Pilgrim didn’t play a perfect first half in Tuesday’s girls’ basketball game against Johnston, but it was still the right kind of half. The Pats dictated tempo, forced 14 turnovers and went to the break trailing by just a point against the 6-2 Panthers.
The second half was Johnston’s kind of half, and that was bad news for Pilgrim. The Panthers turned up their defensive pressure, reeled off a 13-0 run to start the half and never looked back en route to a 53-27 victory.
The Pats fell to 1-8 in league play.
“First half, we did a lot of the things that we wanted to do,” said Pilgrim head coach Ian Smith. “I felt like we controlled the game and we made them play our style of basketball. In the second half, they turned the tables on us and we had to play their style, which we couldn’t keep up with. They pressed us, and turnovers continue to be our biggest problem. Once they forced the turnovers, they turned the scoreboard.”
Johnston was coming off a 53-49 loss to Moses Brown, which ended a four-game winning streak.
The 53 points were the most the Panthers had allowed in a league game this season. That led to a renewed emphasis on defense, and it paid off against the Pats.
“We really wanted to concentrate on our defense,” said head coach Chris Corsinetti. “We had a couple of goals that we wanted today and one of them was to keep them at their average or below. Our defense stepped up and we did that. We were able to accomplish it.”
Pilgrim started down the right path. Katelyn Reph hit a driving layup for a 2-0 lead to open the game and Megan St. Jacques scored on a putback to make it 4-0. At the other end, the Pats used an active 2-3 zone defense to hold Johnston in check. The Panthers missed their first eight shots from the field.
The Pats weren’t on fire either but they managed to stay in front for the first 10 minutes of the game.
Late in the first half, the Panthers finally found their footing and defense was the spark. A steal and layup by Aziza Asad gave Johnston its first lead at 10-9 with 5:25 left. Alex DiRaimo followed with a steal and layup of her own to make it 12-9.
Even though Pilgrim stayed close for the rest of the first half, Johnston would never trail again.
And soon enough, Pilgrim couldn’t stay close anymore.
After carrying a one-point lead into halftime, Johnston turned the defensive intensity way up to start the second half and blitzed Pilgrim with a 13-0 run.
Every single point in the run came off a turnover. Karina Mattera and Alex DiRaimo scored layups off steals to start the scoring, and another turnover led to a pull-up jumper by Mattera. Isabella DiRaimo followed with two steals that led to two Mattera layups. Finally, Mattera delivered a dagger with a three-pointer off another Pilgrim giveaway.
Just like that, Johnston led 31-17.
“We’ve had a lot of very good first halves,” Smith said. “Adjustments that other teams make, we don’t counter-act and we don’t make our adjustments that we talk about. Eventually, teams run away from us.”
And the Panthers kept running. After Pilgrim finally stopped the run with an Alexa Annotti free throw, Mattera followed with a run-out layup before Jenna Pizzi buried a three to up the lead to 18.
Pilgrim got two buckets from Betsy Heidel to get the deficit back to 14 with 9:56 left, but the Panthers quickly surged again. Mattera picked up a steal and went in for a basket before Isabella DiRaimo drained threes on consecutive possessions. DiRaimo then capped the 10-0 run with a steal and layup.
Pilgrim committed 25 second-half turnovers.
“We work on it every day and everyone knows ball security is our focus,” Smith said. “They’re doing their best, but it’s a process we’re still working on.”
Mattera led the Panthers with 21 points, Isabella DiRaimo scored 10 and Alex DiRaimo chipped in seven. Heidel led Pilgrim with nine points and Reph scored seven.
The loss was the sixth straight league defeat for the Pats, but the effort level hasn’t dipped.
“The girls have been great,” Smith said. “They work hard every day and they do everything they can. They’re still determined. They’re still talking about making the playoffs, so I can’t complain about anything that’s happening except the scoreboards.”
Pilgrim was scheduled to play Toll Gate in a non-league game on Wednesday, with results unavailable at press time. On Friday, the Pats will host Lincoln at 7 p.m.