PAWTUCKET â€” Thereâ€™s just something so fitting, so appropriate, about longtime state power Bishop Hendricken matching up with St. Raphael Academy, a contender in its own right, this late in the regular season.
Tonightâ€™s encounter at the Wellness Center holds the potential of materializing into one of those dramatized playoff previews the media so often cooks up. Generally the saying is reserved for a clash involving two glitzy teams with serious aspirations of bigger and better, which those associated with the Hawks and Saints will inform you there is. The fact the two parochial schools are sporting identical 10-3 league records also indicates that additional items of importance, i.e. playoff seeding for the looming divisional and state tournament, are also on the line this evening.
â€śThe first four teams get a bye [in the 12-team divisional tourney],â€ť explained veteran St. Raphael head coach Tom â€śSaarâ€ť Sorrentine. â€śA win would be big because you get a game up on them [in the overall standings]. Plus youâ€™ve got the tiebreaker, which is big.â€ť
There are also other ramifications to consider when breaking down this top matchup involving Division I members. Want to gauge the pulse of your club and place it within the context of the rest of the field? Games like
SRA-Hendricken can provide all sorts of answers and indicators for coaches and players alike.
In short, this is not your garden-variety regular season meeting (weather permitting, of course).
â€śAnytime you play Hendricken, thatâ€™s a huge game,â€ť surmised Sorrentine. â€śItâ€™s fun, but itâ€™s also a challenge.â€ť
From an SRA standpoint, the test comes in trying to slow down what Sorrentine believes is a deep and explosive Hendricken unit, one that can come at opponents in waves. This current edition of the Hawks may be lacking in star power, the kind that has often been on display during its run of seven consecutive Div. I titles, but that doesnâ€™t mean Hendricken isnâ€™t any less of a threat.
As Sorrentine noted, Hendricken is a difficult team to diagram a game plan simply because you have to pay attention to everyone, not just one or two specific players. Guards Steve Bevilacqua, Cory Palumbo and Lee Messier have combined to hit 46 3-pointers and are probably salivating at the chance to try their luck against SRAâ€™s perimeter defense, which surrendered 11 treys to Coventry Monday.
Tim Lyons, a senior listed at 6-foot-4, leads the Hawks in scoring (12.2 ppg) and anchors what is a tall and deep front line. â€śHeâ€™s a steady guy underneath. Heâ€™s their horse, but they have a few other guys just as big as him,â€ť said Sorrentine. â€śTheyâ€™ve got some size, some shooters and some ball handlers â€¦ they are a well-balanced team. Different guys are always stepping up for them.â€ť
Sorrentine notes the Hawks have made significant gains since the start of the season and appear to be peaking at the right time. Hendricken enters tonight having won eight of its last nine outings, a winning stretch that makes the teamâ€™s 2-2 start a distant memory.
â€śThey struggled early, but now it seems theyâ€™re in sync. Some of their younger guys are stepping up and finding their roles,â€ť said Sorrentine. â€śTheyâ€™re on a pretty good streak, so weâ€™re going to be in for a battle.â€ť
While getting ready for a marquee game is on the mind of St. Raphael, so too is riding the bad vibes from losing to Coventry in ugly fashion. Dubbing the 92-72 defeat the worst performance of the season, Sorrentine is hopeful his players can turn the page on just one dayâ€™s rest.
â€śWe just didnâ€™t play good team defense,â€ť said Sorrentine when asked what was the biggest pitfall against the Knotty Oakers. â€śWe tried everything we could, but we just couldnâ€™t stop them.
â€śWe talked about raising the level of our game when we played North Kingstown [last Friday, a 61-59 win by SRA], which we didnâ€™t do (versus Coventry),â€ť Sorrentine added. â€śWeâ€™ve really got to step it up against Hendricken.â€ť