Just like his previous teams have experienced over the years with La Salle Academy, Jim Doyle knew this one wasn’t going to be easy. The Bishop Hendricken coach knew that even if his squad had its’ best effort, it still might come out short in the end
Assistant coach Danny Brennan felt the same way. In his words, “It could turn into a dual meet.”
On a perfect day for racing at Ponaganset, Doyle got everything he could ask for from his Hawks against an equally-talented Cumberland squad at Saturday’s RIIL State Cross-Country Championship.
And so did Clipper coach Kerrie Carpenter, whose team was looking to capture its first crown since 2004.
In one of the more exciting and competitive battles for the team title in quite some time, just one point was difference between the two schools. When the final results were tallied, it was the Hawks on top for the third straight year, courtesy of a narrow 63-64 decision over the Clippers at The Reservation. Barrington was third with 125 points.
“I expected Cumberland to be that tough,” Doyle said. “They are a great, great cross-country team and they are well-coached by Kerrie. We knew what to expect from them. We stuck with our game plan. We went out a little slower and, not surprisingly, they stuck right behind us. This race came right down to the last 1,000 (meters). There were a lot of kids pouring their hearts out there. Winning by one point, that’s the way the breaks go. It could have been us losing by one point.”
With a well-executed game plan, Cumberland’s Sam Henderson ran away with the individual title. The Clipper junior was in sixth place at the mile mark, about six seconds behind the leaders and his top rivals, Smithfield’s Jason Padula and Narragansett’s Cole Francis, who passed through the checkpoint in 4:51.
Henderson, the Class A winner last week, was confident in his ability and knew holding back early would give him his best chance for a victory in the end, which he accomplished with a PR of 15:33.29.
“There’s no point in running 4:50 if I’m running five (minutes) flat for the race,” he said. “I just tried to hold that pace and when they all fell off during the second mile, I was right there and I just went.”
The fast, early pace did seem to affect the performances of Francis and Padula, who eventually faded to sixth (15:58.73) and ninth (16:08.44), respectively. La Salle sophomore Marshall Vernon, who missed the Class A meet last weekend due to a sore ankle, placed seventh overall at 16:01.53.
Barrington’s top showing was spurred by teammates Brandon Piedade and Myles Napolitano, who finished second and third, respectively. Piedade, a senior, was timed in 15:47.14, while Napolitano, a junior, clocked 14:49.9. Portsmouth’s Sean Gray was fourth at 15:51.64.
“When I came here (as a sophomore) we were like 15th,” Piedade said. “We had guys running in the (19-minute range). Every year we’ve kind of progressed kind of evenly. Last year we were sixth, but we had top-four potential. To come out here and perform, third was definitely the goal, based on what talent we we were going to get.”
Coming off a sub-par performance from the class meet where he fifth overall, senior Jack Moretta sparked the Hawks by matching that placement on Saturday with a time of 15:57.62, improving on last week’s effort by nearly a minute.
“We knew Jack could run a lot better,” Doyle said. “He’s a team leader. He knew he had to keep the team together. That was his main focus. We talked about that all week.”
Afer Moretta, Cumberland was able to get it’s next two runners across the line before the Hawks’ second with senior Connor Magill placing 11th overall (16:11.8) and senior Will O’Shea taking 13th (16:12.78.) The Hawks essentially sewed up the school’s 27th crown with a 14-15-16-17 finish from freshman Colby Flynn (16:14.32), senior Will Olson (16:19.26), senior Sam Zabbo (16:20.80) and junior Ollie Ide (16:21.87). Sophomore Jake Schonhoff (16:36.52) and senior Nolan Rogalski (16:39.47) were 21st and 22nd, respectively, to complete the Clippers’s scoring.
The gap between the Hawks one and five runners was 20 seconds!
“Think about how good Cumberland ran,” Doyle said. “You keep a spread at 20 seconds and (they’re) just one point behind…and our guys ran well. They ran absolutely great. Cumberland ran great, also.”
While the goal was to dethrone the Hawks and win the school’s first state title since 2004, Carpenter was beaming with pride at how her Clippers performed on the big stage.
“Just to be in the conversation with an incredible program like Hendricken is really an honor for us,” she said. “We understand their legacy and everything they’ve accomplished over the years. Their elevation of their quality of their athletes, their program and all of it is awesome. To be in the conversation is really big for us. We put it all out there. We had a very specific plan going in and the guys followed it to a ‘T’. I believe all five (scoring runners) PR’d. I say often, I want others to see what my guys are capable of from what I see in practice every day. I want their parents to see it, their friends to see it, their competition to see it. I think everyone saw that today.”
Rounding out the top six teams that earned their ticket to next weekend’s New England Championships in Belfast, ME, were East Greenwich (fourth, 125 points), La Salle (fifth, 194 points) and Ponaganset (sixth, 205 points).