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Friday, March 25, 2011
New England Roundup: Rhode Island

By Mike Scandura

Choose your cliché:

The clock struck midnight and Cinderella turned into a pumpkin.

The air went out of the balloon.

The ceiling caved in.

Rhode IslandEach of the above is applicable when describing the improbable run tiny Tiverton High made to the finals of the first open boys’ basketball tournament since 1966.

No. 5 seed and long-time Division I power St. Raphael Academy annexed the seventh state championship in school history when it beat No. 11 seed and long-time Division II / Division III member Tiverton, 58-47.

It also prevented the Tigers from writing a “Hoosiers-like” ending to what could have been a Hollywood script.

But, first, credit must be paid to coach Tom Sorrentine’s Saints, who also beat No. 9 North Providence, 66-48 in the semifinals and No. 13 West Warwick, 68-60 in the quarterfinals, and won their first state title since 2002.

Tiverton built a 24-19 halftime lead before SRA rallied behind sophomore point guard Charles Correa, who poured in a game-high 21 points and was voted tourney MVP honors.

Defense also played a key in SRA’s win as the Saints played a box-and-one defense on Gunnar Bjornson, who led the state in scoring. Bjornson did score 15 points but that was 10 below his average. And he was held to zero three-point baskets.

Tiverton, who finished second in II-East (14-4) and who’s won four state titles in school history (albeit at lower levels), commenced its run by upsetting No. 6 La Salle, 64-52, with Bjornson (25) and Ben Bergandy (17) leading the way for coach Gerry Arcouquette’s team.

Upset No. 2 followed in the quarterfinals when Tiverton beat No. 3 Hendricken, 88-78, which ended the Hawks’ run of consecutive state championships at seven.

Ken Welchman III (26 points) picked up the slack, especially after Bjornson (18 points) fouled out.

Then, in what arguably was one of the most dramatic games in Interscholastic League playoff history, Tiverton outlasted No. 2 Central, 77-74, in double overtime.

Bjornson almost literally blew out the scoreboard at URI’s Ryan Center by scoring 31 points – 24 of which came on 3-point shots.

Think about this for a minute.

Tiverton beat three schools – La Salle, Hendricken and Central – that had combined for a total of 28 Division I state championships.

One other upset of note came in the quarterfinals when No. 9 / Division II champion North Providence clipped No. 1 / Division I champion Cranston West, 70-69, on Austin Van Bemmelen’s basket with 6.2 seconds left in regulation.

LADY RAMS CONTINUE DOMINANCE
Another year, another Division I state girls’ basketball championship for La Salle Academy.

Tournament MVP Priscilla Dunphy scored 15 points – and sank 7-of-8 free throw attempts in the final 26 seconds - as the Lady Rams beat Westerly, 55-48.

The title was La Salle’s fourth in the last five years and seventh in the last 10.

The Bulldogs, who moved up this season from Division II, actually beat La Salle at home in December and upset previously-undefeated Division I-North champion Barrington in the semifinals.

This victory was particularly sweet for the Rams because they were upended last year by Woonsocket in the state finals.

Prout dribbled home with the Division II championship – the Crusaders’ first since 1985 – by beating Mount St. Charles, 40-24, in the finals.

Tourney MVP Emily Caswell ked the Crusaders with 20 points, sinking 9-of-10 free throw attempts in the process.

This title was especially rewarding for coach Phil Quinn since he graduated 11 of 13 players from last season’s team.

At the risk of using a baseball metaphor, Middletown is batting 1.000.

The Islanders made their first appearance ever in the Division III championship game and drove home with the trophy after beating Central, 52-32.

Middletown was led by Chelsea Dowler (11 points), Lauren Paiva (10 points) and Nina Traglia (10 points).

MOUNT STARTING ANOTHER RUN?
From 1978-2003, Mount St. Charles set a national record by winning 26 consecutive Division I boys’ state hockey championships.

After a four-year drought, the Mounties reeled off their fourth consecutive state title by sweeping Hendricken, 5-4 and 7-2, in the best-of-three finals series.

Zach Samborsky scored with 1:51 left in regulation in Game 1 to snap a 4-4 tie and give the Mounties the series lead.

Then, in game two, Samborsky and teammate Trevor Plante scored two goals apiece.

Ironically, Samborsky is the son of Mike Samborsky who played on coach Bill Belisle’s first state championship team.

While the Mounties have more championship plaques then they have room for, just the opposite is the case with Coventry.

The Oakers, who play in Division II, captured their first championship in eight years by sweeping defending champ Portsmouth by identical scores of 4-2.

Senior co-captain Nick Paiva, the Oakers’ leading scorer, was voted the MVP award after scoring four goals and assisting on another during Coventry’s run to the title.

Because of a decline in registrations, North Providence and Johnston combined to form a co-op team this season in Division III.

That merger paid big dividends when the team swept Mount Hope by scores of 3-0 and 4-0 to claim the state title.

Damon Ascenzi was named the MVP while goalie Matt Dominique, who celebrated his birthday on the day on the final game, made a combined total of 49 saves in the tournament.

MOUNT GIRLS COMPLETE SWEEP
The Mount St. Charles girls joined their male counterparts in the winner’s circle by sweeping Bay View Academy 2-0 and 7-1 to capture the state championship.

It was the sixth title for the Mounties since the Interscholastic League added girls’ hockey nine years ago and prevented Bay View from retaining its crown.

MSC senior captain Brianna Nardowy was voted MVP honors. Among other things, she assisted on five goals in the two games.

Sarah Erban kicked out 20 shots to earn the shutout in Game 1.

PASSAGES
While his official name wasn’t Mr. Baseball, it might as well have been considering his passion for the game.

Rhode Island lost arguably one of the most successful and popular coaches in state history – regardless of sport – with the recent passing of Val Innocente at age 75.

Innocente’s baseball career spanned four decades.

Among other things, he was Hendricken’s head baseball coach in the 1980s and led the Hawks to a string of state championships.

He also coached American Legion baseball and at Roger Williams University.

To say his wit and personality will be missed is a major understatement.

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.