JOHNSTON — Burrillville High head coach Kevin Randall seemed cautiously confident before his squad took on league-unbeaten East Greenwich in a R.I. Division III Tournament quarterfinal on Wednesday night.
“We played them earlier this season, and we were down six at the half, but then our big man (junior Isaiah DeSilva) got in foul trouble,” he stated as the players warmed up. “We've got to keep Isaiah on the floor, because he's going to have to cover a house (in EG senior center Brandon) Eckles.”
The good news is DeSilva did remain on the hardwood; the better that the Broncos easily exhibited their finest play all season. In the end, however, the Avengers outscored the underdogs, 13-9, over the final 6:38 and eventually claimed a thrilling 45-44 verdict before a raucous crowd of about 400 on Johnston High's Robert A. Smith Court.
With the triumph, East Greenwich now will face Juanita Sanchez, a 67-53 victor over Moses Brown in the earlier quarterfinal, in a semi slated for 8 p.m., Friday at Roger Williams University. Burrillville's campaign closed at 11-12 overall and 10-9 against D-III squads
“There's no question this was the toughest league game we've had all year,” stated EG assistant Don Bowen after the dramatic finish. “We won by two at Moses Brown's place and by four at Juanita Sanchez, but this team was unbelievable defensively.”
Junior forward Kyle Matus netted a game-high 19 points for the Avengers (21-2 overall, 19-0 versus league foes), while sophomore Brian Gemma closed with nine, senior Ben Chester seven and Eckles, the massive 6-7 center, six.
For Burrillville, senior tri-captain David Reynolds manufactured a team-leading 15, DeSilva 10, sophomore Jared Cabral six and the guard tandem of junior Devon Rogers and sophomore Zach Durand five each.
Despite 14 turnovers in the initial half, EG walked off the floor at the break with a comfortable 23-10 cushion. It actually made it 25-10 after Eckles' power move down low 29 seconds into the final stanza.
Only 13 seconds later, though, Reynolds drained a fallaway jumper to knot the contest for the first time at 30-30, and Alex Lefebvre landed a three-point bomb with 6:38 left to give the Broncos their first lead at 35-32.
All told, in that span of 6:53, Burrillville had mustered a 20-7 run against arguably the best D-III team statewide.
Fifty-three ticks after that Lefebvre bucket, however, Chester canned a pair of free throws, and – at the 4:40 mark – Eckles did the same as the Avengers regained the advantage at 36-35.
Thanks to one of Gemma's trio of treys and a Matus pull-up jumper with 2:20 remaining, EG pushed the cushion to 41-35, but Eckles fouled out 13 seconds after.
A pair of foul shots pulled Burrillville back to within three (41-38), and Rogers' three-pointer with 8.2 left sliced the deficit to 43-41.
There was still hope.
The Broncos immediately fouled Matus, whose pair of freebies rattled the rim and fell through the netting with 5.5 on the clock to make it a four-point lead. Durand's desperation trey tickled the twine with 1.7 left, but the gritty visitors had to deal with a one-point loss.
They nevertheless strolled off the court with heads held high, and they hadn't overheard Bowen's comments.
Burrillville closed with 20 turnovers, three less than the squad moving on to Friday's semifinal, and also registered less personal fouls. It's outstanding 2-3 zone defense still wasn't quite good enough on this night.