It's the best of high school rivalries, a rivalry that is simultaneously based in mutual respect and really bad blood.
There's no questioning the fact that LaSalle has a rich athletic tradition, both in the past and the present. And, while they certainly have won some games against us in various sports, the more recent editions of this rivalry have...well...gone our way.
It seems when the real chips are on the line, no matter the sport, the Hawks more often than not find a way. One only need to think of the two recent super bowls in which our schools went up against each other, and now we have last night.
While many high school hoops fans across the state had every reason coming intothis year's winter sports season to expect the Hawks to have a very good basketball team , it was more or less universally acknowledged that this was LaSalle's year. Indeed, the Rams showed that that was probably the case, sporting a 27-1 overall mark and a Division I championship on its resume coming into the Ryan Center for last night's Final Four matchup with the Hawks. Many people felt that while the Hawks were no doubt good and would do everything that they could to stand in the way, this LaSalle team was on an express to the state title. That thinking was only further validated by the results of this season's two previous matchups between the rivals, both won by the Rams: a 76-66 win down on Academy Avenue (a game largely controlled by the Maroon) and an impressive 79-62 march over the Hawks in the Division I semi-final game at CCRI. While many fans didn't expect as result as unbalanced as the second game, it was generally believed that the Rams would prevail and advance to the state championship game.
A funny thing happened, however, on their way to the coronation. A different Hawks team - different in the sense that if you had been sitting in the stands watching as they emerged from the locker room and onto the court, the sense of confidence, determination, and belief were palpable - showed up, took an early lead, extended it to 15 points by halftime, and then did what they needed to do to fight off a furious charge from the Rams in taking them down, 70-62.
The Hawks took a quick 5-0 lead and never trailed. As the first half unfolded, it was, at times, difficult to believe what we were watching. Not that our guys aren't a good team; it was more a sense that the Hawks were playing as if they truly felt they were going to be the better team on this night. Once EJ Nygren buried a three from the right corner, putting the Hawks up 17 late in the first half, the unimaginable was beginning to seem as if it would actually happen. Some highlights from the first half tell the tale, the calm composure that our guys were exhibiting in staking themselves to a big lead:
The Network staff did a lot of Instagram work throughout the game. All of those highlights can be sen HERE.
The Providence Journal's slideshow from the game can be seen HERE.
Of course, no one in the Ryan Center last night expected the Rams to simply lay down and die trailing 15 at halftime. As expected, the Rams mounted a furious second-half comeback that the Hawks managed to withstand. The Rams did cut the lead to two points with about a minute-and-a-half remaining, but Kyle Henseler scored a key basket and nailed two free throws to effectively put the game out of reach.
So, the Hawks return to the Ryan Center tonight for the state championship game, where they will take on the cinderella team in this year's tournament, the Central Knights. Game time is 7:30, and while The Network is unable to broadcast, we will have live pre-game and halftime shows, with anchors Cam Brennan, Stone Freeman, and Johanthan Feeny bringing you the info, insights, analysis, and storylines.
The Hawks go for another banner tonight. As one of the all-time great Hawks, Matt Colucci, stated on Twitter after the game last night,
I WANNA SEE EVERYONE AT THE CHAMPIONSHIP TOMORROW
— Colucci (@MattColucci) March 22, 2014