For someone who normally wears blue as the head coach of the Cumberland softball and Burrillville cross country teams – and had sported touches of red during past stints with the Tolman and Cranston West girls’ basketball squads – Marty Crowley found himself having to adjust to green and gold this winter.
But aside from changing his athletic wardrobe, Crowley’s transition to the Massachusetts girls’ basketball scene and the extra competitive Hockomock League as the head coach of King Philip High of Wrentham, Mass. has been a seamless one.
After 20 seasons as a head coach in R.I., including more than a decade with the Broncos, where he won a Division III title in 2003, Crowley took on the next challenge in his coaching career when he crossed state lines to take over a program that hadn’t reached the postseason in recent memory.
But that changed this year. Blessed with a hard-working team whose calling cards are depth and tenacious defense, Crowley saw his Warriors post a 14-6 record, winning seven straight games at one point, and land a well-deserved berth in the upcoming Division I South Sectional tournament.
“I heard it’s been nine or 10 years since our team last made the tournament,” added Crowley. “That was one of our goals coming into the season. Our first was to be the team that nobody wanted to play, and I think we accomplished that, and our next goal was to make the tournament.”
When Crowley stepped into the K.P. gymnasium for his first practice back in November, he wasn’t exactly sure what he’d expect from his new team. But since that first day, he’s had a blast, and reaching the playoffs has only added to the fun.
“It’s been awesome,” added Crowley. “It’s been fun, and the whole experience has been enjoyable. Between the administration and the staff, it’s a great school district, and more importantly, we have great kids, and they’ve been a pleasure to coach.”
He’s also enjoyed working with his coaching staff, which not only includes freshman and junior varsity coaches, but also an assistant varsity coach and a familiar face in former Broncos head coach Lindsay Rachlow, who was also one of his captains on his 2003 championship team.
“Having Lindsay by my side has been great as well,” added Crowley. “She’s a great addition, and it’s nice having somebody who’s been through the wars with you as a player and is now a coach by your side.”
While his experience at K.P. has been incredible, so has the competition his squad has had to encounter in the rough and tumble, black-and-blue league simply known around this part of New England as ‘The Hock’.
Playing in the upper Kelley-Rex division of the league, the Warriors wound up with a 10-6 mark, which surprisingly, was only good for fifth place in the six-team group.
Five of K.P.’s defeats have come to the schools above them in the standings, Franklin, the 12th-ranked team in the recent Eastern Mass. Top 20 poll, and North Attleboro, Attleboro, and Mansfield, which have popped in and out of the poll during the season.
“The Hock’s a great league,” said Crowley. “It always has been. You look at the scores up and down our league and you could tell there was a rock fight. You talk to any coach in our league and they will tell you, night in and night out, it’s a battle, but come tournament time, you’re battle-tested.”
The Warriors will surely enter the tournament a battle-tested bunch, and that extends from their starting five to the last player on their bench.
Depth has been the name of the game for K.P., and Crowley has been a man in motion on the sidelines, going to his bench early and often during games and employing as many as 11 players at critical moments.
“We have 10 kids in our rotation,” said Crowley. “We had a stretch this year when we had seven different leading scorers in seven different games. And that’s the beauty of our team. It’s not one kid that’s more important than the other; everyone has been equally important.
“Were fortunate that we have the depth we have. We run a lot of short shifts that last 3-4 minutes, and then we’ll sub out and the next group will come in. The starters get minutes, the bench gets minutes, and everybody’s playing.”
This depth has helped the Warriors defensively, and K.P. has been superb in this department. In 10 of their games, the Warriors have allowed fewer than 43 points.
“The kids bought into our system of defense coming first,” offered Crowley. “We’re going to play defense, we’re going to be physical, and we’re going to challenge you. If you’re not aggressive defensively in our league and you sit back, then these other teams are going to take advantage of you.”
One game that saw the Warriors play exceptional defense came a week and a half ago in a thrilling 56-51 overtime win over Attleboro, which back on Jan. 7, had blasted the Warriors by 20 points. That win was the sixth in the seven-game win streak, and it halted a five-game streak by the Bombardiers.
That was just one of quite a few highlights to the Warriors’ season. Their 68-42 win over Stoughton on Jan. 31 gave them their 10th victory of the winter, which not only assured them of a .500 campaign, but also landed them their long-awaited berth in the South Sectionals.
Two days later, thanks to the Norfolk Recreation Department, the Warriors took their act to the TD Garden to play on the Boston Celtics’ famed parquet floor during halftime of the Celtics’ game against the Orlando Magic.
“The whole day was fun,” said Crowley. “We took the train in from Norfolk, and the kids went out and scrimmaged each other in their practice jerseys for six or seven minutes. It was awesome. One girl even hit an NBA three.”
With the South Sectional tournament expected to begin next week, Crowley hopes his Warriors can provide another highlight or two, but like their daily battles in ‘The Hock’, the competition’s going to be difficult.
As many as 14 Division I teams are expected to qualify for the tournament, either by placing in the top two in their respective divisions or reaching the .500 mark, and depending how a few games around the South play out, the Warriors could wind up with a home game in the opening round.
“A lot of teams still have games this week, so there’s going to be a lot of road trips and a lot of fast food,” Crowley said with a laugh. “The scramble’s on to get information on teams you don’t know, so you’re out there scouting teams and calling a few coaches you know for stuff.
“There are a lot of heavy hitters in the South. There’s Brockton, Needham – the Hock’s going to have seven (of its 12) teams in the playoffs. But we’re going to work hard (this week) in practice and we’ll be ready to play.”
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24