The Warwick Vets boys’ basketball team has had a rigorous non-league schedule to open its season, and it’s been an up-and-down start for the ’Canes.
Thursday was one of the ups thanks to a second-half run that was a small glimpse of exactly what Vets wants to accomplish this year.
Playing Toll Gate, the ’Canes turned an eight-point lead at halftime into a 19-point cushion thanks to a quick 10-0 run. The lead never fell below double digits again, as Vets improved to 2-2 overall with a 52-38 win.
“I think we have a good mix this year of some bigs and some littles and some bangers and some shooters,” Vets head coach Chris LeBlanc said. “I think we’ll do pretty well.”
The ’Canes were coming off a 60-57 overtime loss to Johnston on Sunday, their third game in as many days. With some rest between then and the Toll Gate game, Vets had no problem with fatigue. The second-half run proved that.
“I’m happy. We went up by 20 and I went to take some clock, slow it down,” LeBlanc said. “That turned out to be a mistake.”
Toll Gate fell to 0-3 thus far, as it also has losses to Hendricken in an Injury Fund game last week and to West Warwick on Monday. But the Titans are almost entirely inexperienced on the court, and Thursday was their best performance of the season.
Bert Lu and Zach Bacon had 11 points each, while Adam Brice had 10. Plus, the Titans got the game back within 12 points after falling behind by the 19-point margin.
“Vets pretty much controlled the game, but we had chances where we could have made it a game,” Rayko said. “That’s what I’m looking for. If we can build off that, we might be some place by the end of the season.”
The ’Canes were led by standout Will Remak, with 13 points, although he was somewhat held in check by Toll Gate’s Matt Keller, who played man defense on him the majority of the game. Scott Camara had nine points for Vets, Ryan Wirth had eight and Josh Muto had seven.
Everyone was clicking at the beginning of the second half.
Holding a 30-22 lead, Vets scored four straight points on fast-break buckets by Camara and Muto before Kyle Maguire knocked down a three for Toll Gate to make it 34-25.
That’s when Vets took off. The Titans turned the ball over on their next possession and Remak promptly followed that with a three. After the teams traded possessions, Camara kept things going with a hard drive to the basket, where he scored and was fouled. The ensuing free throw made it 40-25.
The teams traded possessions again before Toll Gate committed another turnover. Remak kept the ’Canes moving quickly, slashing to the hoop for an easy bucket. After one more Titans’ turnover, Israel Thomas converted a layup to make it 44-25.
“We’re competing every night,” LeBlanc said. “I like that.”
From there, Vets let its guard down some, as it tried to slow the pace. Toll Gate took advantage, going on a run of its own to get back within 12 points at 46-34 with 5:20 remaining in the game on two free throws from McGuire.
Armed then with a chance to make it a 10-point game, McGuire missed two free throws, and Remak hit one on the other side to make it 47-34. Toll Gate never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.
Rayko was proud of the effort. There are only three seniors on his roster.
“We played two tough opening games,” Rayko said. “We played Hendricken – which is always a tough opening game. I think the kids were a little bit down on themselves. West Warwick is another really good program. It was really uplifting to see the kids come out, not die, fight really hard, stay in the game.”
Vets was happy too, especially to get back in the win column after dropping two of three over the weekend. It lost to Chariho by two points on Friday, beat Lincoln the next night and then lost to Johnston. It’s also playing without big man Kevin Martin, and players like Thomas and Kyle Rice have had to miss time so far as well.
“I’m not trying to find the right mix because I have, in my opinion, 12 guys that can start,” LeBlanc said. “I think I’m really deep this year. If I needed to go fast, needed to go big, I think I have that luxury.”
Vets jumped out to an 8-3 lead in the game thanks to four straight points from Camara, and led 14-7 after a fast-break layup by Remak. But Toll Gate went on a 7-0 run to tie the score up, getting a three-pointer from Bacon, a short jumper from Brice and a layup by Lu.
The Titans were within one point as late as 19-18 before Vets closed the half on an 11-4 run.
“It was seven or eight points each half,” Rayko said. “If we can clean that up, make it a closer game I think we’ll be much better going forward.”
Toll Gate will have one more non-league game before returning to league play, as it was scheduled to host Division II Cumberland on Monday, with the results unavailable at press time. After that, it will host Pilgrim on Jan. 3 at 7 p.m.
Vets meanwhile will play in the Wildcat Winter Classic at Weston (Mass.) High School over the weekend, with games slotted for Friday and Saturday.
Vets returns to league play on Jan. 3 as well, traveling to Juanita Sanchez for a 7 p.m. tip.