Close games haven’t been the norm for the Pilgrim girls’ basketball team this season, as it had played in just one contest decided by fewer than 10 points heading into Tuesday night.
Now the Pats have played in two – and they’re learning how to win.
On the road at Burrillville, Pilgrim overcame an 11-point first-half deficit and a one-point deficit in the final 17 seconds of regulation to rally for a 44-41 overtime victory.
It was just the second win of the season for the Pats, who are now 2-7 in Division II-Central, and it was the team’s first win since beating Mt. Pleasant on Jan. 17.
Pilgrim had every opportunity to lose the game in regulation and in overtime, but it found a way to gut out the win.
“We’re learning how to win,” said Pilgrim head coach Ian Smith. “That’s every type of game – the close ones, the overtimes. I don’t remember the last time Pilgrim was in an overtime game. Great for our experience, great for our learning. We’re young, so this game matters for now and for the future too.”
Maddy Craik was Pilgrim’s high-scorer with 12 points, and Alexa Annotti added 11. Clare Birney scored eight, including two big three-pointers down the stretch in regulation that proved to be instrumental in the win.
The game featured six lead changes in the second half and three ties. The Pats never trailed in overtime, but the win was far from a done deal until the final whistle. Burrillville fell to 1-7.
“We’ve been going in the right direction all season,” Smith said. “The only thing we’ve been waiting for is wins, so it’s nice to have one. I’m so happy for the girls to realize what they’ve been working for and to have the feeling that they have now.”
Pilgrim trailed 15-4 midway through the first half before going on a 13-2 run to end the period. Five different Patriots scored during that stretch, and the teams went into the break tied at 17.
“We’ve been working on getting off to good starts,” Smith said. “We obviously did not. Road games in girls’ basketball are challenging for many reasons. We did not get off to the start that any of us had hoped for, but to their credit they reset the game by working and running and we made the changes that we needed to make to get the game in our hands.”
Burrillville took an early two-point lead in the second half on a layup by Catherine Keable, but Pilgrim came back with six straight points to go up 23-19. Annotti scored four, while Haley Donahay connected on a short jumper.
For the rest of the half, Pilgrim never trailed – until the final minute. The teams went back and forth, with Pilgrim gaining only slight separation thanks to the three-pointers from Birney.
First, she hit one with 4:14 left to give the Pats a 31-27 lead. Almost two minutes later, she hit another to extend the lead to 34-29. That was the biggest lead of the game for the Pats.
“I kind of knew those were going in, believe it or not, because she had her hands ready,” Smith said of Birney. “We’ve been working on that. She caught it, nice fluid motion and she can shoot.”
The Broncos weren’t done, however, as they came charging back. Consecutive jumpers by Samantha Liberty made it a one-point game, and the Pats struggled to regain momentum. They missed their final five shots from the field after Birney’s three.
With just under a minute to go, Victoria Libby tied the game on a free throw and Pilgrim squandered two chances to regain the lead with missed free throws in one-and-one situations.
Then with 17.9 seconds left, Keable hit one of two free throws to give Burrillville a 35-34 lead and polish off a 6-0 run.
On the ensuing Pilgrim possession, Donahay was fouled and missed the first free throw. She knocked down the second one though, sending the game into overtime.
In overtime, Pilgrim took a one-point lead on a free throw by Annotti and never gave it up. Megan St. Jacques scored on a putback on the next possession, and three possessions later Craik scored to put Pilgrim up 40-37.
After Burrillville cut the deficit to one-point once again, Craik hit a baseline jumper to make it 42-39.
Overtime showcased Pilgrim’s best offensive performance of the night, as the team scored nine points in four minutes. Most of it was done in transition.
“We started the season wanting to run and we haven’t been running as often as I had hoped,” Smith said. “We had some real opportunities I thought tonight to run. Their half-court defense was tough, so if we could run, they couldn’t play.”
Burrillville cut the deficit to 42-41 on a bucket inside by Keable with 30 seconds to play, and Pilgrim immediately turned the ball over on its next possession, but three Burrillville shots came up empty. Pilgrim got the ball out in transition and Craik scored again, giving the Pats a three-point cushion with 10 seconds to play.
The Broncos inbounded the ball but could barely get it over half-court, and Liberty’s desperation three at the buzzer was off the mark.
Pilgrim could breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate its second win of the season.
“Either one of these teams could have won,” Smith said. “I’m thrilled that it was us.”
The Pats will have another shot at a win today against Toll Gate in a non-league game on the road at 5 p.m. Then it will get a little tougher, as they will host 6-1 Johnston on Friday at 7 p.m.