Playing the defending Division II runners-up on Monday night, the Warwick Vets girls’ basketball put itself in position to pull off the upset in its first league game of the season.
Then Classical caught fire.
The ’Canes led for the entire first half and didn’t trail until there was 9:48 to play in the game. They led as late as 4:26, but couldn’t hold off the Purple’s hot shooting down the stretch and fell 41-36.
In a game that Vets seemed to be controlling for most of the way, it was a rough way to open the season.
“Basketball is all about momentum,” Vets head coach Owen Paquet said. “They got the momentum right at the end, where we didn’t. We’re at home, and it’s a tough loss for us because we want to be successful at home, and flow things our way.”
Casey Bennett led Vets with 19 points, including two three-pointers down the stretch to keep the game close, as Vets desperately tried to hold on.
Classical, though, barely missed. After struggling from the field for most of the game, the Purple hit four of their final five shots from the field and three of their final four free throws to put the game on ice. They turned the ball over 23 times on the game, but only once in the final four minutes.
The biggest shot came with 1:13 to play. Bennett had just made a three for Vets to tie the game at 33-33 before Alva Hicks converted a shot in the paint while falling down to give the Purple a two-point lead. Bennett missed a three on the other side and Classical made it hurt.
Samantha Poch caught the ball in the left corner and – with Vets defenders charging out at her – knocked down a three. It was her only make from beyond the arc in four attempts on the game, and it came at a crushing time for the ’Canes.
“The last under a minute to go, with the three-pointer from the corner,” Paquet said. “That was a dagger for us. We were out there contesting it, too, and it was a big shot for them to hit.”
Down by five, Vets got within three points two possessions later when Bennett hit another three on the heels of a Poch free throw, but Allison McPherson made two big free throws with 12 seconds left to put the game on ice.
Vets led 15-12 at halftime, getting six points from Katie Gregory to set the tone early on. It led by as many as seven points – at 11-4 – and then extended the advantage back to seven early in the second half on a jumper by Victoria Flynn. That made the score 19-12.
Yet, after successfully full-court pressing for most of the game, Vets began to struggle. Classical went on a 7-0 run, getting four points from Catie Peligian to tie the game, and then the Purple took their first lead of the game on a tip in by Geriah Balbirsingh.
“We had trouble stopping them from getting layups in the second half with our full-court press,” Paquet said. “We definitely had to change things up and lay off on it. It worked hard for the first half, then I just fell back into a zone defense.”
Vets came back, though, taking leads at 25-23, 27-25 and 30-27 before Classical went ahead 31-30 on a short jumper by Balbirsingh.
Down 33-30, right before Bennett hit a three to tie the score, Vets was dealt a big blow, as center Katie Gregory took a charge and hit her head on the court. She had to leave the game and didn’t return.
For a team that was already only playing six players, losing one of its top scorers and biggest inside presence was certainly significant.
“It was so tight of a game that I had trouble getting the bench players in tonight,” Paquet said.
Gregory was Vets’ second-leading scorer with eight points, while Cassidi-Hunter Plouffe had four, Flynn and Emily Almonte had two and Lauren Almonte had one.
Beyond Bennett, the ’Canes had trouble finding a reliable option on the offensive end for much of the game.
“We’re still working on swinging the basketball and trying to find an added scorer to the team,” Paquet said. “Everybody has been scoring six to 10 points, which is nice, but on an inconsistent basis. We’re looking for that girl to step up and wondering which one it’s going to be. Because they all have the potential to do it.”
Now at 0-1in D-II, Vets will try to get its first league win tonight when it hosts cross-town rival Pilgrim at 7 p.m.
The Pats will be playing their first league game of the year.
“After a game like this, you’ve got to tell them to keep their head up,” Paquet said. “We were right there. We had moments of greatness. Just keep coming back to practice, and keep working. Keep playing every second of every minute of every game.”