Skippers basketball remains one of two unbeatens in Division I
Going into the sixth week of the season, North Kingstown High has racked up a 10-0 record overall (6-0 in league play). But a grueling three-game schedule in five days began Monday, and all three opponents – Bishop Hendricken, South Kingstown and Cranston West – are eager to knock the Skippers out of the undefeated category.
On Monday night, the squad survived the first test when they defeated Hendricken, 56-50.
Results from the Rebels game were not available at press time.
As of Wednesday morning, North Kingstown and Coventry were the only undefeated Division I teams in Rhode Island.
“We know we have a big bull’seye on our backs,” said Jamestown’s Owen Heath, the starting center. Head coach Aaron Thomas has told them they will get the best from every team they play from now on.
“We’re prepared for that,” said Owen, who poured in 20 points last Thursday to lead the team in scoring against Classical. His three-point shot in the last minute of the game put the Skippers up by seven points and sealed the deal. Owen said the Purple had the Skippers down by about five points in the second half.
“It was pretty close throughout the game,” he said. North Kingstown hit the last shot of the first half and went into the break one point ahead. “It was back and forth the entire game,” Owen said.
Senior co-captain Chris Hess also had one of his best games of the season against Classical. He scored 18 points. Classical had been picked as one of the state’s five top teams, and they lived up to their billing – but they weren’t enough for the Skippers.
According to Thomas, Classical has “three very quick guards,” and unlike some years, the team has been at full strength.
But the Purple is far from the only challenge that the Skippers will face this year. According to Owen, there are no easy games on the schedule.
“They’re all going to be tough,” he said. “We just keep playing our game. We have faith in our team. If we play our game, we should win every game.”
This season, the Skippers have to survive three weeks when they have to play three games in five days. The Rhode Island Interscholastic League, which governs the state’s high school sports, gives every team two byes.
“Our byes just didn’t fall into the three-game weeks,” said Owen. “It was bad luck, but just another challenge we can take on.”
Both the boys’ junior varsity and the varsity basketball squads remained undefeated going into Wednesday night’s game against South Kingstown High. The freshman team has been almost as successful, missing out on a perfect season by one loss at the end of December to Middletown.
Thomas told the players the upcoming battle with the Rebels (3- 3) would be tough.
“The records don’t really matter,” he said. “It’s a battle for bragging rights.”
The Rebels also have a scheduling disadvantage with back-toback games against the two undefeated schools. South Kingstown lost to Coventry, 56-45, on Tuesday night.
Thomas said he didn’t expect the Skippers to be undefeated at this point in the season.
“We knew we had a transition,” he said, referring to losing three starters – two of them “big 6-foot- 5 guys.”
But this team “plays together really well,” Thomas said, and they have been together since they were youngsters. In fact, they’ve been playing together since sixth grade, according to Owen’s mother, Mary Heath, because they all joined the same Amateur Athletic Union team based in North Kingstown.
“It was the best decision we ever made,” she said.
According to Chris Hess of North Kingstown, that AAU experience gave this group its first taste of success and now they know how to handle it.
“You’ve got to embrace it,” he laughed.
“Be happy but don’t be satisfi ed,” Thomas said. “When you become satisfied, that’s when you start losing games.” So far, he added, they are keeping their focus.
“This group’s set high goals and want to go pretty far,” he said. “They’d like to win the state championship.”
Thomas said the coaches and the team has been doing a lot of film review to try to correct the in-game mistakes. “In every game there are mistakes,” he said.
Co-captain Justin Pratt, 17, said the team’s motto is, “Hoops, not hype.”
Justin was the top scorer in Monday night’s game against Bishop Hendricken. He said the Skippers’ defense got off to a slow start, and the game was close most of the way. But, he said, his team ultimately “went on a little run” to secure the victory.
Chris, 18, said he did expect the Skippers to come up with a big year.
“I kind of knew coming in we were going to be really good,” he said.
The team dedicated the Classical game to the memory of Joe Fagan, who died on Sunday. Fagan was a North Kingstown custodian who retired last year.
“He was a big supporter,” Owen said. Fagan attended “every single home and away basketball game,” and he helped the team out all the time.