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The seventh grade state champs. Front row: Ryan Rathbun, Will Thomas, Eli Johnson (sitting) Lucas Gillis, Will Mascena, Landon Bodington, Jack Brown, Ryan Harrington. Back row: Jamie Souza, Chris Tingley, Steve Brown (coach), Finn Moynihan, David Carreiro, Todd Mascena (coach), Lorenzo Meija.

It was a winter to remember for North Kingstown travel basketball’s seventh grade boys team. The squad lost just two games all season and avenged both of those defeats in the postseason en route to the Rhode Island Youth Basketball Association’s gold division state championship early last month.

A strong group of players, most of whom have been playing together since fourth grade, put it all together this season.

“First of all, they are a great group of kids that had fun playing together,” coach Todd Mascena said. “We played as a team whether cheering from the bench or picking each other up on the court, always helping and supporting each other. On the court, they each came into their own this year. The middle school years are funny like that. Everyone matures at a different pace. We knew we had talented players but weren’t sure if we could bring it all together as a team. Last year’s team finished in fifth place and lost a one-point game in the state tournament after leading late in the game. We didn’t close it out. When the ball didn’t bounce our way, we had trouble recovering last year.”

Winning the title in its first tournament of this season offered signs of where North Kingstown was headed.

“This year, we realized we had something special in our first tournament,” Mascena said. “We played teams we had lost to the year before and beat them this time around. Our very first game of the season was a back and forth game with a rival town that had beaten us pretty regularly over the past few years. We found ourselves down by double digits in the second half but we turned up the defensive effort and came back for the win. We played that same team in the final and never trailed.”

North Kingstown played in eight tournaments over the course of the season, made the finals in seven of them and won the championship six times. Defense was the bedrock of all the success.

“This year’s team really bought in to our ‘defense first’ philosophy and being confident in ourselves,” Mascena said. “We played tough, pressure team defense and closed out all of our close games with confidence. We never let up on the defensive side of the ball, whether it was a starter or the 12th guy on the roster. We preached to the team that everyone will have a bad offensive day but defense is hard work and you can always work hard.”

In the state tournament, North Kingstown matched up with Smithfield in the semifinals and Providence in the title game, the only two teams to beat them in the regular season. With everything on the line, North Kingstown was up to the task in the rematches, avenging both losses to claim the championship. The team finished the season 28-2.

“We felt as though we didn’t play our best game and the ball didn’t bounce our way in our first meetings,” Mascena said. “The kids believed that if we played our game – not Smithfield’s or Providence’s – which didn’t really happen the first time around, we could beat anyone. After our loss to Providence late in the season, coach [Steve] Brown introduced a triangle and two defense to specifically play against Providence. We typically played a 1-3-1 full court, three-quarter, or half court defense. The kids embraced it and worked hard to learn it. Although Providence was a deep team, we knew their success went through two players. The kids executed and the defensive game plan was a huge difference. They bought in again.”

Team members were Ryan Rathbun, Will Thomas, Eli Johnson, Lucas Gillis, Will Mascena, Landon Bodington, Jack Brown, Ryan Harrington, Jamie Souza, Chris Tingley, Finn Moynihan, David Carreiro and Lorenzo Meija. Todd Mascena and Steve Brown coached the team.

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