Clippers return to Final Four

Clippers return to Final Four

Cumberland High senior center Jackson Zancan, #24, is surrounded by three Toll Gate defenders as he gets ready to put in a layup during the second half of Sunday’s Elite Eight game at CCRI-Warwick. Zancan scored a game-high 24 points to lead the Clippers to a 65-51 victory and a return trip to this weekend’s Final Four at URI’s Ryan Center. (Photos by Chuck Nadeau / www.chuckn.com)
After posting upset victory over Hendricken, boys’ hoop team belts Toll Gate to earn semifinal matchup vs. WHS

WARWICK – Gary Reedy has dealt with a lack of sleep the past week, and the veteran Cumberland High head boys’ basketball coach hasn’t complained once about it.

In his 15 seasons as the Clippers’ head coach, a tenure that has seen Cumberland win Division II titles in 2013 and ’17 and reach the Final Four of the Open Tournament last March, Reedy hasn’t seen a run in the playoffs as improbable, yet as magical, as the one his young team is taking right now.

He’s seen his Clippers survive a buzzer-beating shot by East Providence earlier last week and squeak out a 63-62 victory in a play-in game for the 16th and final seed of the Open Tournament.

He then saw his team make history and send shock waves throughout the state last Thursday night by becoming the first 16th-seeded team in the state to upset a top-seed, as the Clippers stunned three-time defending champion Bishop Hendricken, 62-55.

And on Sunday afternoon in the Elite Eight at CCRI-Warwick, Reedy watched his team overcome a slow start against 9th-seeded Toll Gate by rolling to a not-as-close-as-it-looks 65-51 triumph that earned the Clippers a return trip to this weekend’s Final Four at URI’s Ryan Center.

“I’m still kind of dazed by the whole thing,” Reedy said after sitting down for a post-game interview with a local radio station. “This group is unbelievable. I think this is my proudest moment as a coach, to be honest with you. I know we won some (D-II) championships and there’s nothing to take away from those teams, but the group I have, how young they are, and what Jackson (Zancan) has done is just amazing.”

Zancan, the only senior among the top nine players in the Clippers’ arsenal, scored a game-high 24 points to lead the winners, and he admitted afterwards that he knew his team had the potential to make a deep run in the tournament.

“But we knew it would be tough coming into D-I, how our record would look coming out of the regular season, where we’d be in the playoffs, and what seed we’d have,” he said. “But we got past East Providence, and now that we’ve won two more (games), we have to keep this story going.”

The next chapter in the Clippers’ storybook run will be a very intriguing one, for Cumberland will face an all-too-familiar opponent in their Final Four opener on Saturday at 4 p.m., neighboring rival Woonsocket, which defeated Barrington in its Elite Eight contest, 82-71.

This will be the fourth time both teams will oppose each other, but the first since the second week of January. They split their regular-season series by winning on their home floors – Cumberland posting an 80-71 victory on Dec. 4 and Woonsocket returning the favor, 64-59, on Jan. 9 – and the Novans also slugged the Clippers in the finals of the Roadshow Holiday Classic on Dec. 28 at the Wellness Center, 72-50.

“It’s always tough playing somebody four times,” added Zancan. “We haven’t seen them in a while, but both teams have grown so much since then, especially ours. We think we have a chance; we just have to go down there and play hard.”

“We have to go back to the laboratory on Monday and see what we can work up,” added Reedy. “They know us; we know them. We’ll see what happens.”

Playing a Division III team in Toll Gate, after seeing back-to-back D-I opponents in the Townies and Hawks, led a lot of Cumberland fans to believe that Sunday’s game with the Titans was going to be a runaway.

But the Titans, who went undefeated during the D-III regular season, clicked on three easy layups in the contest’s opening minutes before the Clippers broke away from them. Thanks to a 10-point run midway through the first half, the Clippers surged out to a 28-12 lead that eventually ballooned to 39-19 by halftime.

“I was a little nervous,” noted Reedy. “Toll Gate came out right away and got six points on layups, and I said, ‘Oh, we’re not playing defense.’ But we cranked out a couple of shot clock violations and seemed to get a couple of easy baskets and then we were on our way.”

The Clippers’ lead got as high as 29 points on two occasions midway through the second half, but a 12-4 run by the Titans in the game’s final minutes, with the Clippers’ top players on the bench, made for a closer final score.

In addition to Zancan’s big game, junior point guard Dante Aviles-Santos scored 14 points and freshman guard Colin Morais added 13, with his first 10 helping the Clippers take a 22-12 lead. The Titans’ top scorers were senior guards Brandon Scott (14 points) and Kavi Simpson (13).

While there wasn’t much drama in Sunday’s game, last Thursday’s victory over the Hawks certainly had the fans on the edges of their seats, especially when it became apparent that the Hawks, who held a 33-27 lead at the break, were going to be in a dogfight with an underdog they topped by 16 points during the regular season, but only by a 61-53 score in the Division I quarterfinals.

Zancan, who was in foul trouble for most of the game, picking up his fourth foul in the opening minutes of the second half, still ended up with a game-high 21 points – 14 coming in the second half – and 11 rebounds. Morais added 14 points and sophomore forward Will Andrews tossed in nine.

The Clippers, who outscored the Hawks, 22-11, during the game’s final seven minutes, also benefited from the Hawks’ foul troubles, as they got whistled for 22 of them, 13 in the second half. The Clippers, as a result, went 19-for-28 from the free-throw line, while the Hawks were 9-for-17.

“Honestly, (the win) really hasn’t (sunk in yet),” added Zancan. “Especially on the bus ride home, it just felt surreal. I don’t think anyone still knows what that meant and just how big of a win that was, but we can’t focus on that now. We have to keep moving forward and focus on Woonsocket.”

Toll Gate senior guard Brandon Scott, center, has a tough time driving to the basket as he is defended by Cumberland sophomore forward Will Andrews, left, and junior point guard Dante Aviles-Santos during the opening half of Sunday afternoon’s Elite Eight matchup at CCRI-Warwick. The Clippers earned a return trip to the Final Four by rolling to a 65-51 victory.