With both teams lacking a single a league win entering Friday night’s game, the Warwick Vets and Toll Gate girls’ basketball teams saw the match-up against each other as their best chance yet at a victory.
And the ’Canes seized the opportunity.
Behind 21 points from sophomore Casey Bennett and an early second half surge, Vets was able to hang on and knock off the Titans 45-38.
Vets improved to 1-8 in Division II-South, as Toll Gate fell to 0-9.
Simply getting a win was a relief for the ’Canes, who had come close in the past few weeks – including a 36-35 loss to second-place Rogers two weeks ago – but hadn’t been able to finish the job.
“They’re extremely excited to get the first victory,” Vets head coach Owen Paquet said. “It’s nice, because we’ve been so close. Toll Gate and us, we were both 0-8, so somebody was going to walk away with a win tonight and I’m glad it was us.”
Toll Gate was in good spirits, as well, after playing one of its most complete games of the season in the losing effort.
“We had a good week of practices, they went with the game plan,” Toll Gate head coach John Paolino said. “We always play hard, but they did play smart tonight.”
Nicole Fraser paced the Titans with 10 points, while Katie McCaughey added seven.
But at the end of the day, it was Bennett who made the difference.
After scoring just four points in the first half, and with the ’Canes nursing only an 18-16 lead at the break, Bennett scored 17 in the second half and was nearly unguardable for certain stretches.
With the Titans holding a 20-18 lead in the second half after scoring the first four points of the period, Bennett scored seven of her team’s next nine points – including a three-pointer – to put Vets up 27-22.
“She really stepped up and it’s so nice to see the consistency from her night-in and night-out,” Paquet said of Bennett. “She’s there, giving 110 percent and tonight she was able to execute and finish.”
Playing with that five-point lead, the ’Canes kept their foot on the gas pedal. Emily Almonte knocked down a jumper, Toll Gate missed on the other end and Katie Gregory converted on a fast-break layup to put Vets in front 31-22.
The Titans turned the ball over on both of their next two possessions – they had 20 on the night – and Bennett scored again. Another Toll Gate turnover led to another fast break for the ’Canes, and Bennett knocked down a short jumper for a 35-22 lead.
McCaughey knocked down a three on Toll Gate’s next possession to bring the deficit back down to 10, but another Bennett driving layup moved it right back to 12.
“I started driving to the basket,” Bennett said. “My shots weren’t falling, so I needed to go to the basket.”
Still, the Titans didn’t give in.
With 7:50 to play, Toll Gate got a four-point play from Sarah Sagnella, who hit a three from the right side, was fouled and knocked down the free throw.
The score was 37-29 at that point, but Toll Gate only drew as close as five points one time from there on out, as Vets managed to keep the Titans at bay.
With Toll Gate desperately trying to come back in the final two minutes, the ’Canes went to a full-court press, and forced three crucial turnovers.
“It was nice to see that it was actually working,” Paquet said of the press. “Girls were moving quickly on their toes and trying to anticipate the passes. It got Toll Gate entirely out of their rhythm.”
Trailing by five with under a minute to play, the Titans began to foul, but had only committed three team fouls up to that point.
Four times they had to foul Vets players after the inbounds pass. By the time Toll Gate committed its seventh foul of the half, there were only 25 seconds remaining.
Bennett went to the line and calmly hit two shots to seal the win.
“We told them we wanted them to foul because we were going to have to send them to the line anyways,” Paolino said. “A couple of times too much time went off the clock.”
Toll Gate came out of the gate hot in the first half, taking a 10-8 lead behind six points from Fraser. The two teams were never separated by more than two points the rest of the half, with Liz Bailey’s jumper with 15 seconds remaining in the half breaking a 16-16 tie to put the ’Canes up by two.
In the second half, Vets did what it had to do to pull away.
“It felt great to get a win,” Paquet said. “It was nice. We’ve come close in the past couple weeks, really stepping up against good teams, and we just couldn’t finish. Momentum tonight was strong, and we were able to finish.”
The ’Canes will play a non-league game at home against Scituate at 7 p.m. on Wednesday before traveling to West Warwick on Friday for a 7 p.m. game.
The Titans were scheduled to take on Cranston East on Monday, with the results unavailable at press time. On Wednesday, they’ll host West Warwick at 7 p.m.