By Eli Hearne (Op-Ed Editor).
With 30 seconds left on the clock, senior captain Ricardo Ripley hit the biggest three of the season, extending the Sharon Eagles lead to six, (60-54), ultimately securing a Sharon win and a Walpole Hoop Classic Championship.
This season has been a roller coaster for the Eagles featuring great team wins such as a win over Canton at the Dunkin Donuts Center, and tough losses including two heartbreaking losses at the hands of North Attleboro, the Davenport Champion. But, the season ended on a high note with the Eagles winning their final four games.
Senior Danny Emerman is relieved that the team could “complete our goals” and did not quit after they were eliminated from the playoffs.
“We wanted to finish the season on a four game winning streak and win that tournament. We did just that,” Emerman said.
The Eagles began their streak with a hard-fought win over the Stoughton Knights in Stoughton. As this game featured lights-out shooting from Stoughton’s Cam Andrews (24 points), the balanced offensive attack of Sharon’s Malik Lorquet (17 points, 13 rebounds), Jimmy Fitzhenry (18 points), and Emerman (12 points) was too much for the Knights to handle, guiding Sharon to a 81-72 win.
The boys then traveled to Milford for a tough contest against a Milford team looking to clinch a tournament berth. The Eagles had a rough time in their first meeting, falling to Milford 65-42, but this was a completely different Eagles team this time around. Led by Ricardo Ripley (20 points) and Lorquet (17 points, 15 rebounds), the more confident and experienced Eagles beat the Scarlet Hawks 78-65.
Sharon looked to carry this momentum into the Walpole Tournament, and that is exactly what they did. Against Walpole, Malik Lorquet could not be stopped. He was an animal on the boards, corralling 11 in the game to go along with his career-high 27 points and five blocks.
Jumping out to an early lead, Sharon was in control for most of the first half. Leading 28-19 with 3:55 left in the second quarter, Walpole went on a 10-5 run to close out the quarter, bringing Sharon’s lead down to four at half (33-29)
Out of halftime the two teams continued to battle with the lead changing back and forth as the teams traded baskets. Walpole tied up the game with 50 seconds remaining at 70 apiece, but a layup by Jayvon Monteiro gave the Eagles the lead. Yet the Eagles could not come up with a defensive stop as Walpole finished a layup, tying up the game with 17.7 seconds to go. After Ricardo Ripley missed on his layup attempt, the game was headed to overtime.
In overtime, Jimmy Fitzhenry sunk a three for the Eagles putting them up five with 45 seconds remaining (80-75). Then, as has occurred in previous wins, Monteiro used his speed to hit a transition layup after a Walpole missed shot, sealing the game for the Eagles, 82-75.
Following a win over Sharon rival Oliver Ames, Xaverian was up next to face the Eagles. Although it would have been exciting for the Eagles to close out their season against rival Oliver Ames, the Eagles faced the task of containing a massive Xaverian team boasting a 6’9” center.
Although Sharon had struggled previously to contain other team’s big men, the switch to a man-to-man defense contributed to bolstering the interior defense. Individually, Lorquet (12 points, 14 rebounds) has improved tremendously over the season, and practically put the Xaverian big men in his back-pocket. Sophomore Jake Levinson also provided strong rim protection in spurts off the bench.
Sharon played what may have been one of their more complete games of the season. Fitzhenry (14 points) started off hot for the Eagles splashing from downtown, giving Sharon a nine point lead, 19-10, at the end of the first quarter.
Then, Xaverian battled back as they began to hit their shots and penetrate the Eagles defense. As a result, Xaverian was able to tie the game up going into halftime at 29 a piece. In the third and fourth quarters, Sharon turned up the intensity. Their press proved difficult for the Xaverian guards to handle, forcing turnovers left and right. As Ripley got hot to end the third quarter nailing two threes to extend the lead to six going into the final quarter of the season.
The Eagles understood that they needed to leave everything they had out on the court as this was their last hoorah as a team that will soon graduate seven seniors. They fought and clawed throughout the fourth quarter with a high-octane press. After a Fitzhenry three pointer with 2:32 left, Sharon lead 55-51. Yet Xaverian would not go away as they answered with a conventional three point play.
Following a Jayvon Monteiro layup off of a dime from Ripley, the Eagles made the necessary defensive stop and let their captain Ricardo Ripley (17 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds) ice the game with a three, putting the Eagles up 6 with 30 seconds to play.
“I was excited (when I hit the shot) because I knew at that point that we would win, capping off a great end to the season,” Ripley said.
Following the 62-58 win, Fitzhenry was named to the all tournament team and Lorquet earned tournament MVP.
The Eagles finished the season 7-13 overall, with a 4-12 record in the Hockomock league. Although the Eagles were three wins shy of a state tournament berth, the team played their hearts out all season, and will look to make a run to the tournament next year with starters Malik Lorquet, Jimmy Fitzhenry, and Alex Kaufman all set to return.
“It was a bittersweet ending. I love this team and it was great to finish off the season how we did, but I will miss repping the Sharon maroon and gold,” Ripley said.