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Purple surge in fourth for comeback win vs Rams, 60-57

By Timothy Yean, TSM President

Another year, another classic.

The Classical Purple emerged victorious at the AMP last night in a 60-57 takedown of reigning division champions La Salle. Red-hot shooting from senior Azzy Harrison helped propel the Purple to a fiery fourth-quarter comeback, cementing their legacy as one of the more powerful teams in the Interscholastic League’s history.

It was yet again another strong year for La Salle, sitting near the top of the D-I rankings as the three-seed. Steamrolling over #6 Cumberland and #7 Portsmouth, the Rams looked to repeat as division champions after then-sophomore Jacob Marcone sealed the championship plaque with his buzzer-beating bucket. It would also be an opportunity to avenge the 21-22 Rams squad, who fell to the Purple in a 77-56 blowout.

Classical was nothing short of dominant this season, going undefeated in the division with their only loss being a non-league contest to New London (CT) by four. On both sides of the ball, there seemed to be no answer to the powerhouse squad the entire season, and it reflected in the playoffs with wins vs North Kingstown and Bishop Hendricken.

With the lights of the state’s premier basketball court as bright as ever, the lower bowl of the AMP was packed with not only Ram and Purple students but across the state in interest for the marquee event of the Division Championships.

The Purple won the opening tipoff and swiftly began to attack from deep, albeit an early and noticeable struggle from distance, as it was the Rams’ Timoy Stitchell, who saw extensive playing time in last year’s divisional championship, knocking down the first points of the game with a two.

Both teams were unable to pull away offensively, however, with physical and up-close defense being the game plan for the teams throughout the first. Senior forward Rex Zadrozny showcased his control of the paint, utilizing his size to shoot over the Purple defense and notch an early four points.

With the game at 10-8 leaning for Classical with 25 seconds to go in the first quarter, sophomore Eliezer Delbrey made it a two-score difference with his three to put them up 13-8.

A bruising first quarter made way for a fast-paced second quarter, with sophomore Devin Sone beginning the second with back-to-back midrange makes within the first minute. It would be a sluggish rest of the quarter for the Purple though, as La Salle dominated the rest of the half.

Zadrozny dominated the paint once again, with seemingly no answer for the senior as he would tally up four field goals on the inside to put him with 12 at the half. He also generated some and-one opportunities in the half but missed both attempts.

Marcone and Thomas Malloy added versatility to the Rams' offensive possessions with a three from each of the fellow juniors. A 20-4 run following Sone’s four points catapulted La Salle into a favorable 28-21 advantage at halftime.

The third quarter featured yet another strong quarter from Zadrozny, who Classical continued to struggle against in the paint. 

The Purple were steady in scoring for the third quarter but were unable to close the ten-point margin the Rams maintained throughout the period. 

A rejuvenated Classical squad was what was needed for the fourth-quarter comeback, and the Purple indeed looked rejuvenated. Despite plentiful foul trouble against them, early threes by Delbrey and  Harrison put momentum in favor of the Purple, hyping up the Purple fan section. Harrison would also be called on a technical foul, which had the Purple at their foul limit with 5:43 in play.

The senior star set aside the technical foul by connecting on his second three of the quarter, putting the game within three on an 11-6 run and forcing a Ram timeout at 49-46 La Salle.

The Classical comeback only continued from there, as junior Abdul Evans brought the deficit to one with his layup, and following a set of La Salle points, Harrison once again stepped up to the perimeter and launched from distance, connecting and tying the game at 51.

The Achilles’ Heel for Classical, Zadrozny, brought back the lead for the Rams with a two, and La Salle called a timeout following.

Classical was back in possession, Delbrey with the ball in his hands. Under duress inside, Delbrey attempted to escape from the defense and slipped, acquiring a travel call in the process. It seemed this would be the play that La Salle would be able to break away and eventually win, but 53-51 remained 53-51, as the Rams couldn’t find any opportunities to score, and Classical was able to run some time out with extensive time on their side of the court.

With 2:15 to go, Delbrey attacked inside, got a shot off, and claimed a foul, sinking both free throws and tying it up once again at 53. 30 seconds later, Harrison was fouled, going one-for-two to get the one-point advantage for the Purple. 

In the final minute-and-a-half of play, the Rams put out their final hurrahs, with Timoy Stitchell, who had his points all on free throws to this point, splashing a contested look to have La Salle up 55-54. Liam Simpson then connected inside to have them up three.

As time waned, Devin Sone kept the game alive for the Purple with a two plus the foul, making it a 57-57 game.

Abdul Evans held the ball with about twenty seconds to go, positioned at the right corner. With space, he drove inside for a potential shot attempt. He came into contact at midrange with La Salle’s Malloy, with both players falling down seeking a foul. The referees called the foul on Malloy, and Evans was given two shots at the line.

Evans undershot his first free throw, and the ball bounced off the rim. As anticipation began to build, Evans adjusted his strength and sank his second free throw, wrangling the lead back to the Purple.

Stitchell received the inbound following Evans’ shot moving down the right side of the court. He transitioned to atop the three-point line and drove in left. He spun right to position himself inside the paint and took on Harrison on the contested look. The shot was wide left, with the rebound coming into the hands of Classical’s Jordon Duke, who found Eliezer Delbrey for the escape route.

Stitchell fouled Delbrey, and some apparent tension resulted in a technical on the junior. Delbrey put the finishing touches on the essentially guaranteed win with two free throws to have the Purple up three.

As the final horn sounded off, Classical’s bench rushed to center-court to celebrate their divisional victory. Classical returned from a one-year absence in the divisional championship to reclaim victory.

Zadrozny had a game-high 24 to finish but was held to four in the fourth by a revamped Purple defense. Timoy Stitchell was the only other Ram scorer with double-digits at ten.

Azzy Harrison’s three fourth-quarter makes were crucial for the Purple’s comeback, and he finished with 12 points. Devin Sone scored all four quarters and also aided in the comeback effort with five in the fourth to finish with 13. The final scorer, Delbrey, led Classical with 18 points, with 13 points coming in the second half.

The season is not over yet for both teams, as there’s still a state championship to catch, with the Purple as the one and the Rams as the three-seed. Will both teams make it once again to the true conclusion of the boys’ basketball season?

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