Change in division can't stop Barrington (R.I.)

Nobody forced Barrington High to move from Division II up to Division I prior to the 2014-15 boys’ basketball season.

The Eagles posted a combined 52-20 record over the last four seasons and in all likelihood could have continued their dominance in Division II. But coach Patrick Sullivan didn’t hesitate to request a move to the state’s top division when the Rhode Island Interscholastic League realigned divisions for the current season.

“It was by choice,” said Sullivan who’s in his seventh season as the Eagles head coach. “When realignment was established, we opted go into Division I. The reason was in our previous season we went 17-1 in Division II and lost in the Division II championship to North Providence (55-51).

“Given the increased emphasis on the Open Tournament we felt we had a team that could compete for the overall state championship. The best way to prepare for it was for us to move up to Division I.”

As the saying goes, so far so good.

Barrington’s 64-44 victory over Cranston West on Tuesday combined with Smithfield’s 71-53 upset of perennial state champion Hendricken vaulted the Eagles (18-2 overall) into first place in Division I (12-1 while Hendricken is 11-2) as well as first place in the Open Tournament standings.

Experience also factored into Sullivan’s decision because he returned eight years along with four juniors.

“I felt in addition to the success we had last year, we had so many guys coming back, including Corey Daugherty who was First Team All-State and a Division I college basketball player because he’s committed to Brown,” said Sullivan. “Matt DeWolf, a 6-8 junior center was coming back, and so was (senior) Kevin Mannix, a 3-4 combo guy, I thought with our talent and the experience we had a team that could compete for the Open Championship.

“We felt playing in Division I during the regular season would help us prepare for that.”

That being said, Sullivan did have a major concern before the first shot was launched at a basket.

“I think my number one concern was did we have the depth to play at the Division I level,” queried Sullivan. “It takes more than five guys. I was concerned about the speed and physicality at the Division I level. Those are some concerns I had.

“But I thought a lot of our players worked hard in the off season to prepare. We had the summer and fall to prepare ourselves for the challenges in Division I.”

One way the Eagles “prepared” themselves for the “challenges” in Division I has been by clamping down on defense. While Barrington is averaging a modest 59.2 ppg., it’s allowing a miserly average of 45.2 points against.

“I think that you can’t win big games unless you have good defense,” said Sullivan. “We’ve done well defensively this year. We put an equal amount of emphasis on offense and defense in practice.

“When you’re playing on the road, your defense can keep you in games.”

Four Eagles in particular draw the toughest assignments on defense.

“We have a couple of different guys who can defend on the perimeter,” said Sullivan. “Obviously there’s Corey Daugherty and Cam Riley, who flies under the radar. He doesn’t have outlandish numbers but he does a good job as does Kevin Mannix.”

As for offense, Barrington is led by a trio of players who Sullivan refers to as The Big Three: Daugherty, DeWolf and Mannix. Daugherty is averaging 19 ppg.; DeWolf is averaging a double-double (15 ppg. and 11 rpg.); and Mannix is averaging 10 points per game plus six rebounds per game.

“I would say we’ve had players at least meet my expectations,” said Sullivan. “Matt DeWolf has had a tremendous season but I expected that because he worked hard in the off season. Kevin Mannix is another kid who’s met my expectations.

“‘The Big Three’ at least have met my expectations. I could say that for other players like Cam riley, Colin Vatter and Andy Clements who’ve filled their roles and have helped make us successful.”

The last time Barrington won a state championship was in 2000-01 when it captured the Division II title. Prior to that, the Eagles won the old Class B championship in 1981-82.

Besides losing last season to North Providence in the Division II finals, the Eagles also lost to Coventry in the Open Tournament quarterfinals. Might having come so close to winning the Division II championship and at least reaching the Open Tournament finals provided motivation for this season?

“The way the landscape is now with Rhode Island high school playoffs is there’s more of an emphasis on the Open Tournament,” said Sullivan. “With that increased emphasis it certainly was a motivating factor the previous two years when we reached the quarterfinals of the Open Tournament and lost to Division I teams (North Kingstown and Coventry, respectively).

“I felt with the experience and talent coming back, we were better served playing in Division I this season.”

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.