Tiverton triumphs, caps perfect run to Division III boys' hoops title
Tigers handily defeat Wheeler for first championship in 33 years
WARWICK — A new division, only two returning players and a heavily injured lineup to start the year was the talk surrounding the Tiverton High School boys’ basketball team to begin the 2016-17 campaign.
A couple months later and with a perfect 17-0 regular season in tow, the chatter around the Tigers is about a championship rather than challenges they faced.
Tiverton wrote a storybook ending to its Division III season Sunday afternoon, March 5, at CRRI-Warwick’s Cullen Field House as the Tigers whipped second-seeded Wheeler, 64-47, for the league title. The victory was the 20th in Division III play for Tiverton, including a third win over the Warriors, and secured the first league championship for the program since the Tigers won the D-III crown back in 1983-84.
In the first half, the top two seeds combined to score 67 points. The Tigers went into the locker room on a 17-6 run, giving them a 39-26 lead at the half in what was actually an otherwise very competitive opening 16 minutes.
In the second half, Tiverton showed why it went undefeated as the locals kept the Warriors at bay in the final 16 minutes en route to the championship. Led by 22 points from Tyler Murray, the Tigers celebration began in front of a large section of fans who made the trip across the bay.
“To have to play a team a third time is always tricky, but we knew what they were about and we knew what we were about,” Tiverton head coach David Landoch said. “The kids played really hard and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
To open the game, Carson Hart got things started with a floater that gave Tiverton its first points. Murray then hit an open 3-pointer while Michael Hrycin scored off his own miss as Wheeler kept pace to hold Tiverton’s lead at just 7-5.
The game proceeded to turn into a bit of a 3-point shooting contest as the Warriors scored on back-to-back treys that Tiverton’s Stephen Gacioch matched with one of his own to put Wheeler’s lead at 11-10. Hart and Gocioch continued to pace the Tigers offensively as they both hit on continuous possessions which put Tiverton back on top 17-14, forcing the Warriors to call a timeout.
Back on the court, Murray hit on a step back and a drive to basket which was just part of an 11 point performance in the first half. Dylan Clark then scored off of his own offensive rebound which put the undefeated locals up 29-24. Tiverton’s half-ending run was capped off with back-to-back 3s from Aaron Carreira and Hart to put the Tigers up by double figures at intermission.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Gacioch and Murray both added on to the Tigers’ total which forced Wheeler to call another timeout with Tiverton leading 44-31. At that point the pace of play really slowed down, but Murray made sure that Tiverton’s offense stayed productive on a made shot and-one that he made. This was followed by another made three by Hart that was just part of a 14 point performance and gave the Tigers a 52-33 lead.
The Warriors answered with a 6-2 spurt, but Tiverton was put back on track thanks to a basket from Elias Skarpos that maintained the Tigers’ sizable lead at 56-39. After a timeout and Tiverton losing Gacioch due to fouling out, Murray hit yet another 3 to give the Tigers a 20 point lead, 61-41, with about four minutes remaining. Two more made free throws from Murray continued Tiverton’s high-powered offense which led to a timeout being called just seconds later by Wheeler.
In the closing minutes, a couple of 3s from the Warriors were too little too late as Tiverton rejoiced and took time to thank its fans in doing so as they put the capper on their unforeseen season; finishing 20-0 when including their three postseason wins.
“It is not easy,” said Coach Landoch, who witnessed Shea High fall in its quest for perfect season with a loss to Cumberland in the D-II finals just minutes before Tiverton’s game started.
“You are the target the whole season, but we didn’t stop believing. We had a goal and that was accomplishing this today and we got it done,” he added.
Back on January when Tiverton was 7-0, the coach admitted at the time, “I did not see this coming” when asked about the Tigers’ fast start despite an injured roster. Many weeks later, and fully healthy, he remained a bit surprised about what this year’s team accomplished.
“I still don’t see it coming,” he said. “It has been a fun ride. It is a great group of guys,” Coach Landoch said.
Tiverton, by virtue of its outstanding play to date, now turns its attention to the Open State Championship Tournament which begins on Thursday, March 9.
As he wrapped up talk of Sunday’s title, Coach Landoch said with a smile, “On to the states.”