Sports editor emeritus
CENTRAL FALLS — The last time Central Falls and Cumberland met on a basketball court, just nine days ago, the Clippers upset the Warriors on their home court on a late hoop by freshman Brandon Kolek.
When the two teams met again Friday night on the same court in a Division II playoff opener, the Warriors made sure there would be no late heroics by Cumberland. Central Falls held a 49-44 lead with nine minutes left before going on a 7-0 run that put the game away.
The Warriors emerged with a 68-56 victory that sent them into the Division II quarterfinals next Wednesday against second-seeded Barrington at a site yet to be determined.
Forward Julian Soares led a balanced Central Falls offense with 24 points, tying him for game-high guards with Cumberland’s Nick Poli, who poured in 20 points in an explosive first-half performance.
“I thought we were lucky to be that close in the first half,” Cumberland coach Gary Reedy said. “Nick got hot and we made a bunch of threes but the tempo of the game was a little out of control for us.”
Cumberland won by a 49-47 margin in last week’s game. This time, the Clippers could not slow down the Warriors, who got out and ran on missed shots and steals, getting superb floor management from point guards Elser and Edwin Colindres.
Central Falls got 12 points from center Josh Canuto and 11 from forward David DePina. Both players used their size to good advantage in the lane and under the basket against a Cumberland team whose tallest player is 6-foot-2 center Ryan Cotter.
“We knew we had a size advantage,” Central Falls coach Brian Crookes said after the game. “We wanted to pound the ball inside whenever possible.”
The Warriors followed the game plan on their opening hoop, when Elser Colindres found Canuto 10 feet from the basket, in position for his favorite shot, the turnaround jumper. The Warriors would jump out to an early 8-3 lead as Soares hit five of six free throws and Elser Colindres hit a baseline floater that forced Reedy to call an early timeout.
Kolek had Cumberland’s only hoop, a three-pointer. The Clippers would come alive, though, and take an 11-10 lead when Poli drained a three. Soares answered with a three of his own as the pace of the game picked up. The 6-foot senior then made a steal and drove to the hoop for a layup and a 15-11 lead.
After Foli drove to the hoop for a basket, DePina canned two free throws and then converted a pass from Soares for a 19-14 lead.
Central Falls opened a 30-21 lead with 3:10 left in the half when Soares canned a three but that just set the stage for a versatile offensive effort by Poli, who drove inside for two baskets, then stepped back and hit a three to cut Cumberland’s deficit to 34-29 in the final minute of the first half.
Canuto put back an offensive rebound for a 36-29 lead, only to see Poli launch a three at the buzzer and get fouled as the ball fell short of the rim. With the crowd buzzing, the junior guard calmly sank all three freebies to make it a 36-32 score at halftime.
Central Falls came out strong in the second half. Soares and DePina scored on offensive rebounds but Cumberland kept pace with two inside hoops by Cotter, one on a nifty backdoor pass from Osmundson.
Soares countered with a layup, assisted by Elser Colindres off a Cumberland turnover as the Warriors got down the court with a numbers advantage. Colindres then broke loose on a fast break and pulled up at the arc and swished a three-pointer for a 45-36 lead.
Cumberland stayed close as Joe Fine made an old-fashioned three-point play to cut the deficit to 47-41. After C.F.’s Spencer Desautel canned two free throws, Cumberland’s Tyler Calabro converted another three-point play to make it a 49-44 game with nine minutes to play.
Elser Colindres then pulled up on a fast break and made a soft jumper. Brad Zeno hit his only three of the night a minute later for a 54-44 lead and then reserve forward Desautel added a jumper for a 12-point lead that broke the game open with six minutes to play.
Eight players got into the scoring column for Central Falls, which went 10-8 during the regular season.
“We’re at our best when we have balanced scoring,” Crookes admitted. He’s fortunate to have several ball-handlers who like to find the open man, led by the two Colindres brothers and scoring leader Soares, who often passes up open shots to find teammates closer to the basket.
Central Falls will now set its sights on upsetting a highly-skilled Barrington team. The Warriors dropped a 65-56 road decision to the Eagles back on Jan. 31. Barrington and West Warwick both finished 17-1 during the regular season and rank as co-favorites in the D-II tournament.
“We had a good game with Barrington,” Crookes said, smiling like a coach often does after his team plays up to its own expectations.
Cumberland, which went 8-10 during the league season, can take solace in its strong finish to the season and a solid effort Friday night against Central Falls.