In two early-season meetings, Pilgrim tried to slow down the Warwick Vets girls’ basketball team but ended up slowing themselves down too. The Pats lost both games.
On Thursday, Pilgrim hit the gas pedal.
Using full-court pressure and an active zone defense to create a helter-skelter game, the Pats set a new season-high in points and beat the ’Canes 47-32. It was a much-needed victory for the Pats, who had lost eight league games in a row. Pilgrim improved to 2-10 while Vets dropped to 2-11.
“About two weeks ago, we needed to make a change,” said Pilgrim head coach Ian Smith. “We were averaging probably 25 points a game and that’s not going to win too many games. We said, ‘If we’re not going to make shots, we’ve got to take more.’ So we started pressing. It’s been a work in progress - last week, we were putting the pieces together. Tonight, it worked.”
Pilgrim forced 18 Vets turnovers and pushed the ’Canes into settling for outside shots. The result was another rough shooting night for Vets. While the ’Canes dominated the glass for 29 offensive rebounds, they didn’t convert many of the extra chances and ended up shooting 10 of 82 from the field. The struggles extended to the free throw line, where Vets made 6 of 27.
On the other side, the Pats only shot 22 percent, but it was their kind of game - physical and scrappy.
“To cause chaos was kind of the gameplan,” Smith said. “And it certainly was chaos. At one point, one of the referees said to me, ‘What’s going on? This is crazy.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s a city game.’ They hadn’t considered it. When the schedule comes out, it’s where are the city games? I think that’s at all three schools. It’s a playoff game if it’s any of the city schools. The crowd came out and was great. Both schools were here and it was a great atmosphere.”
And the Pats thrived.
After falling behind 3-2 in the first minute, they got a fastbreak layup from Betsy Heidel for a 4-3 lead and ultimately never trailed again. Vets missed 16 straight shots after making its first attempt.
The ’Canes ended the drought with a bucket inside by Katie Gregory at the 8:09 mark, but Katelyn Reph answered with a three-pointer to make it 13-6. It was back-and-forth for the rest of the half, and the Pats went to the locker room leading 18-12.
The Pats could sense that their new approach was paying off.
“The kids have been all in on it and excited about it,” Smith said. “I think that was visible tonight, especially when it started to work.”
Frustration started to set in for the ’Canes early in the second half. They missed four straight free throws and point guard Casey Bennett was called for her fourth foul on a charge with 13:43 left. The Pats built their lead to eight.
But Vets wasn’t done yet. Bennett returned to the game with 11:36 left and promptly buried a three to make it 22-17. Pilgrim scored five straight points on a Heidel jumper, a free throw by Reph and a putback by Maddy Craik, but Bennett hit another three and Emily Almonte picked up a steal and layup to make it a five-point game. After a runner by Reph, Bennett drained an NBA-range three to make it a four-point game with 7:38 left.
That’s when Pilgrim dug in.
The Pats broke the press for a Janelle Paliotte layup immediately after the Bennett three, and that bucket touched off a decisive 12-2 run. Megan St. Jacques hit one of two free throws, Alexa Annotti scored inside after an offensive rebound by Heidel, and Reph hit one of two free throws. After Almonte made two free throws for Vets, St. Jacques scored on a putback, Reph and St. Jacques hit one of two free throws and Heidel made two at the line to make it 41-27 with 2:58 left.
Vets never got closer than 12 points, and the Pats made four straight free throws in the final minute to put the finishing touches on the victory.
Reph led the Pats with 13 points, Heidel scored 10 and St. Jacques tallied seven. Bennett had 17 to lead Vets.
“Our win against Classical and tonight, we got ourselves early leads and both teams had good comebacks,” Smith said. “We overcame. There are other nights where we had small leads or we’re even and when the other team goes on a run, we collapse. The response is great to see. They kept their heads up. They understand it’s not the end of the world - you just have to keep going.”
The Pats will be back in action tonight at 7 p.m., when they host St. Raphael. Vets will visit Mt. Pleasant today at 5 p.m.