When it comes to predicting who will play for the three state championships on March 10 at the Ryan Center, it shouldn’t take a lot of thought.
In Division I, all signs point to the two unbeaten teams, defending champion La Salle and rival Bay View. In Division II, you can take your pick among the North’s Moses Brown (17-1) and the South’s Narragansett and Rogers (each 16-2), and in Division III, unbeaten Juanita Sanchez and defending champ Middletown (16-3) are the clear-cut favorites.
But 11 of the Blackstone Valley’s squads will do their best to crack those matchups and earn their ways to the University of Rhode Island over the next couple of weeks, and their pursuits for March glory begin tonight and tomorrow with preliminary-round games, the bulk of them on the road.
In Division I, Lincoln (8-10) gets a jump on the competition tonight when the Lions duel Westerly (14-4), and tomorrow, Woonsocket (13-6) host Chariho (6-12), East Providence (7-11) visits the Rams, and St. Raphael (8-10) heads to North Kingstown (12-6).
Division II also has a local team facing a very long bus ride tonight, as Burrillville (10-8) treks to Wakefield to face the defending champion Prout School (11-7).
Tomorrow’s action also has three local squads on the road. Central Falls (11-7) buses to East Greenwich (10-8), Tolman (6-12) hits Route 4 to battle Narragansett, and Mount St. Charles (5-11) has an hour-long drive to Rogers.
All these games will start at 7 p.m., except for the E.P.-La Salle game, which starts at 6.
The Division III quarterfinals this week will be an all-Blackstone Valley affair. Fourth-seeded North Smithfield (11-7) will host fifth-seeded Davies (10-8) tomorrow at 6 p.m., and third-seeded Bishop Keough (11-6) plays sixth-seeded Central (10-9) at 5 p.m. at St. Raphael’s Alumni Hall.
The quarterfinal round for Division I and II will take place this weekend at Rhode Island College’s Murray Center, with a Division I quadrupleheader slated for Saturday from 1-7 p.m. and four Division II games on Sunday at the same times.
That leads into the semifinal round, with a Division III doubleheader on Monday at 6 and 8 p.m., the Division II games on Tuesday, and the Division I contests on Wednesday.
The championship games on Saturday at URI will begin with the Division III title contest at 11 a.m., the Division II finals at 1:30 p.m., and the Division I showdown at 4.
The area’s best chance to make a run in the Division I tournament is Woonsocket, which enters the playoffs with wins in four of its last five games and has a senior-ladened team.
The Villa Novans will face a Chargers team that has lost its last four games, and if they head to the quarterfinals, they will play the winner of the Westerly-Lincoln contest, and both of those teams have also struggled a bit down the stretch.
In Division II, all eyes will be on Central Falls, which won five of its last six games and takes on an Avengers team that has had its recent offensive woes and broke the 40-point mark just once in its last five games.
And in Division III, the Koalas, who are enjoying their best season in the program’s 10-year history, will vie for a win that will land them a 6 p.m. game in the semifinals against Middletown. Both teams split their regular-season series, but Keough won the first meeting by 21 points.
The Davies vs. North Smithfield game promises to be one of the best local matchups of the week. Both teams also split their regular-season series, and while the red-hot Patriots have won five in a row, the Northmen have posted victories in five of their last seven. An 8 p.m. meeting in the March 5 semis against Juanita Sanchez awaits the survivor.