Sports editor emeritus
CENTRAL FALLS – The Prout School didn’t back off from the challenge of playing a tough road game against Central Falls on Monday night.
The Crusaders came into the game with a 9-2 record in Division II-South. Central Falls stood on top of the North with a 9-3 record following Friday night’s 73-68 victory over Tolman. The Warriors hoped to continue their momentum against the disciplined visitors.
“We kind of let them play their game,” Central Falls coach Brian Crookes admitted after Prout walked away with a 50-43 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score might indicate. “We didn’t come out with any intensity on defense in the first part of the game when you like to establish what you’re planning to do. We were on our heels.”
The Warriors started out in man-for-man defense with top scorer Julian Soares often guarding Prout’s main threat, forward Chris DiClemente. Both players came in averaging nearly 18 points per league game. DiClemente lived up to his billing and more, netting 27 points, while Soares ran into early foul trouble and settled for 10 points along with five assists.
“Julian got into a little trouble with fouls,” Crookes said. “They weren’t really good fouls, either. But we fought back in the second half, even though we had a tough shooting night.”
The Warriors missed their first six shots of the game, including an attempted dunk by Soares, while Prout ran its offense and jumped out to a 9-0 lead. The Crusaders kept cutting to the basket and finding people open on the back door, or on a give-and-go. Prout’s first 11 points came on layups and one free throw to cap a three-point play.
C.F. finally got on the scoreboard when center Josh Canuto hit a jumper from the top of the key. Point guard Elser Colindres, who finished with 13 points, added another field goal before Prout’s Brian Lamendola drilled a three for a 14-6 lead.
Soares hit a three for his only hoop of the first half and then David DePina got free under the basket for a pair of layups and suddenly the Warriors had cut their deficit to 16-13.
DiClemente, though, was just heating up. The 6-foot-1 forward hit a field goal and then three of four free throws. He would score 17 straight points for the visitors in a stretch that covered the final five minutes of the first half and the first four of the second half. Prout held a 31-20 advantage when his flurry ended and it went to 34-20 when Lamendola canned another three with 11 minutes left in the game.
“We couldn’t front DiClemente in the low post,” Crookes said. The powerful forward created his own space on the floor and handles the ball well enough to go coast-to-coast on fast breaks when nobody steps into the lane to stop him.
The Warriors never quit. Colindres hit a three and then a two-pointer to make it 36-25. Prout hardly blinked as forward Alex DeLuca (13 points) ran the baseline, received a pass and banked in an easy layup. He would add two free throws before DiClemente found a hole in the back of C.F.’s zone defense and made it 40-25 with eight minutes left in the game.
Soares, finally getting his rhythm, hit a jumper and then fed DePina for a layup off a pick-and-roll to make it 40-29 at the six-minute mark. Reserve guard Eli Mercado hit a deep three and Soares added a jumper to cut the C.F. deficit to 44-36 with 3:50 left in the game.
Prout coach Jed O’Malley called a timeout and instructed his players to run time off the clock. They did it to perfection, consuming 25 seconds before DiClemente scored on another baseline drive to make it a 10-point game again.
The Warriors kept playing hard. Soares fed DePina for another inside hoop before canning a jumper to make it 46-40 with 91 seconds left in the game. Colindres stole the ball and then turned it over trying to make a play, setting the stage for DeLuca’s killer basket on another drive to the hoop.
Colindres front-rimmed a three and made a subsequent bomb in the final seconds to cut the final deficit to 50-43.
“We were competitive with them,” Crookes said. “Prout is a very good team. After playing so well against Tolman on Friday night, we struggled tonight but there is no time to worry about it. We have Exeter-West Greenwich (Tuesday night) and then (unbeaten) West Warwick on Friday night. That should be another good test for us.
“We have five games left in the regular season,” the coach concluded. “We want to finish strong and get ready for the playoffs.”