Panthers get it done, sorting out the rest

Posted 6/14/22

Add the Johnston boys volleyball team to the list of Beacon Communications state champions for this year, as it cruised past Exeter-West Greenwich 3-1 to claim the Division III title on Saturday at …

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Panthers get it done, sorting out the rest


Add the Johnston boys volleyball team to the list of Beacon Communications state champions for this year, as it cruised past Exeter-West Greenwich 3-1 to claim the Division III title on Saturday at Rhode Island College.

Last year, the Panthers enjoyed a breakout campaign as they finished in first place in the regular season and reached the semifinals. Although they were thrilled to make the run that they did, they clearly felt that they possibly left a championship on the table as the top seed.

This year, the Panthers rolled from start to finish and took second place behind only undefeated Lincoln. In fact, the Panthers’ only losses this spring were at the hands of the Lions.

Luckily, EWG did the division a favor and pulled off the year’s biggest volleyball upset when it came back from two sets down to beat Lincoln in the semis, setting the Panthers up with a great matchup. Johnston beat EWG twice during the regular season by a combined score of 6-0. Am I saying they would not have been able to beat Lincoln? No, EWG proved that the Lions weren’t unstoppable, but I am sure the Panthers breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the final result.

Johnston had a tough matchup in the semis against St. Ray’s, who had reached the Division III finals in back-to-back seasons and winning once. The Saints gave them everything they could handle, but the Panthers would take the 3-2 win.

This was the first volleyball championship in school history, and the senior core took the long way there as it only won one game while they were freshmen. Then, of course, there was the lost year with COVID, these Panthers really came a long way.

The Cranston East boys volleyball team fell to top-seeded North Kingstown 3-0 last week to end its season. The Skippers were the state’s best team and went on to win the Division I title on Saturday as well.

East had a fantastic year. The Bolts had a new coach in Jhamal Diggs, Jordan Bou emerged as one of the state’s elite players, everything came together as East returned to the playoffs and got a win over Hendricken.

After losing longtime coach Meg McGonagle over the winter, it was far from a guarantee that this team would be ready to go this spring. It certainly was, and East should be right in the middle of the playoff picture next year.

We are down to our final baseball team as Hendricken is slated to take on North Kingstown in the state championship this week. This is a razor close matchup, as both teams are No. 1 seeds, have been dominant from start to finish, and have all the pieces to win. They have not played each other either, so we really have nothing to base predictions on from this season.

The Hawks rolled past South Kingstown in the semifinals. The Rebels were the underdogs, but the way the Hawks flew by them was impressive. Neither game was really competitive, it seems like Hendricken turned the corner and is primed for this next series.

Admittedly, I have not covered North Kingstown this spring so I can’t give you much insight on what they’ve got. I will say though, I like the Hawks’ chances against any team and will predict a Hendricken win. Will it be a dominant, two-game sweep like the semis? I can’t imagine that is the case, but I do think the Hawks will get it done.

Between Brandyn Durand, Alex Clemmey, Jack LaRose, Griffin Crain, the Hawks are loaded. It is never wise to pick against Hendricken, but in this case, I would say that would be very unwise.

Toll Gate softball had a stellar year and the ultimate nightmare occurred: It was bit by the injury bug. Freshman phenom pitcher Emma Harrold was enjoying perhaps the best season in the circle in Division II this spring, but would be forced out of playoff action due to an injury.

Still, Toll Gate reached the losers bracket finals and nearly won it. Had the Titans held on for the win, who knows what would have happened in the championship against Prout? It took Prout extra innings to beat Toll Gate last week in the playoffs, so point being, the Titans were as good as any team in Division II. It came down to three teams, but unfortunately, only one can be a champion.

I was shocked to also see that Toll Gate is only losing three seniors. Although those players all served key roles, the Titans should be right back in the thick of things next season.

I must say, the West softball team was super likeable and fun to watch. The girls got off to a choppy start this spring and things looked to be spiraling when they were mercied by Smithfield late in the regular season.

Instead of folding, though, the Falcons turned up the heat and finished the regular season strong and made a legitimate run at a state championship. It was the furthest the program has ever gone in Division I.

No one was betting on West, not even as a dark horse. I would always say, “Don’t count them out,” but not because I thought they had a real shot … but just because crazier things have happened.

Going into Monday’s game against Pilgrim with a title shot on the line, no one was counting them out, and everyone in the state was on notice. The team came so close too; they fell by just one run.

The Falcons are another team that will return most of its lineup. This could be the start of something special moving forward.

Pilgrim remains one of the premier teams in the state, despite losing a big senior core last year. After the state championship loss last year, coach Carlos Rodas essentially told me that this would be a rebuilding year … he said that they would be competitive, but would have to dig deep to return to this point.

Fast forward to now, they have not skipped a beat and have a real shot at this thing.

What a spring, what a playoff season.

My Pitch, sports column


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