St. Raphael Academy's Cesar Mejia leads his team against Westerly on Friday night in the new "open" state tourney.
PAWTUCKET â Rest is always welcome â just so as long as rust doesnât start to form.
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Eleven days will have elapsed since St. Raphael Academyâs last game â a tough-to-swallow 77-75 loss to Coventry in the Division I quarterfinals on Feb. 21 â and the next time the Saints participate in a meaningful affair. Their reintroduction to spirited competition, complete with three referees and a neutral setting, is set for Friday night against Westerly High in the new all-inclusive state tournament at the Providence Career & Technical Academy Fieldhouse.
Tom âSaarâ Sorrentine has encountered just about every possible scenario in his two-plus decades on the Saintsâ bench, but thereâs no chapter in the coachesâ manual to help steer a team through a long layoff. In order to avoid boredom and prevent bad habits from seeping in, Sorrentine went right after it in the aftermath of relinquishing an 18-point second-half lead to Coventry. He settled on a plan of attack that would consist of rest, practice time and two scrimmages, the belief that the latter component would allow the Saints to maintain their competitive sanity.
âI think we got it mapped out the way we want it,â said Sorrentine shortly before Mondayâs practice wrapped up. âItâs not like we went the whole time without getting after it.â
Added senior Trevor Vasey, âA game like Coventry, it definitely left us antsy and wanting to get back on the floor.â
SRA, seeded fifth in the states, ventured to Tiverton, a fellow participant in this 16-team field, late last week for a controlled scrimmage. That means, according to Sorrentine, that the teams played three 16-minute intervals, two of which were purposely held under game conditions. Last night, a trip to division rival Portsmouth â a team that took both games against St. Raphael in the regular season â was on the docket.
âWe pretty much know how everyone on our team plays and how to defend each other in certain ways,â Vasey said. âWe faced Portsmouth twice, but it definitely gives us a different look. Tiverton, weâve never seen them play.â
âWeâve got to get used to playing different teams,â went on junior Cesar Mejia. âThe teams weâre facing in the scrimmages, theyâll get us prepared for what weâre facing.â
âYouâre never going to get anywhere if you keep practicing every day,â Sorrentine continued, noting he was pleased with how the Tiverton scrimmage turned out.
Mondayâs practice session consisted of endless shooting drills, followed by 5-on-4 and 4-on-3 fastbreak sets, with suicide laps doled out to the losing team. Sorrentine also devoted time to reinforcing where everyone is supposed to be on the press break and stressing the importance on screening away from the ball in a half-court setting.
Such items may seem monotonous and trivial for a team thatâs biding its time, waiting ever so patiently for Fridayâs 6 p.m. tip-off to arrive. If thereâs one item that Saints can take away from their nearly two-week furlough, itâs best to not engage in a New Yearâs Eve countdown. That can only distract you from the task at hand, which is to correct the errors that surfaced during a 3-4 finish to the Div. I season.
The time off has also allowed Sorrentine to tinker with some items. Come Friday, expect to see the 6-foot-6 Vasey spend more time in the post after spending most of his varsity career roaming around the perimeter. The idea of giving SRA a scoring presence down low was hatched by Vasey himself after realizing the Saints were becoming far too predictable offensively, that there was no inside-outside balance like there was during a 10-2 start.
âIâve been playing outside my whole life, but I knew I would be a better team if I played inside,â said Vasey. âWhatever it takes at this point.â
âIt seems like weâre getting kind of getting into sync now,â Sorrentine noted. âThe other thing about (being idle for so long) is that youâre not getting the wear and tear. We should be fresh and ready to play. Itâs not like weâre in a grind of playing day after day. I think weâre going to have everyone healthy, so weâre not going to have any excuses.â
St. Raphaelâs last two games offer a cold reality of what can happen when not everyone, from the notable contributors to the supporting cast, is on the same page. The high-powered trio of Vasey, Mejia, and sophomore Charles Correa combined for 24 points in a 61-46 loss to Hendricken on Feb. 16. All three responded by combining to score 67 of the Saintsâ 75 points against the Oakers, meaning hardly any help came from the rest of the squad.
If the Saints are going to avoid being a one-and-done casualty, then not only do Vasey, Mejia, and Correa have to perform at a high clip, but someone from the group of Davon Robertson, Ben Pillsbury, Jordan Peguero, Jazz Robinson, and Franklin Batista also needs to step from out of the shadows and into the forefront.
âWhen we have the three of us score and two other guys, we usually win,â Vasey said.
âAll five guys on the floor need to put in the work and the guys off the bench help us out,â Mejia furthered.
The plan is to talk specifically about Westerly, the No. 12 seed, the closer game day approaches, as Sorrentine figures thereâs no sense in preparing for an opponent well in advance. The Bulldog that figures to draw the most attention is sophomore Austin Cilley, who popped off for 33 points against South Kingstown High earlier in the season.
Vasey and his St. Raphael teammates know they no longer of the luxury of knowing that another game lies in the weeds regardless of Fridayâs outcome. Itâs do-or-die from here on out, which naturally has created a sense of urgency in the SRA camp.
âIâve taken it that the last tournament was an equivalent to the Big East Tournament. It matters, but this is the real deal,â Vasey said. âObviously, we wanted to win both, but a state championship is definitely more important.â
Should St. Raphael advance out of the first round, its run in the statewide tournament would continue Monday night (8 oâclock start) against the survivor of No. 4 Coventry and No. 13 West Warwick.