It’s hard to measure the success of the Toll Gate girls’ basketball team in wins and losses right now, and that was certainly the case during Tuesday’s 48-22 loss to West Warwick in the Division II opener for both teams.
It was obviously far from perfect, but for a team that went winless a season ago, it was still a step in the right direction.
The Titans were stingy for much of the game on defense, and they held West Warwick’s top-two scorers – Cara Genest and MacKenzie Ramsay – to a combined 17 points.
“I’m very pleased with the defensive identity, particularly in the first half,” first-year head coach John Paolino said. “I thought Katie McCaughey did a great job of shutting down Cara Genest. She did not leave the game at all. The plan was to shut her down and to try to shut down MacKenzie Ramsay. She hit about six threes last week. They did what we wanted them to do.”
There was also improvement from the team’s first game of the season, which was a 46-28 non-league loss to North Providence last Thursday.
Rebounding-wise, Toll Gate struggled against West Warwick, but still fought hard for every ball and came away with its share of tough rebounds.
“What we saw today was a little bit better rebounding than North Providence,” Paolino said. “We try to tell the girls, ‘You’re working too hard to get rebounds. It would be a lot easier if you box out.’”
However, offensively, the Titans are clearly still finding their way.
They went down 8-0 right off the bat, and didn’t score their first points until Miranda Coleman – who led Toll Gate with eight points – hit a baseline jumper at the 12:12 mark in the first half.
West Warwick scored the next eight points after that, opening up a 16-2 lead on a free throw by Ramsay with 8:21 left.
From there, though, Toll Gate showed some signs of life.
Courtney Sheridan scored on a putback on the Titans’ next trip down the floor, and following a West Warwick miss, Coleman hit another baseline jumper to make the score 16-6.
Another Wizards misfire gave the ball back to Toll Gate, and Coleman put back a missed shot to bring the Titans within eight points.
That would be Toll Gate’s offensive high point, however, as it went into the locker room trailing 21-11 and only got within single digits once more the rest of the way – when it scored the first two points of the second half to bring the score to 21-13.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do on the offensive end,” Paolino said. “We need to find a point guard. We’re trying Laura McGuire. Katie did a good job today at the point. We’ll try to work Lauren Barnes in a little bit. We don’t have a true, true point guard. Once we can work that out, we’ll be better.”
At 21-13, West Warwick scored the next seven points – including a three-pointer from Nicole Chamberlain – to take a commanding 28-13 lead.
After a jumper by Coleman stopped the run, West Warwick’s Nicole Moretti scored immediately to up the lead back to 15 points.
Minutes later, Courtney Sheridan hit two free throws for the Titans to get the game back to 32-19, but a quick 5-0 burst by the Wizards put an end to any thoughts of a comeback.
A three-pointer by Lauren Barnes gave Toll Gate its final points on the night, and it didn’t score for the final 5:57 of the game. West Warwick finished the game on a 9-0 run.
“The big difference is that (West Warwick head coach Mike Francois) does a great job, they’ve got a lot of experience, they’ve got a great feeder program,” Paolino said. “The little transition things – if you switch defenses or you switch a play or your call timeout – it’s not sinking in right away.”
Toll Gate also had its struggles with fouls. It sent West Warwick to the free throw line 17 times in the first half alone and 29 for the game. In contrast, the Titans shot only eight total free throws.
The fouls accumulated early. Guard Ingrid Freeman picked up two in the early going – causing her to take a seat not even two minutes into the game – and she eventually fouled out with the game winding down.
That being said, Paolino didn’t see the foul disparity as overly troubling.
“[Freeman] got into foul trouble again, so she’s not getting as many shots as we wanted her to,” Paolino said. “I asked her, ‘How many games did you foul out of last year?’ She said, ‘One.’ I said, ‘Good, you’ve already doubled that.’ I told the kids at the beginning of the year, because we want to work on the defense, I’d rather have them be overly aggressive than not aggressive enough.”
To go with Coleman’s eight points on the night, Sheridan added six, while McCaughey and Barnes each had three. McGuire had two points.
Genest led all scorers with nine points, while Ramsay added eight. Chamberlain and Nicole Moretti each had seven points for the Wizards.
Toll Gate’s next game will be on Friday at home against Cranston East at 7 p.m.
“Every day we get better in practice,” Paolino said. “It’s just going to take a long time to get the things in that we want to get in.”