PROVIDENCE — Winning has become contagious for Cumberland High’s athletic department, spreading from one season to the next.
With the fall producing a Super Bowl champion along with the state’s top male cross-country runner (Trevor Crawley), the pressure fell squarely on the Clippers’ winter sports’ entries to keep the good times flowing. Crawley kept up his end of the bargain when the swift 12th grader captured the 3,000-meter run at the R.I. Indoor Track & Field Championships two weekends ago.
Sunday, on Brown University’s campus, another Cumberland team basked in the glow of another major title as the boys’ basketball team held off a gutsy Shea squad, 60-54, to capture the Division II championship.
Cumberland athletic director Frank Geiselman should think long and hard about placing an order for a new glass case to house all the hardware his athletes and coaches have reaped during the 2012-13 academic year. That’s considered a good problem for Geiselman to have on his hands, but it also speaks the roll of sporting excellence the Blue & White are enjoying.
“Hopefully the kids in the town are getting excited,” said Cumberland head coach Gary Reedy, who coached Sunday’s game with a heavy heart after burying his father, Larry, who passed away last Tuesday at the age of 82, approximately 24 hours before “Game Time.”
The Clipper players provided their coach with a welcomed respite during this trying period. They also ended a serious drought, becoming the first Cumberland basketball squad to win a title since Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House; the 1935-36 season produced a Class C crown.
“To bring home a championship (for the first time in nearly eight decades), that’s crazy,” remarked senior point guard Tom Lazaras. “We’re representing our school well.”
If game MVP honors were handed out, chances are Dylan Boisclair would have been the overwhelming choice. Cumberland’s senior big man closed with a game-best 22 points while corralling 11 rebounds. Boisclair netted five field goals in each half as Cumberland ended up shooting 21-for-48 from the field (43.7 percent).
Not to be outdone was Lazaras’ well-rounded contribution (21 points, five assists, four steals). Cumberland’s sparkplug went to the free-throw line 14 times over the final 1:33, swishing nine.
“If I just got the ball in my hands, I’d knew I could knock down some free throws that would ice the game,” smiled Lazaras.
From Shea’s vantage point, Sunday’s setback at the Pizzitola Sports Center did not spell the end of the season. Like the Clippers, the Raiders now turn their attention to the 16-team open state tournament that gets underway Wednesday. Cumberland is locked into the No. 4 spot with signs pointing toward a “Round of 16” matchup with No. 13 Prout.
As for Matt Pita’s Raiders, the 12th seed appears theirs and with it an opening-round contest with Division III winner and No. 5 seed North Smithfield believed to be in the cards.
“The best thing about coaching this game is that it’s not your final game,” Pita stated. “You know that you’re going back at it (come Monday).”
Shea senior Eli Itkin scored 14 of his team-high 17 points in the second half while Tito DoCouto collected 17 points. It was DoCouto who helped keep the Raiders afloat in the first half; all six of his points came after snaring offensive rebounds.
The game’s defining moment came when Cumberland reserve Mitchell Baxter drilled a 3-pointer that put his squad up 46-40 with under four minutes remaining. Separation had been hard to come by after a Boisclair free throw tied the game at 28-all at 12:06 of the second stanza.
“When Mitch hit that shot, I thought it was the dagger,” remarked Cumberland senior guard Ben Bradley.
Each time Cumberland scored early in the final stanza, Shea answered right away. There were three ties before Boisclair scored off glass after a nice feed from Greg Joubert (six points, nine rebounds) that put the Clippers ahead, 36-34. The Raiders responded as Chris Luciano nailed a trey from roughly the same spot on the floor where he connected during the closing stages of Friday’s overtime contest against West Warwick.
Shea’s 37-36 advantage proved fleeting thanks to Boisclair, who on the ensuing possession caught the ball at the foul line and drove for an easy score – one that as it turns out put Reedy & Co. up for good.
“I knew I was the biggest player out there and just had to be strong and tough,” said Joubert about his performance. “(Lazaras and Bradley) really open up the floor for me.”
Baxter’s timely make from downtown was one of two 3-pointers Cumberland’s bench contributed. Junior Grant Osmundson connected from deep in the first half to extend what was a one-point Clipper lead to 21-17.
“Baxter,” sighed Pita when reminded of the shot that pinned the Raiders in a two-possession hole.
Now cooking with gas, Cumberland enjoyed its biggest lead on the afternoon (52-41) after two makes from Lazaras at the charity stripe with 1:33 left. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Itkin and DoCouto helped trim Shea’s deficit to 55-49 with 59.2 ticks flashing on the scoreboard, but the Raiders proved unable to draw any closer.
Trouble seemed to be afoot after Lazaras picked up his second foul 3:40 into the game, but Reedy elected not to sub. With Bradley struggling to find the rhythm, the Clippers turned to Boisclair, who wasted little time attacking the rim upon receiving the entry feed.
“Our team has a tendency to get in foul trouble, which makes it harder for us offensively,” noted Bradley, who managed just one field goal and five points. “Defensively is where we have to pay extra attention with everyone realizing that they have to play a little smarter.”
A charged-up Shea team scored the first six points of the second half to go ahead 28-27 with a drive to the rim by Itkin capping off the brief but important flurry. On the flip side, Cumberland opened the second half with four misses and three turnovers.
“Coach called a timeout and calmed us down, telling us to run our sets on offense like we always do,” said Bradley about the mood on Cumberland’s bench after Shea’s strong start.
“We loosened up,” Reedy summed up.
Looking ahead, Boisclair feels that no one should sleep on the Clippers. “We can do a lot more. I think we can go into the open tournament and do a lot of damage. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”