There really isn’t an opportunity to win every game for the Pilgrim girls’ basketball team, especially when it faces some of the top teams in Division II.
Lately though, when the Pats have had the chance, they’ve seized it. On Thursday in a non-league game against Toll Gate, they did it again.
Pilgrim got an 18-point effort from senior captain Maddy Craik and hung on late against a hard-charging Titans team to win 48-44. It was Pilgrim’s second straight win, as it also beat Burrillville last Tuesday.
The Pats did fall to first-place Johnston 46-24 on Friday, but that was a tough match-up to begin with. In the games where they should be competitive, they are, and they’re winning to boot.
“A great, great week having two wins on the road,” said Pilgrim head coach Ian Smith. “City games just mean a little bit more. Even though it’s non-league, you’d never guess it.”
Pilgrim won for the fourth time overall this season, and its record in Division II-Central is 2-8. Toll Gate – a team in a similar boat as the Pats – missed an opportunity to get its third win of the year and is 1-7 in D-II-South. Toll Gate lost to Tiverton 47-33 on Friday.
Sarah Sagnella led the Titans with 20 points against Pilgrim, including four three-pointers.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Toll Gate head coach John Paolino. “We always talk about coming to play for 32 minutes, and we didn’t do that. In the first half we let them out-tough us. They dictated the tempo.”
Neither team led by more than six points in a first half that featured eight lead changes, with Pilgrim opening up the largest lead at 20-14 on a free throw by Craik, who made 10 of her 13 foul shots in the game. Courtney Iadevaia came right back to hit a three for the Titans to make the halftime score 20-17. Prior to that shot, however, the Pats were on a 13-2 run, thanks largely to five turnovers caused by a full-court press with Toll Gate point guard Laura McGuire on the bench.
“Just like the other night, we went into the half with all the momentum,” Smith said. “That’s huge, to have the momentum at halftime.”
It didn’t carry over to the second half initially, where Toll Gate took a 23-22 lead on a bucket inside by Hannah McNulty.
But the Titans never led again. Pilgrim stayed just barely in front for the next 10 minutes before opening up a nine-point lead – 38-29 – at the 5:29 mark thanks to two free throws from Alexia Martins.
Toll Gate came charging back, with Sagnella scoring on an old-fashioned three-point play to get it started, followed by a putback by Jackie Falso and another basket inside by McNulty. McNulty then hit one free throw with 3:04 left, pulling the Titans back within one point at 38-37.
“We played with a lot more intensity in the second half,” Paolino said. “We picked up the pace a little bit and we did a better job with ball movement and trying to get to the ball into McNulty.”
Reeling, the Pats found a way to regain control, mostly thanks to Craik. First she grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a putback to make it 40-37. Then after Toll Gate missed a shot on the other end and was whistled for a loose ball foul, Paolino was called for a technical foul for arguing the call, giving Pilgrim four free throws and the ball.
Since Craik was the player who had initially been fouled, she had to take the first two and Smith selected her to take the two technical shots as well.
She made all four free throws. With 1:40 to go, her personal 6-0 run put the Pats up 44-37.
“I knew I had to just concentrate,” Craik said. “The game was kind of close, and I had to just keep my head up and focus on the rim and make them. My team was counting on me, so I had to make all four.”
Those four free throws gave Pilgrim some breathing room.
“As a senior, she was in charge,” Smith said. “She’s been a great leader all season, her and (fellow senior captain Haley Donahay). That was a great moment for her and I’m sure something she’ll never forget.”
Toll Gate didn’t quit from there, actually narrowing the gap to 47-43 on a three from Sagnella, but Alexa Annotti hit two free throws down the stretch and Martins hit one free throw with eight seconds left to make it a four-point game and keep the Titans from having a chance to tie the score.
Sagnella was a big bright spot for Toll Gate. Her 20 points were a career high.
“I was very happy for her as she has always accepted her role in our program and has done whatever we have asked her to do,” Paolino said. “She plays great defense and is our best shooter – it was nice to see her connect on her shots tonight.”
McNulty added 10 points for the Titans, while Iadevaia chipped in with five. Craik was Pilgrim’s lone scorer in double figures, but Clare Birney scored nine and Martins scored seven.
“I think winning keeps pushing us to do better,” Craik said. “I think as the year goes on we’re going to think of all the good stuff that we’ve done in these past two games.”
The Pats will have another winnable game on Wednesday, as they host 3-5 Mount St. Charles at 6:30 p.m. Toll Gate actually played Mount last Thursday in a non-league game and beat the Mounties 41-36. McGuire had 16 points in that game and McNulty had 15.
The Titans will be back on the court today for a tough match-up on the road at unbeaten Rogers at 7 p.m. On Thursday, it should get a little easier, as they will travel to winless Tolman for a 7 p.m. tip.