The Toll Gate girls’ basketball team didn’t win a single game all of last season, as the Titans went 0-18 in Division II and dropped their non-league contests as well.
One game into this season, that streak is over.
The Titans used a strong first half and held off a late charge on Thursday night to hold off Pilgrim for a 48-41 win to open the season.
Ingrid Freeman led the way for Toll Gate with 16 points, while Katelyn Reph paced the Pats with 15. It was a non-league match-up, but the Titans were happy to get a win of any kind, regardless of the setting.
“I feel so good for the girls,” Toll Gate head coach John Paolino said. “They got the monkey off their back. I’m so happy for them.”
Pilgrim had no complaints either, as it played a competitive game, rallied from a 10-point deficit to get within one point late in the second half and played confidently in its first game without All-State guard Danielle LeBlanc, who graduated and now plays at RIC.
“For the first game, you have no idea what’s going to happen,” Pilgrim head coach Ian Smith said. “You can’t scout the other team, you’re not 100-percent sure what you have. So I saw a lot of good things from our side.”
The first half was close early on, with both teams finding their footing offensively. But five minutes into the game, Toll Gate’s Jackie Falso hit a three, and the Titans took off from there.
That shot was the start of a 14-4 run in a seven-minute span, as the Titans got hot from the outside and forced eight Pilgrim turnovers.
On the heels of Falso’s three, Freeman buried a three and then hit two long jumpers. Lauren Barnes added a layup and a short jumper, putting Toll Gate up 18-8.
“I lost my shot since last year,” Freeman said. “It’s nice to have it back now, but I know that everyone else can make outside shots as well. It feels good. It’s confidence.”
Pilgrim stopped the bleeding with a basket plus a foul for Haley Donahay, but Freeman hit another three to up the lead to 21-11. After the teams traded free throws, the Titans looked like they were going to head into half up 10, but Reph hit a long three-pointer at the buzzer, making it 22-15 at the break.
“Katelyn hit that three at the buzzer,” Paolino said. “I looked at the assistants and said, ‘That’s not a good omen.’”
And early in the second half, Pilgrim closed the gap even more.
Freeman got the Titans off on the right foot with her third three-pointer of the game, making it 25-15, but four straight points for the Pats – three from Betsy Heidel and one from Stephanie Sweet – made it a six-point game. A free throw by Reph brought it even closer.
Toll Gate weathered the storm, though, re-upping the lead to seven at 29-22 and then again at 37-30, before the Pats started to press.
It worked. Heidel scored to make it 37-32 and Toll Gate immediately turned the ball over on the inbounds pass. Heidel scored again, getting the Pats within three. Another turnover led to a Reph layup, and suddenly Toll Gate’s steady lead was down to a point.
“I wasn’t 100-percent sure what we had with that press,” Smith said. “Different groupings, and some rookies with the varsity were mixed in their for their defensive capabilities, and they did a great job.”
But once again, the Titans had enough to keep the Pats at bay. Sarah Sagnella scored on a layup to make it 39-36, and Laura McGuire scored right after Reph hit a free throw, making it 41-37.
The teams trade baskets until it was 45-41 with 1:18 left. Then Freeman made the biggest shot of the game.
She received a pass on the right wing and knocked down a three – her fourth of the game – putting Toll Gate up 48-41.
“It’s nice to see Ingrid do that,” Paolino said. “She didn’t have a great game like that last year, shooting-wise. Her sophomore year, she was on fire. She struggled a little bit last year I think adjusting to the new system. It was nice to see her light it up.”
The Pats called a timeout and tried to score quickly after that, but the shots wouldn’t fall and time ticked away.
For the first time in a while, Toll Gate celebrated a win.
“Unfortunately I’m thinking, ‘Not like last year, not like last year,’” Paolino said. “They proved me wrong.”
To go with Freeman’s 16, Falso had nine points, Sagnella had eight and Barnes had six. Eight different Titans scored, as Paolino switched back and forth between two completely different five-player groups for the majority of the game.
“Right now, of our first seven games, six are non-league,” Paolino said. “Right now, we’re going to try that. And the last couple minutes of the game, we’ll make some adjustments depending on who’s playing well or who’s shooting well, or defensive-wise. That’s the plan right now.”
For the Pats, Reph had 15 and Heidel had nine. Stephanie Sweet added six, while Maddy Craik and Janelle Paliotte had four each.
“I have nothing critical to say tonight,” Smith said. “There’s mental mistakes, obviously, but it’s game one. We’re 10 days into the season.
Both teams will continue with non-league match-ups next, as Toll Gate is hosting Warwick Vets today at 7 p.m., while the Pats will host Tiverton on Wednesday, also at 7.