March 29, 2023

Townie Basketball Trivia on Championship Weekend

East Providence - Hendricken play in Final Four Saturday at 6 pm at URI... Winner Goes to Title Game on Sunday at URI


With March Madness for basketball in full swing and East Providence boys basketball in the high school Final Four this weekend, let’s take a look back at some Townie history. I apologize now for any missing names or information in my recollections. Much of this information is from my own recollection of events and other data from the RI High School Sports information site.

EP-Central 1969 Title Game
My oldest yet vivid memory is from the 1968-69 state basketball championship between East Providence and Central High. It was the first ever televised high school game in Rhode Island and was played at Providence College’s Alumni Hall. As a 9th grader at Central Junior High (no relation to Central High) I followed the Townies all year and was at that game. It was an exciting matchup between the two powers in Rhode Island at that time – EP and Central. Central featured Marvin Barnes and Rick Santos and EP had Al “Dubby” Soares, Nelson Lopes, Ralph Roberti and others. All of RI awaited this big game. Especially the Soares-Barnes matchup. Central (12-0) beat East Providence (11-1) 67-63 for the state title in a thrilling game. Nelson Lopes was top scorer with 23 points and Soares had 17 points and numerous rebounds and four major blocks under the basket.

Barnes of Central had 22 points and Central’s team shooting average was 43.5% However, EP shot for 48.3% and led at halftime 35-26. Ralph Roberti grabbed 11 rebounds for EP who outrebounded Central 39-37 in the game. Each side only committed 8 fouls despite tremendous defensive pressure throughout the game. “Dubby” Soares was foul-free in a dominating performance for the Townies under the basket. Central pulled it out in the end and the game lived up to its hype and is still one of, if not the best, high school games ever played. From 1969 until 1976 when East Providence beat LaSalle for the title, Central won titles consecutively.

East Providence has won four RI State Championships in boys basketball. The Townies won in the following years:

1944-45 East Providence (12-2) Beat Westerly (14-0): 50-48 OT (Sudden Death)
1953-54 East Providence (11-1) Beat De La Salle (9-3): 46-29
1961-62 East Providence (10-2) Beat Rogers (13-1): 53-49
1975-76 East Providence (12-2) Beat La Salle (12-4): 40-38

The Townies were runners up in these state title games
1960-61 Hope (14-0) Beat East Providence (11-1): 71-50
1963-64 Tolman (14-0) Beat East Providence (11-3): 57-54
1968-69 Central (12-0) Beat East Providence (11-1): 67-63
1973-74 Central (16-0) Beat East Providence (14-2): 85-45
1992-93 Rogers (14-4) Beat East Providence (12-6): 65-44
2002-03 Mt. Pleasant (13-3) Beat East Providence (9-7): 60-49

Thrilling Title Game for EP in 1976
Another exciting game was the 1976 State Championship game between East Providence and LaSalle. George Leonardo and his Townie teammates beat LaSalle for the State Championship that year in thrilling fashion. It was Leonardo's basket with time running out, that clinched the win for EP. "It was a great game," recalled former EPHS Athletic Director Ed Cronin. "The game came down to the wire and was tied with almost no time left. LaSalle had the ball, going for the win but it was George Leonardo who stole the ball for EP and made the game winning shot for coach Everett Aldriches' Townies," said Cronin. "One of the smallest guys on the floor (Leonardo), hit the winning shot, giving EP the State Championship.”

Basketball 1000 Career Point Club
Leonardo’s daughter, Angie, class of 2016, also played basketball for EPHS. She was the second girl to score 1,000 career points for the Townies. Leonardo's record was also set as East Providence made a good run through the state playoffs. Leonardo was a talented ball handler for the Townies and prolific scorer. Leonardo scored 5 three-pointers and went 8 for 10 at the foul line, adding to her total of 27 points in the victory over EWG reaching the coveted 1000-point milestone. After the 1000-point victory game, Leonardo told The Reporter, "The record is nice but our goal is the team championship."

Curtis Alves, Class of 1979, was one of the early 1000 points plus Career club member. "Curtis was a great Townie student-athlete and a wonderful gentleman," wrote former EPHS Athletic Director Phil Ricci years ago. Alves was also a first-team RI All-Stater in 1979.

Derek LaCroix, class of 2002, scored his 1000th career point for the Townie boys team with the first basket of the night in a game against Rogers High School on February 18, 2002 at EPHS. LaCroix tossed in 18 points to help the Townies defeat Rogers High 67-61. "My teammates were great and I really enjoyed playing for coach Kevin Monagle," said LaCroix.

LaCroix also played volleyball at EP. "I was part of the team that won back-to-back State Championships from 2000-2002," LaCroix told The Reporter. "It was great playing for Coach Carvalho." Carvalho's boys and girls volleyball teams both won state championships in 2002. LaCroix was a key player in volleyball and was an All-State selection.

Another 1000 point club member is Dion Hazard, Jr. who accomplished that milestone in 2019 for the Townies. His brother Xavier Hazard is a current key play for the 2023 Townies. Dion won numerous student-athlete awards at EPHS.

The first girl to score 1000 points for Townie basketball is Michaela Wiggins, class of 2011. Wiggins became a successful actress of film, television and theatre. Wiggins returned to Rhode Island from Florida in March of 2017 to watch her alma mater Townies in state playoff action. "I flew in to see the girls play in the division championship a few weekends ago, once a Townie always a Townie!" Wiggins told The Reporter.

"Playing basketball at East Providence helped shape me into the person I am today. We worked hard every day in practice and were held to a very high standard. I developed a great work ethic and was taught to never quit," recalls Wiggins.

On January 31, 1992, Ep Townie Kevin Bliss scored his 1,000th point in a game against Hendricken. Bliss would go on to score 1,121 points in his storied Townie career. "It's been nice to be recognized as one of the best scorers to play at EP. Scoring 1,000 pts. is not easy. It's been many years since then and EP has had many great players,” said Bliss. "I played with a lot of good athletes and appreciate them to this day. I grew up playing with guys like Quinn Britto, Dion Hazard, Alex Butler and my brother Kenny," said Bliss. "RIP to Coach Bernie Pina who believed in me as soon as he saw me play & gave me the starting point guard position as a Sophomore. I've always been proud that I started every game I played at EP." A particular distinction for Bliss' scoring record is the fact that he did so within a three year career compared to the current four year high schools.

Other Townie 1000 Point Career Club members are: Curtis Alves 1979, Kevin Bliss 1992, Bobby Perry 2007 and Dion Hazzard 2019.

Alex Butler and Jennifer Dygon (DeGroot) class of 2000, missed out on the EPHS 1000-point club, but not for lack of talent. Butler was injured and both played when high school was a three, not four-year school. Their careers were still nothing short of dazzling. “If high school was four years back then, they would have easily reached that plateau.” Butler did surpass that total with 2,398 career points while an All-American at RIC. Kenny Bliss reached this goal in college ball and was inducted into the RIC Hall of Fame.

St. Mary’s Bay View also has members of the exclusive 1000 point club: Lisa Ercolano, Kerri Augenstein, Deirdre Fuller and Meredith McGair. The Reporter talked with the now Dr. Lisa Ercolano for a prior story. "I have great, yet vague memories of the night when I reached the 1000th point in my basketball career at Bay View," said Dr. Ercolano. "My memories are great when I look at pictures from that night and the signed basketball that I have from back then. I do remember being more concerned with winning games as a team, rather than an individual award," added Ercolano. "Without question, I believe that youth sports and school sports is very important. It may sound cliché, but sports can teach one how to work with one another," said Ercolano. "It's also not a bad thing to be competitive and to want to win. Sports involvement can teach one about prioritizing time and it just helps to put things together," she added.

History of RI State Championship Configurations
•1932-33 called Class A
•From 1933-34 until 1965-66 teams from all classes/ divisions competed in the State tournament
•In 1940-41 Westerly asked for the best of three championship series to be reduced to a one game winner-take-all after they had played two three game playoff series prior; Pawtucket West declined and was awarded the State Championship
•1966-67 until 1971-72 called Class A
•1972-73 until 1979-80 called Metropolitan Division
•1980-81 until 1995-96 called Class A
•1996-97 until 1999-00 called Division I
•2000-01 until 2003-04 called Division I-AA
•2004-05 called Division I State
•2005-06 until 2009-10 called Division I
•2019-20: State tournament was cancelled due to virus; Division I Champion Hendricken was declared State Champions
•2021: State tournament was not held due to virus
•2010-11 to the present: teams from all classes/ divisions compete in the State Tournament

(Thanks to RIHSS and Henry Coleman, David Harris, and Pat McAloon for contributing to some of this information.)


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