Two losses in a row sent the Toll Gate boys’ basketball team reeling at the end of January, but all it took was a new month to get the Titans moving in the right direction again.
Since losing by seven points to Burrillville on Jan. 25 and getting beat by first-place North Smithfield five days later, Toll Gate has won two in a row to get back in the thick of its sub-division race.
The Titans beat Davies 57-40 on Friday and then followed that up with a 54-34 win over Mount St. Charles on Monday. The wins tied Toll Gate with Juanita Sanchez at 9-6, atop Division III-Central.
“The last two games were definitely games we needed to win,” Toll Gate head coach Tom Rayko said, “and we did.”
Toll Gate had actually lost four of its last six games before the Davies and Mount wins, albeit to four of the better teams in Division III.
Still, the Titans were in need of something to go their way.
Against Davies, it took one half to get back on track. Toll Gate took a 34-15 lead into the half and didn’t have much to worry about from there.
Kyle Toolin paced the offense with 16 points, while Tyler Inkley and Zach Mitchell each scored 13.
That led into Monday’s game with Mount, and the Titans picked up right where they left off.
Pounding the ball inside with center John Coleman, Toll Gate took an early 16-7 lead and never trailed at any point. Coleman scored nine of the points in that span, including four points on elbow jumpers.
“I’ll tell you what, if he’s hitting his jump shot, it opens up so much stuff,” Rayko said. “People can’t really pack it in and do their thing.”
Toll Gate extended its lead to 11 points at 25-14 on a short jumper by Yanghuang Lu at the 4:53 mark, before Mount scored the last four points of the half to get within 25-18 at the break.
The Mounties got hot early in the second half, getting five quick points from Daniel Housholder to get back within four points at 27-23.
But the Titans kept calm. With junior Zach Bacon running the point in place of the injured Ben Mann, Toll Gate quickly went up 29-23 on a bucket by Lu, and then extended the lead back to nine on a Bacon three-pointer with 11:50 to go.
“I thought Zach Bacon did a great job,” Rayko said. “The JV tournament is over – they lost in the semifinals – and we decided to move him up and take care of that spot. He’s a solid player. I thought he did really well.”
A few minutes later, it was Kyle Toolin who took over, as his steal and old-fashioned three-point play made it 37-25, and two possessions later – after a John Murphy layup – his shot from behind the arc put Toll Gate up 42-25.
Toolin, the starting shooting guard, didn’t start the second half after turning the ball over on consecutive possessions midway through the first. But when he did get re-inserted into the lineup, he made his presence felt.
“I thought he did fine at the start of the game, then I subbed him out and he had a couple turnovers there,” Rayko said. “But he came out, made a few nice shots and a couple nice passes, and was able to get himself back in the game.”
Mount did follow Toolin’s three with a 7-0 run, and the Mounties got within nine points at 43-34 on a putback by Alex Lataille with 4:18 left, but they never got any closer.
Coleman hit two free throws to get the lead back to 11 and a layup by Tyler Inkley made it a 13-point game. Another Inkley layup and a three-point play by Toolin finished the job.
“We led the whole way, but there were some things I wasn’t happy with,” Rayko said. “There were a lot of turnovers that I thought were our own fault. In the end, we ended up getting the job done.”
The Titans will be tested down the stretch, as they’re not quite sure how long Mann will be sidelined, and they’re also playing without sixth man Evan Stamps.
“I don’t know where Ben and Evan lie, so we might have to rely on some young guys the rest of the way,” Rayko said.
They have three games remaining in the regular season, and they’re important. First, they host 4-11 Warwick Vets on Saturday at 5 p.m. That game will be played at CCRI due to complications with the Toll Gate gym.
On Monday, the Titans will travel to 4-11 Pilgrim for a 7 p.m.
If they can win both those games, they’ll play for the D-III-Central title next Wednesday against Juanita Sanchez.
Right now, Toll Gate is tied for sixth in the D-III standings, but could move up with a few wins down the stretch.
The Titans will also need to win out and make some noise in the D-III tournament if they want to qualify for the all-division state tournament that begins later this month. Sixteen teams qualify, and Toll Gate is currently 29th in the standings.