ADVISOR’S NOTE: The author earned rare access for a student- media member to the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Basketball Championships, even enjoying his first complimentary media lounge soft drink while covering Sunday’s final.
by Tim Yean, TSM President
(KINGSTON, R.I.) – A few weeks prior to this year’s State Championship, La Salle’s Jacob Marcone hit an improbable shot at the Murray Center in RIC, in the final seconds of the game, to stun Bishop Hendricken in the Division I Championship.
Fast forward to Sunday night at the Ryan Center on the campus of the University of Rhode Island, and it was the Hawks having the last laugh over the rival Rams, closing out the 2022-23 Rhode Island high school basketball season with a 67-61 State Championship victory.
As the top two teams in the state by a considerable margin, it was expected that the two squads would face off in a rematch, with both teams cruising past their competition throughout the tournament.
Hendricken senior Devin Lynch opened up the first quarter with the lead for the Hawks, attacking inside for a paint score in the first few seconds of the game. LaSalle responded with a 6-0 run, forcing the green and gold brigade to call a timeout following a Josh Ojuri three at the 4:13 mark
Hendricken came back to make the game competitive in the period, but foul trouble allowed La Salle to pull away with a four-point lead at the end of the first, 13-9, utilizing the free-throw line to extend the lead. Despite five fouls on the Rams, only one had Hendricken at the line.
The physical back-and-forth affair continued entering the second quarter, and rough play resulted in double-technical fouls assessed to Hendricken’s Michael Paquette and Josh Ojuri of LaSalle.
Both teams had a wall behind their backs, as their aggressive playing styles had each at their foul limits midway through the second quarter.
Following a timeout taken by the Hawks with 3:18 in play, they went on a 13-6 run, ending the first half with back-to-back scoring plays by reserve forward Tyler Russas, who hit a last-second shot to send his squad up 33-23 at the half.
The third quarter featured Hendricken maintaining its lead, with Matthew Brock and Michael Paquette the main players keeping the lead intact. Kevin Odih and Josh Ojuri led the third quarter charge for the Rams, combining for 15 points to not allow its rival to extend their double-digit lead.
Entering the fourth down 50-40, the Rams looked to mount a comeback, in which they nearly did, with Ojuri, Dante Iafrate, and Timoy Stitchell, who was a key contributor at the three-point line in the D-I championship, cutting the lead to three following an Iafrate layup with 2:41 to go.
The Rams had full momentum, poised to take the lead and take another game down to the wire. But Michael Paquette had different plans. Finding the opportunity for a three, Paquette launched one from range, sinking it, Hendricken now up 62-56.
Kelvin Odih, one of the main scoring options for LaSalle, got inside the paint and scored, getting the and-one, and a chance to get it back to a one-possession game, with a little over two minutes left in regulation. Odih was unable to convert.
Paquette played valiantly down the stretch for Hendricken, keeping the Rams in check, and hitting clutch baskets to keep victory in sight for the green and gold.
La Salle hit another final-second basket to end the game, but this one didn’t result in a win, instead just making the final box score look a little bit nicer. Hendricken came out on top in the figuratively, and literally, bigger stage, a 67-61 triumph to end their season on a high note.
The Rams’ dynamo junior Ojuri led LaSalle in scoring with 17 points, notching Team MVP in the process, with his senior teammate, Odih, ending his high school career with a 15-point effort.
It was the usual leading scorers for Hendricken, as the senior duo of Eze Wali and Azmar Abdullah dropped 17 and 15 respectively in their last games in a Hawk uniform, The spotlight was on Michael Paquette, though, as his scoring down in the most important moments proved vital for Hendricken coming out on top, earning Team MVP to compliment his 15 points.
Hendricken found their groove midway through the second quarter, and that allowed them to hold on to the lead and never give it back. Their physical defense seemed problematic early on, but came through in forcing turnovers and mistakes by the Rams. Eventually, their attacking style on offense flipped the pressure onto LaSalle, who saw several of their key players saddled with foul trouble from the second quarter on. Paquette’s performance down the final stretch allowed them to avoid the LaSalle comeback and give their book a happily-ever-after ending.
It’s definitely a happily-ever-after for the Hawk seniors, who will inevitably reload with talent despite the loss of Abdullah and Wali. LaSalle’s Ojuri - IF he sticks around and doesn’t head off to prep school -will only get better, and will enter the season as the top player in the interscholastic league.
But who knows? Maybe another green team, not named Bishop Hendricken, will find major success next season. Maybe a team around the Cranston area. A team that rhymes with Wonder Holts.
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