SMITHFIELD – St. Raphael Academy’s reign as defending state champs has come to an end – an abrupt one at that.
It was Classical springing the upset Thursday night at Bryant University’s Chace Athletic Center, the 13th-seeded Purple receiving multiple contributions up and down the lineup in a 69-61 “Round of 16” victory over the Saints. Classical’s Ismael Batista was virtually unstoppable in second half where he netted 16 of his 26 points. Charles Correa led SRA with 26 points on six 3-pointers.
Classical now advances to Sunday’s “Elite Eight” round, the scene Providence College’s Alumni Hall. There the Purple will face Providence neighbor Central, which needed a last-second layup from Jerrelle Washington to best Westerly, 63-61.
Before Classical could even think about Sunday, the Purple had to contend with a St. Raphael outfit that wasn’t ready to relinquish the crown just yet. The underdogs from Classical strung together a second-half performance that proved too much for Tom “Saar” Sorrentine’s club to handle with two particular areas sticking out like sore thumbs.
For starters, the Purple attempted 31 free throws with 24 coming in the second half. The team was shooting in double bonus with six minutes remaining as Classical’s gang of perimeter threats simply kept attacking the rim.
Batista was one of four Classical players to hit for double figures with Kealen Ives (20 points), Kwani Moreno (12 points) and Toe Terrill (10 points) also factoring. With so many options, St. Raphael had a hard time zeroing in on one particular player for fear of leaving someone else loose to inflict damage.
“They kept getting to the hoop,” was the straight-to-the-point explanation Sorrentine offered.
SRA’s last lead came at 35-34 with 11:25 remaining. It was all Purple the rest of the way as head coach John Kavanagh watched his outfit take a 46-42 lead and transform it into a 58-46 cushion with 4:25 remaining. The Purple’s biggest lead was 64-50 with 2:18 to play.
The lesson both teams offered up during the initial 16 minutes is that no lead is ever safe. Despite turning the ball over seven times with not even six minutes gone by, the Purple jumped out to a 19-11 lead at 7:02. Batista was major thorn in SRA’s side in the early going, the Classical junior nailing eight straight points – the last six coming at the foul line – to propel his team on a 11-0 run.
It was SRA’s turn to respond with Sorrentine & Co. equaling Classical’s run of 11 straight points. Taking a feed from Cesar Mejia, Davon Robertson spun a shot in to reclaim the lead for the Saints, 20-19, with 3:57 left before halftime. A follow shot by Ives cooled off St. Raphael momentarily but Correa answered with a layup – courtesy of a well-timed bounce pass from junior Abdou Bah – and a deep three to open things up slightly at 27-21, SRA.
The drama continued as Classical responded to St. Raphael’s 16-2 charge with six straight points to retake the lead at 28-27. A follow by Correa and a score from Kaseem Sams enabled the Saints to walk off the floor with a 31-28 halftime advantage. Classical was turned over 12 times in the first half with Correa leading the Saints at the break with 13 points and three 3-pointers.