The Warwick Vets girls’ basketball team likes to turn up the pressure, force turnovers and play at a fast pace. On Tuesday night, the ’Canes couldn’t do it – because they ran into a team that did it better.
First-place St. Raphael traveled to Vets and dictated the tempo from the start, using relentless full-court pressure to force 18 first-half turnovers. The Saints scored 20 points off those turnovers and raced to a 21-point lead at the break. Despite a better second half from Vets, the Saints cruised to a 60-33 victory.
“The turnovers were tough,” said Vets assistant coach Gary Costantino. “They’re just a big, physical team. Our guards were a little out-matched physically and we just couldn’t get it going. We couldn’t get the ball over half-court. We broke the press sometimes but when we tried to run our offense, we would just turn the ball over.”
That led to a third straight loss for the ’Canes, who fell to 2-4 in league play. The new year got off to a good start, with Vets beating Mt. Pleasant 41-23 on Jan. 3. Since then, though, it’s been rough. A bad first half led to a loss to Moses Brown on Jan. 9. The next night, Vets rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit against Classical and tied the game in the final moments. But the Purple scored the game-winner with five seconds left, dealing Vets a heartbreaker.
Both Moses Brown and Classical are behind St. Raphael in the standings, so Tuesday’s game shaped up as an even tougher challenge.
And it was every bit as tough as Vets feared.
The ’Canes turned the ball over on their first three possessions and had given it up 10 times by the 10-minute mark of the first half.
The Saints, who played in Division I last year, took full advantage, scoring the game’s first seven points before Casey Bennett got Vets on the board with a pair of free throws.
On its next possession, Vets navigated the St. Raphael press to perfection and ended up with a layup for Cassidi-Hunter Plouffe. That made it 7-4, but it wouldn’t get any better than that.
After the ’Canes made a stop, they gave the ball right back and Oluwaseun Shittu raced in for a layup. Another quick turnover led to a three-pointer by Felicia Baccari and a 12-4 lead.
“They run that 3-2 trap and the full-court man-to-man,” Costantino said. “As soon as you pick up your dribble, they’re double-teaming you. It’s tough to get through, especially when they’re so big and physical. It’s tough to make the pass over them. They just swarm to the ball.”
Vets made it 12-6 on a jumper in the lane by Jami Derderian, but the Saints continued to pull away. Four more turnovers led to a 9-0 run that made it 21-6 with 7:09 left in the half.
That was a big deficit, especially with Vets feeling like it couldn’t use its own press.
“It’s tough to press a team like that, because their guard play is so good,” Costantino said. “They make a few passes and physically, they’re faster than us, so all of a sudden, they break the press easily. We had to get back on defense and try to beat them down the court.”
The ’Canes started to take better care of the ball later in the first half, but the Saints still outscored them 14-8 the rest of the way.
“We played West Warwick in a non-league game and that was probably the closest we’ve seen to a team like this,” Costantino said. “[St. Raphael] is a very good team. They’re physical, they can take the ball to the hole, they can hit outside shots. That’s all you can ask for. They’re probably one of the better teams we’ll see all year.”
Trailing by 21 at the break, Vets focused on hanging tough and had some success in that effort. After a 7-1 Saints run to start the half, it was 18-18 the rest of the way.
“I thought the intensity in the second half was a little bit better,” Costantino said. “We ran our offense more and defensively, I thought we matched up pretty well. I thought we did a good job weak-side boxing out and on the boards tonight, and that’s been a weak point all year. We’ve been giving teams second or third opportunities and we kind of limited that tonight. A game like this, you just want to take some positives out of it – boxing out and playing physical in the second half.”
Bennett led the ’Canes with 11 points, Flynn chipped in six and Plouffe scored five. Jenna Fontaine added three.
Shittu led a balanced Saints attack with 11 points. Lauren Gaj and Kelsy Lynch were in double figures with 10 points each.
The ’Canes will be back in action today when they visit Johnston at 7 p.m. The Panthers were a D-II semifinalist last year and return the bulk of their lineup. They’re 5-6 overall this season but 4-1 in league play.
Regardless of what Johnston brings to the table, the ’Canes will focus on playing a complete game.
“We need to play two halves of basketball,” Costantino said. “Like you saw tonight, that second-half team was a different team. Even though some of their starters were out, we still did what we had to do. The energy was much different. We’ve got to do that all the time and play two halves of basketball.”