The North Kingstown Skippers pulled off the upset this past weekend as they topped Bishop Hendricken 64-60 in the Division I Championship at the Community College of Rhode Island.
The two clubs clashed earlier in the regular season, and the Hawks prevailed in a back and forth contest which required two overtime periods to decide.
Hendricken finished the regular season as the top seed, and they did take home the win the first time these two clubs squared off, so I guess it was technically an upset … however … in hindsight, this matchup is about as even as there is within the division, and I would be shocked if this wasn’t the pairing for the upcoming state championship.
I wasn’t at the first meeting between the two clubs, which I am kicking myself for looking back on it, so the first time I got to see NK play was last Friday when it took on Cranston East in the Division I Semifinals in East Greenwich.
I remember in warmups looking at the Skippers and not being all that impressed, to be quite frank. They looked like an average group of kids, they seemed like they could shoot, they had one or two big guys. I looked on the opposite side of the floor and saw East. Their kids were going up for dunks, making trick shots, they just looked like the more dangerous unit.
By game’s end though, it was clear who the better team was (at least on that night), and it was the Skippers. They had it all, they could shoot, they were well organized, they were fast, accurate, had enough size in the paint. I wouldn’t say I was shocked because I heard good things about them heading into the game, I was just a little surprised at how efficient they actually were.
Then there’s Hendricken. The Hawks always boast a talented squad, but there is perhaps no better coach in the state than Jamal Gomes. Gomes always gets the most out of his roster, which is almost always elite in talent, and this year is no different.
Bobby Fiorito and Angel Sanchez are a dynamic duo in the backcourt, Andre De Los Santos is an elite two-way player, Tyriek Weeks and Sebastian Thomas are dominant up front, the bench is deep. The Hawks are also versatile, talented and well-coached.
There are some differences between the two clubs, though.
NK has the clear advantage shooting. The Skippers have three, maybe even four kids that can routinely make it from beyond the arc and create matchup nightmares. The Skippers also have Dylan Poirier, a big, strong center that dominated the paint against East and then again the other night. In the two games I’ve seen of NK, it just doesn’t seem like there are many high schoolers that can match Poirier’s strength … he is one big dude.
Hendricken has the advantage in athleticism though. Although the Hawks may not be able to keep up with NK’s shooting, they are much better at finding their way to the basket and weaving their way through traffic. Again, Poirier did a great job of collecting the rebounds, but unlike East, the Hawks were able to find a way around him when they had the ball in their hands.
Hendricken also has the advantage on defense if you ask me. I’m no coach, so I may not be the best person to ask when it comes to breaking down defensive performances, but it seems to me that the Skippers really make the most of their ability to rebound (once again, Poirier is dominant). But there does seem to be times where they have trouble slowing down a team’s momentum. The NK guards aren’t very big, in fact, I would even say they are pretty small. In both the Hendricken game and Cranston East matchup, there were times where they simply seemed outmatched when the opposing offenses got physical with the guards.
I can go all day talking about this matchup, but I need to slow down because I fully expect to be touching on it in the next week or so again for the state tournament.
Overall, these two clubs have really separated themselves from the rest of the pack. A lot can happen in the postseason, and there is still two weeks left for things to change. At the end of the day though, I just really don’t see a way for these teams to be beat.
The only team that I think can squeeze their way into the conversation is East. They too have elite talent and versatility, they are also a very experienced bunch. The Thunderbolts also topped the Skippers in the regular season, so I am not counting them out entirely just yet.
Every season, or most seasons, there seems to be a matchup that’s just meant to be, and NK-Hendricken is it for Division I.
Both teams are accomplished, battle-tested, talented, well-coached, and always get the best out of each other when they hit the same floor. Although East, for example, may end up having something to say about it, I fully expect to see fans get their wish and see these two teams complete the trilogy in the state title game. They are on opposite sides of the bracket also, which makes it that much more probable.
We are now getting to experience the beauty of playoff basketball. Should NK, Hendricken or East win the title, then we get the satisfaction of knowing that the true best team won. However, if there is a dark horse team that emerges and pulls off the unthinkable, then we will get to see something special. Either way, it should be a fun couple of weeks.