Boston High School: La Salle Academy

La Salle (R.I.) football still hungry for postseason

November, 19, 2014
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When La Salle Academy beat defending four-time Division I state champion Hendricken, 15-9, on Nov. 7 the Rams:

Rhode Island* Handed the Hawks their first loss of the season.

* Clinched the regular-season championship with an 8-0 record.

* Locked up the number one seed in the Division I state tournament.

Yet Rams coach Geoff Marcone, wasn’t inclined to find space in the school’s trophy case for another championship plaque.

“It was a great win for our program,” said Marcone who’s in his 11th season as La Salle’s head coach. “But we’ve always had great matchups with them. To say it was the best thing that’s happened to our program, I would disagree. It was a game against our rival and one we wanted to win.

“It was a great victory but it wasn’t going to make or break our season.”

Arguably the reason Marcone was pragmatic when discussing the win over Hendricken is that the Rams and the Hawks could meet in the Division I Super Bowl for the third time in the last four seasons. The top-seeded Rams host fourth-seeded Cranston East on Friday night while the second-seeded Hawks host third-seeded Portsmouth in the Division I semifinals.

The Super Bowl is scheduled for Dec. 6.

“You want to win the division and get to the playoffs,” said Marcone. “As you get to one goal, you cross it off. We have to beat Cranston East to get to the (Super Bowl).

“If we do, we cross that one off.”

Obviously, the Rams aren’t able to “cross off” their 17-14 loss to Hendricken in the 2011 Super Bowl and their 26-20 loss to the Hawks in the 2012 Super Bowl.

“It was hard for the coaching staff and harder for the kids,” said Marcone of those championship game losses. “But you can’t dwell on that and think about what did or did not happen. If you do, you’re not going to fare well the next time. But that’s a credit to Hendricken. To beat a team of that caliber twice in one year is very difficult. Both games came down to the last play.

“If one play goes either way, maybe it’s us winning the title. You dust yourself off and get ready for next season. But this year the team has its own identity.”

To say it took time for the Rams to develop an identity would be an understatement because a young 2013 team finished 4-4 and missed qualifying for the playoffs.

“We had eight sophomores start last year and 13 sophomores who lettered,” said Marcone. “Last year going in we knew we were going to be young and were going to have some growing pains.

“Going into this year, we knew those kids were battle-tested. But were they going to buy into the system? They have. They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them.

“Their attitude is, ‘Let’s get onto the next game.’ They’ve bought into that and trust themselves.”

Nevertheless the Rams’ early-season play was “interesting” to say the least.

“Against Cranston West and East Providence, we were down at halftime,” said Marcone. “Against Cranston East, we were tied at halftime. Against Portsmouth we were down at halftime. For the staff, to see the team being down at halftime and not seeing any panic was great.

“We would come out and do very well in the second half and win it in a decisive fashion. Our kids don’t waver. We have some pretty tough kids, mentally, and there isn’t any finger-pointing.

“They don’t care who gets the touchdowns or sacks,” continued Marcone. “They don’t care about individual stats. They just care about who wins the game and they give each other positive feedback.”

That being said, several Rams have impressive stats.

For example, junior quarterback Jace Pena has completed 89-of-165 passes for 941 yards and six touchdowns and also has gained 389 yards on 60 carries. Junior running back Kyron Lopes has carried the ball 111 times for 701 yards and 14 touchdowns while senior Don Odufundae has gained 563 yards and scored six times on 97 carries. Junior Cornelius Waite has been Pena’s “go-to” receiver since he’s caught 35 passes for 378 yards and one score.

“Jace is a two-year starter,” said Marcone. “He didn’t have to be great but he’s been very good. Another big part of our offense is Cornelius Waite. He can play slot and wide receiver.”

But, as the cliché’ goes, it’s what’s up front that counts as Marcone was quick to note.

“The credit goes to our offensive line,” said Marcone. “That was our biggest question going into this season because we graduated four out of five starters (the lone returnee is right guard John Norton).”

Filling the holes created by the graduation of the other starters have been John Riccio and Eric Harpootian who’ve split time at left tackle; left guard Kyle Batty; center Mike Valelli and Conor Regan, who was moved from tight end to right tackle.

“They’ve gotten better every week,” said Marcone.

Without question the key to La Salle’s defense has been senior linebacker Nick Varrichione who leads the team with 87 tackles – 51 of which have been unassisted.

“He’s a three-year starter,” said Marcone. “He makes all of our calls. Having Nick on the field is like having another coach. He’s very cerebral.

“He can come off the field and talk to us about the defense unlike other kids. He’s a very important part of our defense.”

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.

Hendricken (R.I.) on track for another title run

May, 10, 2014
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One day last spring after Bishop Hendricken won its 12th Division I state baseball championship under veteran coach Ed Holloway – the 18th in school history – Holloway was having lunch with five of his players.

Rhode Island“I asked the kids ‘Did you ever think about what it would be like if you lost,” said Holloway who’s been the Hawks’ head coach since 1995. “They looked at me and said ‘Coach. We never gave it a thought.’

“The kids go out and play hard and expect to win. If we win, they’re happy and if we lost and gave it our best shot, fine. They focus on playing hard and playing to win.”

Best shot notwithstanding, the Hawks (9-1 in Division I-North), suffered their first loss on Tuesday when they were defeated, 6-2, by La Salle Academy (8-4).

“I think the kids feel like everybody comes to play hard against us,” Holloway said in an understatement. “It’s not like the teams don’t give it a full effort. They know we’ve been successful and try to knock us off regardless if we’re coming off a state championship year or not.

“Our kids feel like they’re going to get the best from the other team when they step on the field.”

The 2013 season was a typical one for the Hawks in that they captured the division title with an 18-0 record and then annexed their second consecutive state championship.

Experiencing the type of success Hendricken has over the years doesn’t happen just by the players throwing their gloves on the field.

“It starts with we’re very lucky in that we have a lot of good players,” said Holloway. “You need good players to win in any team sport. Those players are very competitive. They work hard. A lot of them concentrate on one sport (i.e. baseball). They start in late fall and work really hard until we start (the regular season).

“The kids really work hard during the off season. Our guys, from winning, they expect to win. They don’t think about losing. We try to keep the kids together and play American Legion ball during the summer.”

Another reason for the Hawks’ run of success can be attributed to what Holloway refers to as “a good feeder system.”

“Our freshman and junior varsity coaches do a good job of getting them ready to play at the varsity level,” said Holloway while referring to head freshman coach Dan Rice plus assistants Chris McDonough, Richard Dubuc and Brian Leahy, who’s been with Holloway since 1996, and head JV coach John Manning plus assistants Rob Manning and Peter Thomas. “They do a good job with the kids. That’s important.”

The same could be said of Holloway’s varsity assistants: Bill Campbell (who works with the pitchers and has been with Holloway since 1995); third base coach Ian Smith; and first base/conditioning coach Chris Sheehan, who was an All-State pitcher in 2009.

“The success of the program is due in large part to all of the coaches preparing the players,” said Holloway.

Arguably more preparation was necessary going into this season than in prior years since Hendricken was hit hard by graduation and returned only three starters: junior third baseman John Toppa (who’s given a verbal commitment to Connecticut), junior catcher Gian Martellini (who’s given a verbal to Vanderbilt) and captain/right fielder Brady Chant.

“We lost Ed Markowski, who was the MVP of the state tournament, which necessitated moving Toppa from left field to third base,” said Holloway. “Dante Baldelli (younger brother of former Hendricken All-Stater and Tampa Bay first-round draft pick Rocco Baldelli) is playing center field and batting fourth or fifth. He’s hitting .556 with 15 RBI.

“John Willette is at shortstop. Ryan Rotundo, who played behind Matt Murphy (who’s at Assumption), is hitting around .480. And Bill Keegan replaced Jarek Krajewski (who’s at Plymouth State) at first base.”

While Hendricken may lack a true ace like Mike King, the 2013 Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year who’s pitching for Boston College, Holloway has three starters who’re doing their best to fill that role. That's fallen to junior Mike McCaffrey, who last spring beat North Kingstown, 7-4, to clinch the state title, senior Anthony Graziano and sophomore Matt Kennedy.

Seniors Chris Travers and Sam Boulanger (who also is a DH) are the primary relievers.

If there’s one Hawk on whom the spotlight shines the brightest, it’s Martellini, who prior to the La Salle game was hitting .519 with 19 RBI.

“He’s a big, strong kid who right now looks like a college player,” said Holloway. “He’s got tremendous arm strength and is a very good batter. Last year was his first year as a catcher. He played third as a freshman. He knew we needed some help at catcher so he came in and caught as a sophomore. We were lucky to win the state championship with him.

“We talked with the Vanderbilt coach about how he has a lot of upside and yet there’s a lot of room for improvement,” continued Holloway. “He’s not a finished product but has a lot of potential.”

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.

La Salle (R.I.) lacrosse building a dynasty

April, 24, 2014
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La Salle Academy’s boys’ lacrosse team began the 2014 season with back-to-back Division I state championship trophies in the school’s trophy case.

Rhode IslandBut don’t waste your breath asking coach Steve O’Donnell if he expects to add a third consecutive state championship trophy.

“I try not to have expectations,” said O’Donnell, whose team has defeated Hendricken, 16-7, and North Kingstown, 17-5, in the young season. “Obviously, you want to win as much as you can. We have expectations to have a good program and be as competitive as everybody else.

“Be the best you can be and the rest just falls into place.”

O’Donnell, who’s in his ninth season as the La Salle’s head coach, invariably has the Rams among the top teams in the state. As far as he’s concerned, there isn’t a magic formula for the program’s success.

“Continuity, good players and a good system,” O’Donnell said, “they’re successful because a lot of them want to learn and get better.

He continued, “I’m a practice guy. I try to do new things and get them out of the box. They all come from different places but it’s a double-edged sword. Where I am, people say we get to pick the cream of the crop and we get to pick who we want. They pick us. Then, you coach them up. They have different habits. And what’s also important is the school supports the program which has been successful.”

How true.

La Salle ended a drought by beating Moses Brown, 9-7, for its first state championship in 2012 and then vanquished the Quakers again last season by a score of 14-3.

But prior to annexing that initial state title, the Rams were the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s version of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. La Salle lost 10-2 to Hendricken in the 2004 finals, 13-10, to North Kingstown in 2008, 9-8, in overtime to Moses Brown in 2010, and, 6-4, to Hendricken in 2011.

Was there ever a sense that, no matter how hard they tried, the Rams would be unable to capture that elusive state title?

“To me, this is high school sports,” said O’Donnell. “I don’t judge kids by winning championships. It’s an unintended consequence. I measure them by their improvement, especially in terms of the type of kids they become and if they’re coachable.

“When you lose at that level, you question yourself as a coach. I prepare as much as I can. Then, you hope for a lack of injuries which happen in every sport.”

Injuries notwithstanding, the Rams have gone 10-0 in league play in each of the last two seasons. But winning streaks are the least of O’Donnell’s concerns.

“None of that matters to me because we lost a game (13-7 to Medfield in an out-of-state contest),” he said. “I’m not concerned about wins and losses. I am concerned about getting better. Our goal from the beginning of the season to the end is to get better.”

Not only did the Rams get better en route to the 2012 state title but they also endured hardships that might have derailed a lesser team.

“I think winning the first (state title) was difficult in terms of letting the kids know they were good enough to win it,” said O’Donnell. “Two of our top three players were injured at mid-season and that team came together. They learned to win as a team.

“The hardest part, regardless of high school or the pros, is to keep the kids humble. It’s the hardest thing in coaching. I always tell them that, one year, the Jets lost to the Patriots by 40 points and then they beat them the next time they played.”

Winning this season will be difficult from the standpoint that La Salle graduated four First Team All-State selections: attack Brady O’Donnell, who earned All-American honors for a third straight year and set a state record last season by scoring 64 goals to go with his 35 assists; faceoff specialist Pat Foster, who won 70 percent of his faceoffs; midfielder Mike Catarina; and defender Dan Wise, who also was a high school All-American.

But, fortunately for O’Donnell, La Salle wasn’t decimated by graduation.

“We have returnees in three brothers, (defender) John, (attack) Joe and (midfielder) Matt Manown (who scored four goals and assisted on five in the victory over Hendricken),” said O’Donnell. “Joe (who scored 52 goals and assisted on 43) was an All-American last season.

“In addition, we also have senior midfielder Alex Handanyan and (2012 First Team All-State) goalie Matt Andrews. We have some talented younger kids. We plan on having them step in and fill that void. But we’re still figuring out who’s going to fit in the best.”

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.

North Kingstown (R.I.) girls' hoop sees mission through

March, 27, 2014
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During the first week in December, coach Bob Simeone took his North Kingstown girls’ basketball team to Connecticut for a scrimmage against Fitch High.

Rhode Island“We stayed in a hotel, spent time in a conference room and put up goals,” said Simeone. “We wanted to win the [Division 1 South] title, the state title and put a number on the board because the last time we won the state title was in 2005.

“We had 25 different goals. Number one was ‘We versus me.’ We don’t care who scores. It’s all about ‘we.’ In every locker room, we taped goals to the wall. We made the girls write them down.”

Mission accomplished.

The Skippers ended La Salle Academy’s stranglehold on the Division I state championship (the Rams had won the last three state titles while North Kingstown only had annexed three in program history prior to this season) by beating the Rams, 52-49, in the semifinals and Barrington, 41-39, in the finals.

“Prior to playing La Salle, we hadn’t played for a week,” recalled Simeone. “I sent the girls a text message prior to the La Salle game that said ‘out-play, out-hustle, out-rebound and live the dream.’ They went out and played a phenomenal game.

“Prior to playing Barrington, we practiced, went to a press conference and there was a lot of mentoring. They were built up into this hype but we were keeping it low. On [last] Friday night, I sent them another text that said ‘out-hustle, out-score and get to every 50-50 ball. Live the dream and make it a reality.’ “

The dream became a reality when tournament MVP Taylor Buckley scored a game-high 22 points including the game-winning basket with 10 ticks of the clock remaining.

What enabled the Skippers (23-2) to capture the division and state championships was their inclination to play defense and a balanced scoring attack.

During the course of the season including the playoffs, North Kingstown averaged 64.8 points per game and allowed an average of only 39.8. In addition, the Skippers pulled down an average of 32.8 rebounds per game and averaged 5.7 blocked shots.

(Read full post)

La Salle (R.I.) seeking D1 state title

February, 12, 2014
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After his team began the season with a 14-game winning streak, La Salle Academy boys’ basketball coach Eric Simonelli wasn’t inclined to excoriate the Rams after they were edged, 69-61, by Smithfield on Feb. 6 in a Division I-North game.

Rhode Island“The reality of Division I basketball in Rhode Island is there are a lot of good teams,” said Simonelli whose Rams lead their division with an 11-1 record – which is the best slate of all 15 D-I teams in the state – and are 16-1 overall. “North Kingstown beat (perennial state champion) Hendricken twice and Smithfield has reeled off nine in a row. The difference between winning and losing is minimal. If you’re not ready to play Division I ball in Rhode Island, you’re not going to win.

“The reason we lost to Smithfield was we got outplayed and outworked.”

La Salle put an abrupt end to that one-game “losing streak” by outlasting St. Raphael Academy, 64-61, on Sunday.

Assuming the Rams defeat sub-par Woonsocket (3-11) on Friday night, that game will set the stage for a key matchup on Sunday when La Salle hosts Hendricken (10-3 in I-South and 10-4 overall).

“We expect to win every game we play,” said Simonelli. “But we’d rather lose a game like that (versus Smithfield) now because you crown a champion in March and not in mid-February.

“Whether or not we lose a game again, our goal is to put a banner on the wall.”

The last time the Rams hung a boys’ state basketball championship banner on the wall was at the end of the 1997-98 season when the players on the current team weren’t even in kindergarten.

“It’s very evident to everybody at La Salle that the team is aware of the fact the school hasn’t been able to win a title in almost two decades,” said Simonelli. “When I was hired last year, that’s why we’re here and trying to build (a champion).

“The first thing you learn when you come to La Salle is the history and the passion. I wanted the challenge of putting together a staff that would go to work every day and get that championship. Our goal at La Salle is to win state championships. Right now, we’ve put ourselves in the mix.”

La Salle is “in the mix” for the state championship for a variety of reasons.

For starters, the team boasts a balanced offense led by Adrian LaFleur and Keon Wilson who are each averaging 15 ppg. LaFleur also is fourth in the state (i.e. over all divisions) with 40 three-point baskets.

Center Doug Harrison, a captain on the 2013 football team, sophomore Mike McCourt, and Lawrence Sabir, the Rams’ “sixth man,” are each averaging nine points per game.

“We have five guys that are pretty close to double digits,” said Simonelli. “We’ve been able to spread the wealth.”

The Ram who insures his teammates get the ball in the right position at the right time is point guard Brendan Nigro, who’s averaging seven assists per game along with his six points a game.

“Brendan’s guarded the opponent’s primary ball-handler and their best shooter and has done very well,” said Simonelli.”

If LaFleur’s name sounds familiar it should because he’s the son of Providence College associate head coach Andre LaFleur.

File this under the heading of the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

“Adrian spent time in Australia, and his mom (Alana) has some athletic genes as well,” said Simonelli. “Coming from an athletic background, he’s had some great experiences.

“He came to La Salle in his sophomore year and has been a big part of what we’ve done the last two years. This year as a captain, he’s really stepped it up.”

While La Salle is averaging a commendable 67.9 points per game, the fact the Rams are allowing opponents an average of only 50.8 indicates they invariably “step it up” on defense.

“That’s the strength of our team, to play every possession hard and to rebound the ball,” said Simonelli. “When you play good defense it leads to offense.

“We’ve been able to take advantage of the transition game. Without a doubt, that’s been the difference between being 16-1 and losing a couple of more games. The team has bought into playing defense.”

Tragedy at Central: What only could be classified as a senseless/heartbreaking tragedy occurred last week when George Holland II, the starting center and a four-year member of the Central High football team, was shot to death while visiting his girlfriend at her house.

According to Providence police reports, Holland wasn’t the intended target but, instead, proved to be somebody who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Providence police earlier this week arrested four young men in Holland’s death.

Police reports indicated that one of the young men who was arrested knocked on a kitchen window with the intent of enticing another person to approach the window.

The shot that was fired smashed through the window and struck Holland, who became the city’s third homicide of the year.

Holland, who was planning on majoring in criminal justice at CCRI, will have his No. 55 retired according to Knights head coach Pete Rios.

Nasuti passes: Long-time Woonsocket High athletic director George Nasuti passed away Tuesday night after incurring head injuries when he fell and hit his head while officiating a youth basketball game last weekend.

Nasuti, 52, was the Villa Novans’ A.D. for over 10 years and in 2010 was named the Athletic Director of the Year by the R.I. Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

Nasuti played a major role in raising funds to avert high school sports from being eliminated due to proposed budget cuts.

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.

La Salle (R.I.) hoop dethrones Classical

January, 29, 2014
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Ordinarily, when a school holds a pep rally, regardless of sport, it’s before a playoff game.

That wasn’t the case on Tuesday night when La Salle Academy held a pep rally prior to its Division I crossover game with defending boys’ state basketball champion Classical High.

“(La Salle) kind of used (the game) as a measuring stick,” said Classical coach John Cavanagh after the Rams beat the Purple, 59-39. How well do we play against Classical? I do feel teams get up to play us.

“We took a bad loss to Woonsocket (73-64) which has struggled in recent years so that was a big win for them.”
As a result of that loss, Classical fell into a first-place tie in I-Central with Cranston East (each team is 6-3 while the Purple are 9-5 overall).

What made the Purple’s loss to La Salle (9-0 in I-North) noteworthy was that the Rams held Classical’s star guard, Kealen Ives, to a season-low 13 points.

“Everyone in the state knows who Kealen is,” said Cavanaugh. “They know he’s the best player in the state and is the target of players and fans. We’ve seen a lot of teams try to play more junk defenses, like a box-and-one or blitz him over half-court or hard-trap him.

“We’ve told the rest of the kids this is your opportunity. If we make this all about Kealen, we don’t have a chance. We need other guys to step up and be aggressive.”

That may be easier said than done considering the inexperience of this season’s team (Classical only has four seniors).

“I played four seniors and four juniors last season (en route to the state title),” said Kavanagh. “This year a sophomore and an inexperienced junior are in my starting lineup and three subs off the bench are an inexperienced senior, a sophomore and a freshman.

“I told Kealen (Tuesday night) that’s he’s burdened with having to play with a young team. We look for him so much that we neglect other opportunities for our other guys.”

The reason why the 5-foot-10 Ives is the primary object of attention for Classical opponents is obvious.

After Classical annexed the 2013 state title, the 5-foot-10 Ives was voted First Team All-Division and First Team All-State honors as well as being named Rhode Island’s Player of the Year by MaxPreps.com.

Ives led Classical in scoring (21.8 ppg.) and assists (5.4 pg.).

Through the Purple’s first 14 games this season, those numbers have ballooned to the point where he’s averaging 24.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists.

In addition, he’s been nominated to play in the 2014 McDonald’s Senior All-American High School Basketball games.

“He’s a total player,” said Kavanagh. “He’s a much better rebounder this year. He may go down as the leading scorer in school history. When all is said and done, Kealen probably will score over 1,600 points in his career.

“He isn’t necessarily a shooter but he is a shot-maker. He needs to work on going to his off-hand and he has a tendency to finish with a (Rajon) Rondo move where he throws the ball up (off the glass).”

Despite all the stats Ives has accumulated in his career, his subjective qualities are what please his coach the most.

“He works confidently at his game,” said Kavanagh. “His leadership has grown. I’ve never been around a high school kid that’s had the qualities he has.

“He’s vocal. He’s passionate. He speaks his mind. And he expects when he’s not doing well for other kids to call him out.”

Bad breaks: If Barrington and The Prout School are going to win their respective division titles, each team will have to rely on its depth or, as the cliché’ goes, for another player to step up his game.

The Eagles, who currently lead II-East (7-1; 10-3 overall) lost the state’s leading scorer (23.0 ppg.), Corey Daugherty with a hand and wrist injury during a 76-64 loss to West Warwick on Jan. 17.

The initial diagnosis was that he strained ligaments in his wrist and suffered a bone bruise on his hand. That being said, he’s still listed as being out indefinitely.

The Crusaders also lost their top scorer, freshman Tomas Murphy, with a hairline fracture of a forearm during a 54-49 victory over North Providence on January 14.

Depending on how soon that fracture heels, Murphy could return to action by mid-February.

Who’s going where: A host of Rhode Island schoolboy and schoolgirls athletes recently signed letters of intent to play their respect sport commencing next season:

* North Kingstown’s Dominic Grillo will be playing baseball for the University of Rhode Island. Grillo last spring earned the Division I-South Cy Young Award. During the first three years of his career on the mound, the left-hander has racked up a 30-3 record replete with a 0.69 ERA.

* Three Barrington High Lady Eagles, who led their team to the Division I state lacrosse championship last spring, will move onward after graduating. All-State goalie Kate Clancy will enroll at the University of New Hampshire; All-State midfielder Madeline Soutter will be attending Boston College; and All-State midfielder/defender Mary Kate Coogan will make the trek to Colgate University.

* La Salle’s Chris Dandeneau and Ryan Lynch will be playing baseball for the University of Connecticut.

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.

Notebook: R.I. athletes get their hall call

January, 18, 2014
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Add the names of Eddie Markowski, Maddy Berkson, Shane Lagor and Sean Reddy to the long list of high school athletes and coaches that have been honored by Words Unlimited, Rhode Island’s organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

Rhode IslandEach member of this quartet will be honored on February 16 when the organization holds its 68th annual awards banquet – one of the oldest of its type in the country.

Markowski, the Schoolboy Athlete of the Year, graduated last spring from Hendricken. He earned Second Team All-State honors in hockey and First Team All-State accolades in baseball. In addition, Markowski also was voted the Most Valuable Player in the Division I Baseball Tournament which the Hawks captured by beating North Kingstown in the finals.

Markowski gave a premonition of things to come in the semifinals when he belted a home run in the third and deciding game of the best-of-three semifinal series against Johnston.

Berkson was voted the Schoolgirl Athlete of the Year after a stellar track and field and cross country career at Classical. She’ll be attending Stanford next year on a scholarship.

Berkson earned All-State honors in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. In the process she led Classical to a share of the 2013 outdoor state track title, sole possession of the 2013 outdoor championship and a third-place finish in the cross country championships.

Not only did she excel at middle and long distances but during the last indoor season, she attempted the long jump and recorded a distance of 19 feet, 1 inch which was three inches shy of the state record that’s stood for 28 years.

Berkson’s loyalty to her team was never more evident than last winter when she passed up an opportunity to participate in the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix which is a qualifier for the prestigious Millrose Games. But because the Grand Prix fell on the same date as the Class A championships, she opted to stay home and run for the Purple.

“The team is really tight-knit,” said Berkson. “I wanted to be there for them.”

Among other things, she captured the 600-meter run and anchored a victorious 4x400 relay team which helped Classical finish second overall in the team standings.

In retrospect, her greatest victory was the message she sent to her teammates by opting to stay home instead of bolting the premises.
West Warwick’s Lagor was voted the Schoolboy Sports Coach of the year.

After a very young Wizards team lost its first two games, the chances of it evening qualifying for the Division II Tournament appeared to be slim and none (and slim already had departed for Texas).

Instead, the team regrouped under Lagor’s direction and finished 11-3 overall which included West Warwick’s first Division II Super Bowl appearance in 11 years – a 48-13 pounding of Cumberland.

Reddy was voted the Schoolgirls Sports coach of the Year after leading La Salle Academy to its third consecutive Division I state basketball title – plus its sixth state crown in seven years. The Rams waxed Barrington, 62-29 in the finals.

Reddy’s hallmark is his strict attention to fundamentals, improvement of individual skills and unselfish team play. In practice, his mantra is “No time for sitting.”

Rare honor: Invariably, Rhode Island schoolboy basketball players are deemed to be too slow, too short, too something but something invariably negative. But that’s not the case with Classical senior Kealen Ives.

Ives has been nominated to play in the 2014 McDonald’s Senior All-American High School Basketball Games.

Of all the 984 boys and girls who play basketball in the Interscholastic League, Ives was the sole play to be nominated for the games which are scheduled for April 2 at Chicago’s United Center.

The final rosters will be announced on Jan. 29.

Ives led the Purple to the Division I state title last season by averaging 21.8 points, 5.4 assists and 2.8 steals per game. Moreover, he notched his 1,000th career point and was voted the MVP of the state tournament.

“Kealan has come a long way in a short time,” said coach John Kavanaugh. “He committed himself to his teammates and coaches and has done everything you can ask a player to do.”

(Read full post)

Hendricken emerges from pack at MSC Face-Off

January, 2, 2014
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Without question Mount St. Charles, La Salle Academy and Hendricken have fielded the state’s dominant boys’ hockey teams for decades. But for the most part, the only time each is under the same roof at the same time is when they play in the annual Mount St. Charles Holiday Face-Off Tournament at Adelard Arena along with five top teams from five different states.

Rhode IslandNot surprisingly, the fact Hendricken claimed the championship with a 3-0 record may indicate the Hawks could be the team to beat not only for the Division I regular-season championship but also for the tournament title.

In a span of 72 hours last weekend, the Hawks nipped Connecticut’s Fairfield Prep, 4-3; beat division rival La Salle, 6-3; and held off New York’s St. Joseph Collegiate, 4-3.

“It’s good to win a championship,” said Hawks coach Jim Creamer. “It’s never easy to win a championship – one reason being we only play two each season, this tournament at the Mount and then the league tourney. Just to win one is a major accomplishment.”

Tournament MVP Andy Fera scored twice in the finals and was voted to the All-Tournament Team along with fellow Hawks Jamie Armstrong (forward), Matt Kenneally (goalie) and Bryce Dolan (defenseman).

Fera’s second goal gave Hendricken a 4-2 lead and, obviously, proved to be the game-winner.

“He’s our go-to guy … our ‘Mr. Consistent,’” said Creamer. “You get the same thing out of Andrew all the time and that’s the best part about him. To say that fourth goal was big would be an understatement.”

It also would be an understatement to say that beating three quality teams will aid the Hawks in their pursuit of the state championship they last won in 2012.

“We had three good games with some highs and some lows,” said Creamer. “But over the course of those three days, we really did a good job. We got better as a team. We were put in some tough spots but we’re thrilled with (the championship).

“It was a grind to get through this tournament when you have teams like Fairfield, St. Joseph’s, La Salle and Mount. Really, it was a daunting task for our guys.”

Mount implodes: In baseball, batting .333 is excellent.

But in a three-game hockey tournament, batting .333 (i.e. one win and two losses) isn’t anything to brag about especially if you’re Mount St. Charles which has captured a mind-boggling 43 state championships.

The fact Mount was blanked, 4-0, by Fairfield Prep in the third game did little for coach Dave Belisle’s peace of mind.

In fact, Belisle kept the door to the Mount’s locker room closed for a good half-hour while he “addressed” his players about their lackluster performance in the tournament.

“We only played two-and-a-half good periods,” Belisle said of Mount’s loss to Fairfield. “That’s the disappointing part. When you only play two-plus periods against a good team like that, you’re not going to get it done.

“I’ve been preaching it for a long time, that you have to play three full periods of hockey. Even in our division (Division I-Cimini), we’ve only played hard for two periods in the games we’ve won.”

In retrospect, the Jesuits could have won by more than 4-0 if goalie Brian Larence had not made 47 saves.

“I know Brian wouldn’t want me to say he played a good game because we lost 4-0,” said Belisle. “He’d want me to say he didn’t get it done in the third period.

“Overall, we’ve had our fair share of injuries and we’re young. We have eight freshmen on our roster. But this is about giving the effort for 45 minutes – from the opening faceoff until the final buzzer.”

Smooth sailing for Clippers: Cumberland last won the Division II state championship at the end of the 2007-08 season. But Cumberland delivered the proverbial message by upsetting Division I foe Barrington, 3-2, in the opening round of the Burrillville Winter Classic on Monday.

If the Clippers had beaten a Division III team, the victory would have been expected. But to beat a Division I team is a completely different story.

“Barrington plays in the state’s top division,” said Cumberland coach Mark Andreozzi. “For us to skate with Barrington and play well and get the win is definitely a feather in our caps.

“It was good to gain confidence … to know we could go out and play at their level.”

The story within the story was the fact Andreozzi played all three of his goaltenders en route to his team’s upping its overall record to 5-0-0. Leo Lake, Zack Kay and Liam Curren combined for a modest total of eight saves.

“I wanted to play all three because they work hard in practice and really could benefit from the experience of playing against a top team like Barrington,” said Andreozzi. “Granted, it was a non-league game. But it’s just as important as the ones we play in our division (II-North).”

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.

Recap: LaSalle Academy (R.I.) 1, Franklin 0

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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WOONSOCKET, R.I. – As Franklin traveled to play Rhode Island power LaSalle Academy, Thursday, as part of Mount St. Charles’ 18th annual Holiday Faceoff tournament, the Panthers were looking for a bounce-back to a sizeable loss to Malden Catholic (an exclusion game) and a penalty-kill collapse against Lincoln-Sudbury.

But as Franklin was shutout, 1-0, after a 29-save performance from Rams junior goaltender Taylor Walsh at Adelard Arena, the Panthers were left kicking themselves again.

“He won the game, he flat out stole the game from the other team,” Rams head coach Mike Gaffney said. “Many, many of his saves were the kind preventing a certain goal. Sometimes goaltenders, the shot hits them, they’re in the right position. That’s hard enough to do. But he stole it away from them.”

This time, the Panthers (1-3-0) had more than plenty chances of their own on the power play, including a pair of sandwiched 5-on-3 chances to end the second period, but LaSalle (2-2-0) withstood it all.

The Rams tallied the lone goal of the game at 9:08 of the first, as junior forward Joe Manown tapped home a loose puck from the goalmouth, amidst a logjam of traffic in front of senior goaltender Mike Donadio (21 saves).

Still, with eight power-play opportunities to their credit, the Panthers had no one to blame but themselves.

“We have some really nice set-ups, getting into the zone and setting up what we wanted to, but the passes were in the skates, and on the power play, if you want to get a shot, you can’t do that,” Franklin head coach Chris Spillane said. “When we did put it on guys’ sticks, we weren’t ready or we didn’t handle it well.”

The Panthers were advantaged with a string of five straight power plays, elapsing over the final 10-and-a-half minutes of the second. During that span, Franklin was given a 5-on-3 opportunity for 38 seconds, which would carry over into the third. To make matters worse for LaSalle, a cross-checking call was also assessed as time ran out in the second, meaning Franklin would start the third period with piggy-backing power plays.

“That’s scary because they get to set up the opportunity exactly as they want it to out of the break,” Gaffney said.

Yet, the Panthers were able to muster just two shots in more than two minutes of 5-on-3 play.

“We’ve been at it a good month now, but I confessed to our team that we haven’t really done a lot of work on [the penalty kill],” Gaffney said. “But we have the right guys out there, the four defensemen, [Ben] Aldrich, [Nick] Altieri, [Ryan] Kelly and [Matt] Manown. I thought [forward Ryan] Tracy did a terrific job, too, when it was 5-on-3, up top.”

Yet, the Panthers seemed to find their stride midway through the third, as part of a 10-shot assault on Walsh in the period.

But Franklin was subject to a little more self-sabotage, as the Panthers got themselves into penalty trouble and a 5-on-3 situation, which LaSalle held in the latter stretches of the third.

“We finally had some serious momentum and then we give up the 5-on-3 and it gets taken away,” Spillane said. “It was all mental mistakes. They were all behind the play, not one of them needed to happen.”

Franklin must bounce back quickly as it prepares to face reigning Connecticut state champion Fairfield Prep tomorrow (2 p.m.) in the second round, while LaSalle hopes to keep the momentum rolling against RIIL rival Bishop Hendricken (6 p.m.)

Recap: No. 2 MC 8, Mount St. Charles (R.I.) 2

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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MALDEN, Mass. -- Ara Nazarian and Tyler Sifferlen lost linemate Mike Iovanna to graduation, but the duo appear to have not missed a beat. Paired with new right wing Jake Witkowski, the two combined for five goals as the three-time defending Super 8 Champions from Malden Catholic demolished Rhode Island high school hockey powerhouse Mount St. Charles, 8-2, on Wednesday night.

“Losing Mikey [Iovanna] is a big loss,” said Sifferlen of his departed line mate, a UMass-Amhest recruit. “We played with Jake in the fall, and we had good chemistry with him. It’s good that Jake is filling in for him. He’s working hard and doing good with us.”

The Mounties, playing their fourth game of the season, were without their entire second line due to injuries suffered in a scrimmage against Austin Prep. Mount Saint Charles also got to the Valley Forum late because of traffic, but bus legs or not, the school from Woonsocket, R.I. was able to stay even, 1-1, with the skilled Lancers after 15 minutes.

“It’s tough for them,” said Malden Catholic head coach John McLean. “They came all the way up here with a lot of traffic. I feel bad for them. They’re usually a really good team, but they had bus legs all night.”

Malden Catholic sophomore Matt Filipe and Mount St. Charles senior Justin Trindade traded first period goals.

“We were a little nervous going out,” said McLean of his team’s first period start in its season opener. “I think the shots were 19-2 in the first. We had a ton of chances, but just didn’t finish. It was a little case of the nerves and starting the season out with new linemates.”

The floodgates opened in the second period as Sifferlen, the UMass-Lowell recruit, scored twice in the first 31 seconds to give the Lancers a 3-1 cushion. His first goal was a quick snipe from the left side nine seconds in.

UNH recruit Nazarian then added two goals, including a laser that went top shelf past Mount St. Charles goaltender Brian Larence for a 5-1 lead for MC.

Jack Adams scored another goal to give the Lancers a five-goal cushion prior to the second intermission.

“I thought we settled in for the second period. [Nazarian and Sifferlen] are both special players,” said McLean of his duo, who were responsible for four of the five goals scored in the middle frame. “They just know how to play. They compete every shift. They’re very skilled, and when they have a chance they usually bury it. They probably should have more,” added the coach.

Sifferlen scored his third of the night for the hat trick in the third period on a nice chip pass by Witkowski from behind the goal line.

Defenseman Nick Rolli banged one past Larence off a short feed from Filipe for the final goal of the night.

McLean and Sifferlen both stressed the need to stay focused and take it one game at a time.

“It’s a good win. We haven’t arrived yet. It doesn’t mean anything. We have a lot of work to do. The only thing I’m worried about is tomorrow,” said McLean.

“We’ve just got to go out there and play our game. Obviously we’re the team to beat. We know that, being the three time champs, and we just have to go out there game by game,” said Sifferlen.

Notes: A name that high school hockey fans will have to get used to hearing is Lynnfield native Matthew Filipe whose father played hockey at Northeastern. “Matthew Filipe is the next up and coming elite player. He’s a [late] ’97. He’s a big, strong kid who can skate. He plays a hard, mean game, but he’s skilled and can finish. He competes every shift. He’s going to be fun to watch the next few years,” McLean said. … Mount St. Charles, playing shorthanded and with bus legs, didn’t put up much of a fight after the first period, but coach Dave Beslisle believes his team will be one of the top three contenders in Rhode Island with Bishop Hendricken and La Salle Academy.

Previewing the Mt. St. Charles Holiday Face-off

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
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With snow hampering some of the early schedule across the region’s ponds, let’s take a look at one of the premier holiday tournaments coming soon.

Per tournament director Larry O’Donnell, here’s a look at another loaded 8-team field at this year’s Mount St. Charles (R.I.) Holiday Face-off Tournament. Some of the best programs in the Ocean State, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania will be on hand for what should be a highlight to the New England high school hockey calendar.

This year’s entrants:
Mount St. Charles
Franklin (Mass.) High School
Bishop Hendricken (R.I.)
La Salle Academy (R.I.)
Bishop Guertin (N.H.)
Fairfield Prep (Conn.)
St. Joseph’s (N.Y.)
La Salle College (Penn.)

First-round schedule:
(Games scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 26)
Fairfield Prep vs Bishop Hendricken High School, 2 p.m.
Bishop Guertin vs LaSalle College, 4 p.m.
LaSalle Academy vs Franklin, 6 p.m.
Mount St. Charles Academy vs St. Joseph's, 8 p.m.

Second round games (Friday, Dec. 27):
Matchups and face-off times, TBA

Championship and consolation games (Saturday, Dec. 27):
Matchups and face-off times, TBA

Tournament notes: Mounties head coach Bill Belisle enters the RIIL season with more than 900 career wins and 31 state championships. … Fairfield Prep head coach Matt Sather has accumulated more than 230 career wins in 14 seasons at the helm. … Matt Barnaby, son of the former Buffalo Sabre of the same name, plays for St. Joe’s of Buffalo. Also, there’s another Sabres connection, as St. Joe’s head coach Richard Crozier is the son of former Sabres coach Joe Crozier. … La Salle Academy (R.I.) coach Mike Gaffney served under New Jersey Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello while at Providence College. … Guertin head coach Gary Bishop was on the staff of former UMass-Lowell coach Billy Reilly.

R.I. football playoff matchups coming into focus

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
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Because of the vagaries of the Interscholastic League, Division II teams got a head start on their Division I, III and IV counterparts when they played their quarterfinal games last weekend.

Rhode IslandThe end result sets up the following semifinal games:
  • Defending Division II Super Bowl champion Cumberland will host St. Raphael on Friday night.
  • West Warwick, who overcame an early-season slump, visits Rogers on Saturday afternoon.

The Division II finals are set for Dec. 8.

Before stepping on the Tucker Field turf for the Clippers’ quarterfinal game against Coventry, coach Chris Skurka recalled three previous clashes with the Oakers each of which basically went down to the final play.

“If you go back to 2009, my first year as head coach here, we lost to them in triple-overtime,” said Skurka.

Cumberland barely held off the Oakers, 17-14, in 2010 and surprisingly blanked Coventry, 10-0, last season.

“Coventry always is extremely well-coached,” said Skurka. “I’ve known that for a long time. They’re sound in the running game and sound defensively. They’ve always been a tough opponent for Cumberland.”

“Tough” went flying out the window in this quarterfinal match because the Clippers “chopped” the Oakers down to size by sailing to a 42-7 victory.

“I didn’t expect a game like this,” Skurka said in a massive understatement. “”You never expect a game to be this one-sided. We’re very happy to be in the semifinals and whatever happens we’ll take it as it comes”

What made this victory particularly rewarding is that it came one week after West Warwick blanked the Clippers, 14-0, in the teams’ regular-season finale.

“We learned from our mistakes last week,” said Skurka. “We still had a couple of turnovers (against Coventry) and we still haven’t played our best game yet.

“I think it’s still inside of us to play even better than we did against Coventry.”

Oh.

“All” the Clippers did against Coventry was amass over 300 yards of total offense with junior tailback Mike Stock accounting for 168 yards on 24 carries.

With the offensive line opening holes big enough to drive a SUV through, quarterback Tyler Calabro gained 64 yards on nine rushes and fullback Joe Fine ran for two scores.

“The offensive line deserves a lot of credit,” said Skurka. “We controlled the line of scrimmage and were able to run to the football and control the clock.

“When you do that and play good defense, you’re going to be in good shape.”

(Read full post)

A loss in victory for Barrington (R.I.) football

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
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According to Wikipedia, the following is a definition of a Pyrrhic victory: “A victory with such a devastating cost that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has been victorious in some way. However, the heavy toll negates any sense of achievement or profit."

Rhode IslandIn retrospect, that’s the perfect way to describe Barrington’s 7-6 Division I victory last Friday over La Salle Academy.

While the victory enabled the Eagles to remain undefeated (6-0) in league play and set up a showdown for first place on Friday at Hendricken (6-0), with the winner virtually assured of the No. 1 seed in the upcoming state tournament, it came with a hefty cost.

The Eagles’ star running back/defensive back James Murphy tore a quadriceps muscle during a third quarter drive, ironically, on a play in which he wasn’t tackled, but slid to the turf similar to a baseball player sliding into a base.

Murphy, who leads the Eagles with 10 touchdowns, was helped off the field in obvious pain.

“He’s probably out for the season,” said Eagles coach Bill McCagney. “If that’s the case, we’ll probably rely more on Nick Jensen at running back and defensive back.

“Nick hasn’t started or us. But he’s proven to be our best defensive back. At least he’ll come in fresh.”

After Friday’s key game, each team only has one league game remaining (each plays a non-league game on Thanksgiving).

Since the first tiebreaker is record in head-to-head competition it’s obvious what’s at stake for each team – moreso for the Eagles who’ve now lost one-half of their 1-2 punch (John Martin lines up with Murphy).

SAINTLY REVIVAL: During the 1980s and the 1990s, St. Raphael Academy (which invariably has one of the smallest male enrollments in the state) was a dominant team whether the Saints played in Division I or in Division II.

The Saints captured the 1982 and 1983 Division II Super Bowls, the 1984 Division I Super Bowl and the 1999 Division II Super Bowl. But a decline in male enrollment led to the Saints dropping off the proverbial radar screen.

But that’s not the case this season, as evidenced by the Saints’ most recent victory – a 54-34 shootout over previous Division II-B leader North Kingstown.

The victory was notable for two reasons:

* The Saints amassed a season-high point total against a team that stepped on the Pariseau Field turf averaging 34 points per game and was beaten at its own game.

* St. Raphael (4-2 in II-B and 4-3 overall) now is a strong contender for a tournament berth.

“Our kids heard all week that North Kingstown had the best offense in the league,” said SRA coach Mike Sassi, a Saint alumnus. “We wanted to prove that we also have a good offense.

“In this game, we came out in more of a spread formation which may have caught them off-guard. Their linebackers tend to play outside and sometimes they have six defenders outside the box. We tried to run inside on them.”

For all intents and purposes, the Saints ran rough-shed over the Skippers (4-2, 7-2) as they amassed an impressive 473 yards in total offense. In the process, SRA scored 27 points in your basic wild third quarter.

James Kelley paced the Saints by rushing for three touchdowns and catching a pass for another while quarterback Emmanuel Leake also ran for three scores and threw that touchdown pass to Kelley.

When the dust finally settled, a traffic jam worthy of a tie-up on Route 95 in Providence existed in the standings.

Cumberland (5-1, 7-2) is in first place. But St. Raphael, North Kingstown, Rogers (4-2, 5-4) and West Warwick (4-2, 6-3) are in a five-way tie for second.

“If we wind up with a five-way tie, I don’t know how that would work out,” said Sassi.

That scenario could be partially resolved this weekend when West Warwick plays Cumberland and if SRA, NK and the Vikings each win. But SRA catches a break when it closes out league play on Friday against winless Pilgrim.

KILTIES IN GOOD SHAPE: Mount Pleasant, which moved up this season from Division IV to Division III, is on the verge of annexing the regular-season championship.

Coach Paul Rao’s Kilties (7-0 overall) are 6-0 in league play, while second-place Moses Brown is 6-1. Since the Kilties beat the Quakers, 16-13, on Sept. 27, they own the first tiebreaker.

The Kilties will face another test on Friday when they visit third-place Middletown (5-2, 7-2) while the Quakers play at Burrillville (3-3, 5-3).

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.

OA, Scituate on move in girls' soccer Top 20

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
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Central Catholic took on the top team in Rhode Island, La Salle Academy, in Providence over the weekend and then came home to take on Lowell. Back-to-back games are very difficult, but it would be hard to tell as Central picked up two more wins with 10 goals scored and another two clean sheets.

Oliver Ames and Scituate have both moved into the Top 10 after strong weeks and inconsistent play by Lincoln-Sudbury and Beverly. Algonquin was another big mover, as it jumps up four spots after handing Westborough its first loss of the season.

Whitman-Hanson will be a team to watch for the playoffs, but the Panthers dropped out of the rankings after a tough few weeks. They are replaced by Wilmington, which is cruising in the Middlesex League and has won 12 games in row.

Minnechaug and Needham also moved back into the Last 10 Out as teams position themselves ahead of the tournament.

There's only a few games left in the regular season and then it will be time to throw the records out the window once the playoffs get going.

For this week's full poll, click HERE.

Hendricken again setting pace in R.I.

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
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That Hendricken High again is among the top football teams in the state, while playing in the top division (Division I), isn’t a major surprise.

Rhode IslandThe Hawks have a long history of reloading instead of rebuilding – which is exemplified by the fact they’ve won three consecutive Division I Super Bowls and have a chance to become the first team in state history (since the Interscholastic League implemented Super Bowls in the early 1970s) to win four consecutive bowl championships.

But the fact Hendricken is 4-0 overall and tied with Barrington for first place with a 3-0 record is a surprise considering the Hawks have a veritable rookie under center – Pat Gill.

Last season as a junior, Gill was under center for exactly zero snaps as the Hawks upset La Salle in the Division I bowl with then-senior Ryan Brannigan leading the way.

But at the end of fall practice and before the regular season commenced, head coach Keith Croft decided that Gill would be his best option at least to qualify for the playoffs if not win that iconic fourth consecutive Super Bowl.

“Pat has been one of the greatest success stories in the history of Hendricken football,” said Croft. “Really, he’s an underdog (for what it’s worth, Gill checks in at 5-feet-8 and 160 pounds) and is the type of kid you root for.”

Gill gave an indication of things to come in Hendricken’s non-league, season opener against a Division II team, St. Raphael, whom the Hawks dispatched by the score of 34-6.

Gill completed a modest 3-of-4 passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns –one a 25-yard strike to Lee Moses and the other a 20-yarder to Mike Scarcella.

“At the beginning, I came into a new role after our Super Bowl championship,” said Gill. “Fortunately, we had a lot of guys back especially in the offensive line. But in the beginning, I really was a little bit shaky.

“Once we got going it was amazing.”

At the least, Gill was semi-amazing during a 36-14 victory over South Kingstown in Hendricken’s division opener.

He passed for 94 yards, including a 33-yarder to superb running back Remington Blue midway through the second quarter for a 7-0 lead. Gill also threw another touchdown pass and dashed 36 yards for a score early in the fourth quarter to break the game open.

“I’m more comfortable knowing how to read the routes better,” said Gill. “I also feel I’m more explosive when I’m running. But I have to get better.”

Gill gave another indication that he was getting “better” during a 38-7 romp over East Providence.

The game was scoreless entering the second period when Gill heaved a 65-yard touchdown pass to Moses.

Altogether, Gill tossed a trio of TD passes – each to a different receiver.

With Gill and Blue leading the way, Hendricken turned a 40-0 Division I victory over Tolman into little more than a half-field scrimmage.

After the dust had settled, the Hawks led the division in both points scored (114) and fewest points allowed (21).

“Since I’m a senior, I know I have more experience and am better able to help the younger guys on the team,” said Gill. “We have a lot of our good skill guys back and we know what we can do.

“We know no other team ever has won four Super Bowl titles in a row. We’re very hungry to win that fourth title.”

ROLLING THE DICE: If La Salle Academy beats out Hendricken for the regular-season Division I title, and perhaps wins the Super Bowl, the Rams can look back on a 22-21 victory over Cranston West on Oct. 4, as the turning point in their season.

The Falcons led 21-14 entering the last 1:45 when La Salle when Jace Pena lofted a short touchdown pass to Keon Wilson with 25 ticks of the clock remaining.

The score also presented head coach Geoff Marcone with a conundrum: Go for the extra point (Pete DeSimore already had kicked two PATs), a tie and overtime, or opt for a two-point conversion which would produce a victory.

Marcone let the Rams decide and they opted for the deuce. Keon Wilson passed to DeSimone in the end zone for the game-winning points.

RETURNING TO THE HARD WOOD: Jane Burgess Schwechheimer has been appointed the new girls’ basketball coach at Lincoln School.

Burgess, who’s married to Pawtucket Red Sox General Manager Lou Schweccheimer, had a stellar career at Warwick Veterans High which enabled her to obtain inclusion in both the Hurricanes’ and the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Halls of Fame.

She later went on to star for St. John’s.

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.

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