Sports editor emeritus
CENTRAL FALLS — In a pulsating finish to a great high school basketball game, Julian Soares netted the final 13 Central Falls points while carrying the Warriors to a 73-68 victory over Tolman on Friday evening.
Soares, who finished with a game-high 27 points, matched big plays with Tolman’s stellar shooting guard Steve Otis. The senior hit a trio of three-pointers in the final three minutes as the Tigers roared back from a 48-35 deficit to take a 67-66 lead with 30 seconds left when Otis swished a three from the top of the key.
Otis finished with 25 points.
It took Soares just eight seconds to regain the lead for CF on a drive through traffic. Seven seconds later, Tolman’s Jesse Fernandes missed the front end of a 1-and-1 as the Warrior fans filled the gymnasium with the kind of noise that hasn’t been heard since the championship seasons of 2009-10.
Soares then scored on a fast-break that started with the rebound of Fernan-des’s missed free throw. He added a free throw, then made two more in the closing seconds to account for the final margin.
After the game, Soares mingled quietly with friends and then spoke like a true captain of his team.
“When the game is close, I want the ball in my hands,” he admitted, “but I am not defined by my scoring. I want to get the ball to my teammates when they are open. We played really well as a team tonight.”
Central Falls coach Brian Crookes agreed with his high-scoring forward.
“Julian is our playmaker,” Crookes said, “but we really got great jobs from everyone tonight. I thought Elser (Colindres) really controlled the game tonight when he had the ball. Our center, Josh Canuto, hung in there against a tough rebounding team. We got an excellent game out of David DePina (13 points and very active on the boards). Everyone played well.”
Colindres doled out 11 assists while making sure the ball found his more explosive teammates, Brad Zeno (16 points) and Soares, who added 15 rebounds to his complete game.
Tolman jumped out to an early 6-2 lead when Luis Pagan drained a pair of three-pointers. Those were the only points of the night for the smooth small forward. The Tigers led 21-15 midway through the first half after reserve guard Keanu Perry went to the hole for a layup.
Central Falls has sneaky depth and it showed when Edwin Colindres, a virtual clone of his older sibling, figured in two straight hoops. The junior guard came off the bench and assisted on a hoop by DePina, then got open after Sebastian Landinez stole the ball. Colindres worked into an open area, then spun to the hoop for a short shot that made it 21-19. The Warriors would then tie the game at 22 on a three by Brad Zeno, who provided a strong scoring complement to Soares.
DePina, the best jumper on the floor, grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a layup for a 32-28 lead late in the half. Tolman got a hoop from reserve guard Ty Whitaker in the final 10 seconds to make it a 35-33 game heading into halftime.
The Tigers then fell asleep as Central Falls went on a 13-2 run to start the second half. Zeno hit a three and then a short jumper to open the onslaught. Soares, who averages 18 points per game, made it 42-33 when he elevated for a textbook jumper. Canuto followed with a jumper from the top of the key before Tolman finally scored on a hoop by Fernandes.
Zeno followed with two more hoops, one on a slick baseline drive, to make it 48-35 just 2:52 into the second half. Tolman coach Mike Kayata called timeout to settle his troops down while Crookes and Elser Colindres waved their arms at the Central Falls fans, exhorting them to make even more noise.
“It has been awhile since this place has sounded that loud,” Crookes said with a smile after the game.
To its credit, Tolman fought back. Otis, undeterred by the boisterous crowd, drained a three to make it a 10-point game. Denzel DePina, who played with a lot of energy off the bench, put back an offensive rebound and then Otis made one of two free throws, cutting the deficit to 48-41.
Soares, who had been quiet to this point, drained two treys in the next two minutes to rebuild the lead to 56-43. Still, Tolman wouldn’t quit. Forward Tyler Reece hit a three from the left corner and then Prince Johnson assisted on a DePina hoop to make it 60-54.
In a key sequence with 3:45 left in the game, Tolman’s DePina, a 6-foot-3 jumping jack, drove to the hoop and tried to dunk the ball instead of just laying it in. He missed the dunk and crashed to the floor while Central Falls grabbed the basketball and went the other way. Soares drove strong to the hoop for a 62-54 lead.
Otis, not backing off, hit three of four three-point shots over the next three minutes, shaking his shooting hand like a gunslinger as each of his strokes found the bottom of the net. But he was outgunned by Soares, who constantly drove to the basket down the stretch, scoring nine points in the final 40 seconds.
Central Falls improved to 9-3 in Division II-North with the win. Tolman fell to 8-5 in II-Central. Both teams could feel about themselves after this game ended. Neither team deserved to lose.
C.F. will host a strong Prout team on Monday while Tolman visits Lincoln on Tuesday.