The Pilgrim girls’ basketball team has felt like it’s gotten better as the season has gone on, but the wins and losses didn’t always reflect the team’s growth.
On Thursday, the Pats got some concrete proof that they’re not the same team that took the court when the year began.
Playing rival Warwick Vets for the third time this season, Pilgrim finally notched a win, beating the’ Canes 38-36. In the previous two meetings – one in late December and the other in early January – the Pats had lost by 12 and eight points.
The third time was a charm.
“We’re making leaps and strides every day,” said junior Alexa Annotti. “We’re doing things that we didn’t think we could do. We just keep improving.”
Annotti made one of the game’s key plays in leading Pilgrim to the win. After the Pats held a nine-point lead, Vets had whittled it down to three with just 37 seconds left in the game. The ’Canes fouled Pilgrim’s Kendra Tantimonico, putting her on the line to shoot one-and-one.
She missed the front end, but Annotti fought her way to the ball and grabbed an enormous offensive rebound. She got the ball back to Tantimonico, who was fouled once again.
“That was monster,” Vets head coach Owen Paquet said of the rebound.
Tantimonico stepped up to shoot one-and-one again, but this time she knocked them both down to make it a five-point game with 28 seconds to play.
“Got to get the ball, that’s what you want to do, especially when your team is shooting,” Annotti said. “You want to get that rebound and get possession back.”
Vets’ Casey Bennett – who led all scorers with 19 points – missed a three-pointer on the ’Canes’ next possession, and Pilgrim missed two free throws at the other end, but time was too short for the ’Canes to make up a five-point deficit.
Bennett buried a three with two seconds left to make it a two-point game, but Vets had no timeouts remaining and the clock ticked to zero before the ensuing inbounds pass.
“I used my last timeout on the foul shot, trying to ice (Tantimonico),” Paquet said. “I couldn’t go home with it. If I could see the crystal ball I would have saved it.”
It was a frustrating loss for Vets and a solid victory for Pilgrim. Vets lost its third straight since dominating Mount St. Charles 61-41 on Feb. 4, while Pilgrim snapped a two-game losing streak and won for the third time in five games. The Pats beat Toll Gate recently as well, giving them consecutive wins over city rivals.
“We’re constantly improving,” said Pilgrim head coach Ian Smith. “It just hasn’t always resulted in wins. Tonight it did.”
Vets controlled the early portion of the game, going up 14-11 midway through the first half before falling apart. It committed 12 turnovers over the final six minutes of the half, and missed its final six shots from the field and the front end of two one-and-ones.
The Pats took advantage, getting eight points from Maddy Craik on their way to a 9-0 run to end the half. Pilgrim went into the locker room with a 20-14 lead.
“We got off to a slow start on the boards, we picked it up and that brought us into halftime with the lead,” Smith said.
The second half was an offensive struggle for both teams. Megan St. Jacques hit two free throws to give Pilgrim an eight-point lead in the first minute, but nobody scored for another three minutes until Bennett hit a short jumper. Vets’ Kat Raposo had a steal and a layup four possessions later before Pilgrim scored on a bucket by Hannah Page to make it 24-18. At the 10:51 mark, Pilgrim’s Alexia Martins buried a three to make it 27-20. The game stayed that way for three more full minutes, until Clare Birney gave the Pats their largest lead of the game at 29-20 with 7:48 to play.
“That was painful to watch for a while,” Paquet said.
The ’Canes did start to chip away though, as Bennett hit a three on their next possession, and buckets by Emily Almonte and Rick Beaufort made it a two-point game.
But Pilgrim never let Vets come all the way back. A quick 5-0 burst made the score 34-27.
Vets again made it a two-point game with 1:44 left on a three by Beaufort, yet St. Jacques made two free throws on the other end to make it a two-possession game again.
“The girls are great,” Smith said. “They do everything that we talk about. We’ve been talking about running, and with a nine-point lead they’re learning to run if they can but they don’t have to, they can run a play.”
One free throw by Bennett made it a three-point game before Tantimonico was fouled and the Pats were able to stave off the comeback attempt.
Bennett led Vets with 19, while Beaufort had seven. Craik had 11 for Pilgrim, and Tantimonico added six.
Both teams are fighting for a playoff spot as the season winds down. The top 16 teams in Division II qualify for the postseason, and at 4-9 Vets is currently 17th. At 3-9, Pilgrim is tied for 20th with Toll Gate and Classical.
There is still time to get into the top 16. Pilgrim was scheduled to be at unbeaten St. Raphael on Monday, with the results unavailable at press time. After that, it will host Toll Gate on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. for a non-league game. Then it has three games remaining.
Vets hosts one-win Mt. Pleasant on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and then hosts Moses Brown on Friday at 6:30 p.m. It closes out the season next week against Burrillville.