For the second time in as many meetings, the Warwick Vets boys’ basketball team was still in the game with Toll Gate after 16 minutes of play.
But, once again, the Titans flexed their muscles in the second half.
Leading only 34-25 at the break, Toll Gate opened the half on a 20-3 run to get the separation it needed to cruise to the finish line. The Titans ended up winning 76-37, leaving the ’Canes to wonder how it all went wrong again.
The first time the two teams met, on Jan. 31., Vets led 30-20 at the break only to lose 63-38.
“I can’t explain it,” Vets head coach Chris LeBlanc said. “I have no idea. We freak out or something.”
For Toll Gate, it was just one more in a long line of dominant second-half performances that have come to define its season thus far. The Titans are now 14-2, leading Division III-Central and trailing only 15-1 Prout in all of D-III.
In the statewide standings, Toll Gate is in 14th place with 8.4 power points, and would host a first-round state tournament playoff game if the season ended today.
“I feel wicked good,” Toll Gate senior Nick Carr said. “As a team, we’re all coming together. We’re playing better and everything. We have more energy.”
Vets fell to 4-12 on the season, and it has two games remaining in its season. The ’Canes are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
Dom Malaga led Vets with 15 points, but he was its only player in double-figures. Carter Thomas chipped in with seven.
Carr led all scorers with 22 points, and his teammate Ethan Dujon added 21. Mike Reyes added 13 for Toll Gate.
Those three led a balanced attack for the Titans, and a dominant one in the second half.
“The final score is the one that matters,” Toll Gate head coach Tom Rayko said. “The halftime score, we can always try to make it up. What one team does in the first half, we hopefully can match it in the second half. Definitely always play harder in the second half.”
Dujon set the tone right out of the locker room, as he buried a three on the first possession of the half. Malaga tried to answer with a three on the other end but missed, and a Nick Carr putback put the Titans up 39-25.
After a Vets turnover – one of 23 on the night – Dujon hit a baseline jumper. Travis Babcock scored Vets’ first points of the second half on a tough layup, and Brandon McGuire made a free throw on the next possession, but that would round out the ’Canes’ scoring for a while.
Toll Gate scored the next 13 points. Dujon hit another three, and Reyes converted a fast-break layup. With Toll Gate full court-pressing, Dujon then stole the ball and coasted in for an easy bucket, and after Vets missed two free throws, Reyes scored again.
Carr scored two possessions later for the Titans, and Dujon finished off the run with two free throws to put Toll Gate up 54-28.
“I had us at like 30 turnovers,” LeBlanc said. “We can’t take care of the ball. We want to catch the ball with one hand, we want to throw the ball with one hand. It’s a lack of fundamentals, for some reason. I don’t know if we decided that we packed it in or not, for the end of the year, but I don’t know. It’s disappointing.”
From there, the Titans just kept building. They allowed just three Vets field goals the rest of the way.
Dujon, meanwhile took over on the offensive end. He scored 19 of his 21 in the second half.
“Ethan played great in the second half,” Rayko said. “He’s one of those guys that fits right into our flow.”
The Titans actually had the same level of dominance early in the game, when they stormed out to a 15-3 lead. Carr had six points in that stretch, and Ben Mann added four.
Vets woke up, however, making it 15-7 on buckets by Thomas and Greg Bennett. Toll Gate kept applying pressure, but Vets stayed within striking distance. A Malaga layup made it 30-19, and a three from Malaga made it 32-22 moments later. Will Remak knocked home a three for the ’Canes in the final minute to cut the lead to seven before Reyes hit a short jumper at the halftime buzzer to make it nine at the break.
Vets would never be within single digits again.
The ’Canes now have two games left, and they’re both winnable. On Friday, they’ll host winless Our Lady of Fatima on Senior Night at 7 p.m. The next Tuesday, they’ll go to 7-8 Moses Brown for a 6:30 p.m. tip to end the season.
“We have Senior Night on Friday,” LeBlanc said. “I said, ‘Stay together as a team and go out there and do the best we possibly can.’”
Toll Gate finishes up with two tough match-ups, as it hosts 10-5 North Smithfield today at 7 p.m., and then goes to 13-3 Juanita Sanchez on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Juanita is one of the two D-III teams to knock off the Titans this season.
After that, it’s the state tournament, which is set to begin Friday, Feb. 24.
“The next step we’ll be taking is there’s going to be teams looking to chop us up and move on,” Rayko said. “That’s what we want to do. We want to try to get to the next game. I don’t know who we’re going to draw. We’re going to work our tails off over the next two games and practices, and just get ready for the state tournament.”