After a devastating 53-49 defeat against Narragansett last week, the Toll Gate girls’ basketball team couldn’t do anything but get past it and progress against the Avengers of East Greenwich Monday night.
“We have to learn to win,” head coach John Paolino said. “We should have beat Narragansett. We had to win that game. That was a must-win.”
Wins come in bunches, but so do losses. Toll Gate had glimpses of success putting the ball in the hoop, but also had trouble keeping possession of the basketball, causing the Titans a 54-28 defeat for their third consecutive division loss.
“Turnovers have always been our Achilles’ heel,” Paolino said. “That was a problem last year, it’s a problem this year. Believe it or not, we are actually improving upon it. But until we make good decisions, that’s going to be a problem. So that is something we are constantly working on because our half-court defense is not too bad. It’s when we are in transition or our regular offense we just give the ball away. That’s something we need to continue to work on.”
Toll Gate stuck around throughout the game, trying to inch towards breaking a double-digit deficit with offensive rebounding and getting to the charity stripe. But East Greenwich found a path to the basket in the closing minutes of the first half thanks to some defensive complications by the Titans.
“We are having a very hard time of getting the ball in the hoop,” Paolino said. “We did a much better job than we have lately on getting offensive rebounds, but not finishing. We’ve got to finish. We have to get garbage points and put them in.”
In the opening minutes of the second half, the Titans brought that sense of urgency, driving hard to the basket and making East Greenwich work for their shots, which happened to create turnovers.
“I tell them they have to value the basketball and they have to take care of it,” Avengers head coach Tori Ahrens said. “I think sometimes my players see things and they just want it to get there, and it’s too late or too many girls collapsing on the open player. So we just need to make better decisions when it comes down to it. But we started the half with way too many turnovers.”
One of the bright spots of the second half, aside from having more chances on offense, was senior Laura McGuire. McGuire tried to keep Toll Gate in the game finishing with five points and trying to take matters in her hands to convert from the free-throw line.
“This is only her third game back,” Paolino said. “It certainly changes the chemistry on the team. She gives us the option to penetrate to push the ball if we need to, she can rebound for us.”
Along with McGuire, first-year center Hannah McNulty posted 10 points, six coming in the first half.
Toll Gate did a solid job defending the three-point shot in the absence of two substantial players, one being Brooke Casacalenda. Cascalenda was injured in the Officials/Boosters Tournament in late December.
“We are down some players right now,” Paolino said. “I got a swing player and a varsity player [Brooke Casacalenda], she’s our starting forward. Her sister [Braelyn] gives us more depth. But East Greenwich is deep from one to 12.”
The Avengers’ paint presence in the second half made it hard for Toll Gate to defend, which led to 24 points in the second half. Senior Hannah Anderson scored 10 points, but most importantly, converted on two key three-pointers that started to favor the Avengers midway through the second half. But the three-ball was not preached upon as a focal point for the Avengers.
“We have been working on that,” Ahrens said. “We can’t just live and die with the three-point shot, so we have been drilling into our girls that we need to get to basket and get to the foul line more. Unfortunately, we are not shooting well at the foul line, but at least they are getting there more and that’s a step in the right direction.”
Toll Gate acknowledges what’s it front of it and will look to improve, as well as snap its seven-game losing streak at home against Coventry on Thursday at 7 p.m.
“Looking ahead, I want us to keep on improving,” Paolino said. “With East Greenwich tonight and Coventry on Thursday, those are two top teams not only in our division, but in our Division II conference. We are going to be better as some of these players come back, but we have to win games that we should win. We can’t give away games like the Narragansett game. Obviously, we play to win every game but East Greenwich is going to be one of the better teams we play in the state.”