For three local teams straddling along the same line, the idiomatic expression “there’s no tomorrow” definitely applies.
The divisional playoffs kick off around the state this evening with a series of preliminary round contests. For local entries Tolman, Shea and Central Falls, each one heads into the Division II tier with one clear-cut objective: remain alive as long as possible and hope that’s good enough to slide through the backdoor of the 16-team statewide tournament. The Tigers and Warriors will meet in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup at the Donaldson Memorial Gymnasium (6 o’clock tap). Come 7 p.m. “The Cage” will feature seventh-seeded Shea and Narragansett, the 10th and lowest possible seed.
As the dust settled on what was frantic finish to complete the 18-game regular season slate in a timely fashion, so too did the realization that Tolman, Shea and C.F. would be staring at some long odds. The first-of-its-kind open tournament set aside five spots for Div. II entries (Nos. 9-13). Barring any upsets in the divisional format, those spots will be awarded to North Providence, Rogers, Tiverton, Westerly and West Warwick.
The Bulldogs (No. 4) and Wizards (No. 5) are already lined up to face one another next Monday in the quarterfinals. A West Warwick loss would provide hope to the teams seeded below. Realistically, though, the Warriors, Tigers and Raiders will have to advance to the championship game – set for Sunday, Feb. 27 at CCRI-Warwick) – in order to shake up the brackets.
As Tolman head coach Mike Kayata noted, “We’re past the point of desperation. We’re trying to maybe catch someone on an off night.”
“Everything has to be one game at a time,” said Brian Crookes, head coach of Central Falls. “Our time together is one game, so hopefully we play that game to the best of our abilities.”
The Tigers don’t figure to be lacking in the motivational department this evening. All the ammunition Kayata needs can be traced back to C.F.’s 67-66 overtime win on Tolman’s home floor last month. It was a game that Kayata vividly remembers as one that saw the Tigers let several golden opportunities slip away, particularly at the end of regulation.
“I know they (the Warriors) are going to come in with the attitude of ‘Hey, we beat these guys,’” Kayata said. “We need to come out with the philosophy that this a revenge game for us to get back at them, that this is our home court. You never want to look at it that way, but that’s the situation.”
The matchup that figures to garner the most acclaim involves centers Elijah Wiggins (Tolman) and Ryan Murray (Central Falls). Against Tolman Murray recorded the go-ahead basket with seven seconds left in overtime on his way to a 10-point night. Perhaps just as important was the defense he and his Warrior counterparts played on Wiggins, a double-double threat held to just 12 points on five field goals.
“(Murray) pretty much shut Wiggins down, as they did not allow him to go to work on the blocks,” Kayata said. “It was a good high school game. They won and they deserved it.”
“Ryan matched up well with Wiggins, but we also ran some double teams at him,” said Crookes, whose Warriors captured the II-North title. “Wiggins is certainly in our game plan, but for us it’s about how well we execute our own stuff. We want to limit them to one shot or make them take jump shots rather than get layups and dribble penetration.”
Tonight’s survivor draws top seed North Providence on Monday. Tolman dropped both games to its divisional foe while C.F. lost by nine points to N.P. on Jan. 31.
Shea and Narragansett met back on Jan. 24, the Raiders receiving 24 points from Malik Moody in a 68-57 win. The Mariners qualified for the playoffs despite dropping three of their last four games. A date with No. 2 Rogers on Monday awaits the winner.
St. Raphael Academy (No. 5 seed) will step into the Division I spotlight next Monday night with a 6 p.m. quarterfinal date at fourth seeded Coventry. SRA and Coventry, along with Bishop Hendricken and Central, each finished the regular season at 13-5, a mark bested only by top seed Cranston West (15-3). The Saints lost all of the head-to-head matchups with the other teams involved in the four-way tiebreaker, thus explaining why they dropped down to fifth.
SRA, which won the I-East crown, can trace its wobbly 3-3 finish to the regular season back to a 92-72 loss at Coventry on Jan. 31. The game is remembered for the 11 3-pointers the Knotty Oakers burned the Saints for.
“It’s a tough matchup for us. We had a bad game against them the first time,” said SRA head coach Tom “Saar” Sorrentine. “Coventry can spread you out, so we’re going to have to step it up.”
Buoyed by a 5-2 finish to the regular season, North Smithfield was able to secure a bye in the preliminary round of the Division III playoffs. The sixth seeded Northmen will travel to No. 3 East Greenwich Monday night for a quarterfinal contest. The Avengers rolled to a 78-52 win over the host Northmen back on Jan. 24.