interscholastic League’s first Division I Super Bowl title. He also was a prominent member of the Bolts’ track and field team and was a dominant force in the weight throw for three years.

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.