Sports editor emeritus
PAWTUCKET – When St. Raphael Academy decided to dedicate its Alumni Hall basketball court in memory of the late Dennis M. Lynch Jr., a revered Saints hoop coach back in the 1980s, the school and the Lynch family reached out to Wheeler School to provide the opposition.
“Their coach, Sean Kelly, is good friends with Jared Lynch, my brother Bill’s son,” Patrick Lynch was saying before Friday night’s non-league game began. “Sean coaches my son, Graham, in AAU ball. We thought his team, and school, would be a wonderful opponent for us on the night when we honor Dennis.”
Only problem? Kelly brought a pretty good team with him. The visitors led for most of the game and pulled away to a 62-54 victory over the Saints, who turned the ball over on at least 25 occasions.
Chris Luciano tried to keep the error-prone Saints in this game, scoring 16 of his team’s first 18 points in the second half, and ending with 29 on the night. Wheeler just had too much balance, too many good shooters and ballhandlers, and a great defensive game plan that kept the Saints off-balance all night.
Wheeler ballhandlers found holes in the Saints’ zone defense. Will Gordon poured in 20 points on a variety of slicing drives and pull-up jumpers. Aidan Wright added 16 and Barrett Easton finished with 12, including consecutive three-pointers early in the second half that sent the visitors out to a 40-32 lead.
Fittingly, Graham Lynch, nephew of the man for whom the court was dedicated, got the game’s opening basket, swishing a three-pointer. Lynch ended the first half by banking in a corner three, the ball kissing the backboard on its way through the hoop to bring SRA within 30-29 at the break.
After Wheeler moved out to an eight-point lead, Luciano put the Saints on his shoulders and willed them back into the game. With point guard Alex Holloway held to two points by Wheeler’s defense, Luciano became the only penetrator for the Saints, continually fighting for offensive rebounds and put-backs, bringing SRA into a tie at 51 with four minutes remaining.
Gordon broke the tie emphatically, slicing through a soft spot in the Saints’ zone for a layup and foul. His three-point play made it 54-51. SRA then turned the ball over. Saints forward Steven Toetee soon fouled out with 2:30 left. This was the Saints’ 10th team foul and Wheeler put the game away from the line, making six of eight charity shots in the final two minutes.
The two teams played with great sportsmanship all night, something that would have brought a smile to the lips of Dennis M. Lynch Jr., who passed away from cancer at the age of 33 back in 1989.
“The pain doesn’t go away,” Patrick Lynch said. “Dennis was not only my brother, he was my coach in high school. Our family is so appreciative of the school for honoring Dennis in this fashion. They decided this is the right time to honor Dennis because he lived the life that embodies the qualities we want our students and alumni to live by.
“Dennis was only 33 when he died,” Pat Lynch continued, “but he made his mark on life. The scholarship fund in his honor has made an incredible impact over the years.”
The fund has raised over $300,000 that helped 240 students over the past 25 years, according to SRA Principal Daniel Richard, who presided over pre-game ceremonies.
Bill and John Lynch stood near the exit to the court after the game ended, pleased with the memorial service for their brother. Dennis’s wife Laura and son Dylan, now 25, were also in attendance, along with Irene Lynch, wife of the late Pawtucket mayor, Dennis M. Lynch Sr.
It was a night to remember a great man whose short life impacted so many people, including at least a dozen former players, led by Robert Williams, who lived with his coach while playing ball for the Saints.
“There was nothing Dennis enjoyed more than coaching young people,” Bill Lynch told the crowd before the game. “He made every player on the team feel important. We are lucky to have Tom Sorrentine, his co-coach, around to carry on the tradition. Dennis always said you have to find something to believe in, something you can do with passion and to the best of your ability. That was his message.”