WARWICK – The North Kingstown Skippers had the Hendricken Hawks right where they wanted them: they led by seven points with two minutes to play in Sunday’s Division I finals. Hendricken’s Sebastian Thomas exploded from there, scoring the final 12 points of the game to lead his team to a 58-53 victory.
“That’s the lull we’ve constantly been having,” NK head coach Aaron Thomas said (no relation). “The last couple games, there’s a two, three-minute gap where we don’t score.”
“We do situation drills in practice,” Sebastian Thomas said. “The starting five will be down five [points] with a minute left, and we have to try and come back.”
That practice paid off in the biggest way possible. Thomas scored a game-high 32 points and was a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line. A backcourt steal and score by Thomas got the rally started for the Hawks.
The two teams were neck-and-neck throughout the rematch of last year’s title game. The Hawks led by a point at the half, but it was the Skippers who built out a second-half lead that looked built to last.
Clay Brochu led the NK attack with 16 points. Fellow guards John Quianoo (11 points) and Nick Sacchetti (13 points) were the team’s other primary scorers in the loss.
Sacchetti had a late look from 3-point land that rimmed out. Brochu attacked the basket multiple times in the final minutes but couldn’t come up with any points.
“We got a play to the basket, the way we wanted to,” Coach Thomas said. “I thought [Brochu] got hit. No call in this type of game. We were happy with that look. Kinda disappointed we only got to the line four times today. Thought we had the opportunity to get there more. Scored more two’s than them, more three’s than them. Got killed on the line.”
NK connected on 23 field goals compared to Hendricken’s 20. The Skippers were 2-4 at the line while the Hawks made hay there, going 14-17.
Sebastian Thomas and Brochu are two of the states most polished offensive players. Brochu hit a pair of 3-pointers in the loss, while Thomas was responsible for half of his team’s field goals and most of their free throws.
“He made some nice plays,” Coach Thomas said of Sebastian Thomas. “Couple broken plays where he got the ball and made a three. You have to play everything out in a championship game. The ball is loose, we have to go get it.
“You can’t give a player of his caliber a open look. He’s a good player.”
“Clay is a great player,” Sebastian Thomas said. “I knew coming into the game he was gonna score and I was gonna score. We were gonna both make plays to help our team win. He’s an excellent player.”
NK beat the Hawks in last year’s D-I finals, 64-60. Both games were played at the CCRI-Warwick campus and featured capacity crowds that lived and died with each and every play.
“It’s awesome,” Coach Thomas said. “We get tremendous support from our fans. I’m so happy our fans show up and support us. It’s just a great atmosphere to play basketball in.”
While some uncertainty is lingering because of the ongoing threat of the coronavirus, as of print time the open state tournament was on as scheduled. The Skippers are the No. 2 seed and face No. 18 Blackstone Valley Prep today at 7:15.
“The challenge now is, we have to jump back into it,” Coach Thomas said. “We have another shot, we’re not dead. Have to bounce back. We’ve already cautioned them about what happened to Hendricken last year. They lost this game, then got beat in the first round [of the open tournament]. We have too much character on this team to let that happen.”
Hendricken was upended last season by Cumberland in the opening game of the state tournament. For the Skippers to avoid a similar fate, Coach Thomas believes his team just needs to stick to the script.
“We’re a very good basketball team when we run our sets,” he said. “When it becomes more freelance, one guy dribbling and everybody else standing around, we’re not a good basketball team. That’s what we have to avoid.
“We’re 24-2. Best year in NK history right now. Twenty-six is the most wins in school history. We have a great opportunity.”
The Hawks losing early last year denied both sides another rematch. A date in the finals is something both squads are hoping can become reality.
“Love to,” Coach Thomas said. “We love to play them. It’s a good challenge. We’ll play them. I like to play the best and I know they’re the best.”
“They’re a really good team,” Sebastian Thomas commented. “We just had to focus and execute our gameplan.
“I’m glad we got this [title], but we want the state tournament.”