With defense having its way and droughts piling up, Saturday’s consolation game in the Coventry Credit Union Holiday Classic was ripe for decisive scoring runs.
Only the Hurricanes could deliver.
Vets broke open a low-scoring affair with an 11-0 run late in the first half. The ’Canes struggled to score after the break, but Pilgrim never put together a run of its own and Vets prevailed 40-32 in day two of the annual event at Coventry High School.
“We were able to produce off a couple of their turnovers,” said Vets head coach Owen Paquet. “That’s always what we want to do. It was definitely the winner for us, because they came out of the locker room in the second half and really went after us. Thank god for that nice stretch in the first half.”
Emily Almonte and Victoria Ferri led the ’Canes with eight points each, while Pilgrim’s Maddie Craik led all scorers with 10.
The victory was Vets’ second against a Warwick rival this year. The ’Canes beat Toll Gate in a non-league game in the season opener. They had lost four straight – including a 61-35 defeat to Coventry in the first round of the tournament – before Saturday’s win.
The Patriots dropped to 1-2 overall. They lost to West Warwick 48-31 in round one of the tourney.
“For Warwick Vets, that’s our goal against our inter-city rivals,” Paquet said. “We want to win whenever we play them. They’re both hard teams. This was a solid victory.”
Both teams struggled to score in the early going, with turnovers as the biggest culprit. But Vets eventually started winning the turnover battle by limiting its own and capitalizing on Pilgrim’s.
The result was the game’s one big run.
Trailing 8-7 with 5:51 left in the first half, the ’Canes got a jumper on the break from Emily Almonte and a baseline jumper from Lauren Almonte a minute later.
Then came the turnovers.
Lauren Almonte came up with a steal just after her bucket. She missed a shot but Casey Bennett grabbed the rebound and was fouled. She hit one of two free throws to push the lead to four.
A steal by Emily Almonte and a pass ahead set up a layup by freshman Katherine Raposo. Emily Almonte then came up with another steal and hit a tough shot at the other end to push the lead to eight. A three-second call ended Pilgrim’s next possession, and Raposo followed with a fast-break layup.
Vets led 18-8 and would never trail again.
Pilgrim got back within six on four straight points by Alexa Annotti, but another Pilgrim turnover led to a Ricki Beaufort three-pointer. A steal set up Beaufort for a floater with 43 seconds left, Abbie Paul hit a free throw and Ferri scored inside at the buzzer to hammer the run home.
The ’Canes went to the break leading 26-13. Pilgrim committed 22 first-half turnovers.
“We came out with a lack of energy and intensity,” said Pilgrim head coach Ian Smith. “Little bit of inexperience and a little bit of just making mistakes. I thought we turned the ball over more than they turned us over – a lot of bad passes, we didn’t go catch passes. That was a major problem.”
The other problem was a lack of production inside. With Craik and Haley Donahay, Pilgrim had an edge in size and experience in the paint, but didn’t use it in the first half.
“The main thing we talked about today was points in the paint,” Smith said. “At halftime, they had 18 points in the paint and we had zero, in a 13-point game.”
As it set out on the comeback trail, Pilgrim made some strides, buckling down on defense, limiting turnovers and scoring inside.
But the run never came.
After the Pats cut the lead to 30-20 with 9:59 left, they held Vets without a point for the next four minutes. At the other end, though, Pilgrim didn’t make a field goal. Three free throws by Craik got them within seven, but when Paul broke Vets’ drought with a jumper, the lead was quickly back to nine.
“The second half went exactly the way we wanted,” Smith said. “We just didn’t score like we needed to.”
The Pats stayed within striking distance but continued to struggle mightily from the field. After the 9:59 mark, the Pats went to the free throw line seven times but didn’t make another field goal until Craik’s follow with 25 seconds left.
By then, the ’Canes had held Pilgrim off. Ferri and Emily Almonte scored four straight points to push the lead back to 10 with 3:29 left. Bennett made it 11 with 46 seconds left then hit two free throws to get an eight-point lead back to 10 with 22 seconds to go.
“Pilgrim made a nice little comeback at us,” Paquet said. “Six points for a lot of the second half is really poor for our offense. But I thought we did a nice job on the press. We stepped up the defense. The two freshmen, Victoria Ferri and Katherine Raposo, are nice additions to the team, offensively and defensively. We’re lacking some height so their aggressiveness really helps us a ton.”
In addition to the eight points by Ferri and Emily Almonte, Beaufort chipped in seven, Lauren Almonte scored five, Bennett scored five, Raposo had four and Paul scored three.
Craik’s 10 points for Pilgrim all came in the second half. Donahay scored five, while Annotti, Megan St. Jacques and Alexia Martins tallied four each.
Vets is set for another non-league game against North Smithfield on Friday before diving into the thick of league play with a Monday game against Mt. Pleasant and a rematch against Pilgrim on Tuesday.
“We get to see Pilgrim again coming up,” Paquet said. “We have another non-league game then we jump into league play with Mt. Pleasant and Pilgrim. With those couple practices in, we’ve got to work more on moving the ball around and spacing. We’ve got to score more points.”
Pilgrim plays Shea on Thursday. The game against Warwick Vets on Tuesday will be its first taste of league play.
“Fortunately, it doesn’t matter in terms of playoffs,” Smith said. “We play them again and we should be a different team on the seventh. Things are going in the right direction. The last two games didn’t go the way we wanted. We’ve seen what we need to work on and there’s still plenty of time to work on them. Some people are starting to establish themselves in roles, and we’re getting some rotations that work. They’re working hard and things are going in the right direction.”