The Toll Gate girls’ basketball team lost to West Warwick on Tuesday night, 59-44, but the Titans weren’t beating themselves up over the defeat.
Instead, they were excited. It showed progress, and with the ups and downs the team has had so far this season, progress is the most important thing.
The Titans got down by as many as 14 points in the first half, yet battled back early in the second half to make it a four-point game. Against a playoff-bound West Warwick team, it was a gutsy effort.
“We couldn’t really do that last year,” Toll Gate head coach John Paolino said. “We’ve gotten to the point where they understand that they can stay in a game for 32 minutes. I thought tonight they played 32 minutes of basketball.”
Toll Gate dropped to 1-12 in Division II-South with the loss, while West Warwick is now 9-4.
The performance against the Wizards was especially gratifying considering that it came on the heels of one of Toll Gate’s worst outings of the year, a 46-15 loss to Narragansett last week.
Playing West Warwick well erased some of the bad taste that was left over from that game against the Mariners.
“I told them, [West Warwick] is just as good as Narragansett,” Paolino said. “We scored 40-something points against this team.”
The Titans started off slowly against the Wizards, and it looked like they might be in for another game like the Narragansett one. They fell behind 10-2, and added to the tough start by turning the ball over 12 times in a 16-possession stretch in the middle of the first half against the Wizards’ aggressive full-court press.
But Toll Gate played solid defense, coaxing turnovers out of the fast-paced West Warwick squad and then slowly chipping away whenever it could hang on to the ball. A short jumper by Lauren Barnes made it 14-8 with 7:16 to play.
The Wizards then got hot from the outside, as they buried three jumpers en route to an 11-3 run and a 25-11 lead. Toll Gate cut the deficit to nine points soon after, but West Warwick went into the locker room ahead 28-17 on a jumper by Cara Genest.
Genest had 16 of her game-high 26 points in the first half, helping the Wizards stay out in front despite 13 turnovers of their own in the half.
“She does a great job of sharing that basketball,” Paolino said of Genest. “Tonight, she kind of took over and she looked for her shot a little bit more tonight. She’s that good of a ballplayer where she can get everyone involved or she can take charge and do it herself.”
Early in the second half, the Titans played their best basketball of the night.
Mikaela Grosso hit a three to open the scoring for West Warwick, but Toll Gate’s Ingrid Freeman matched her with a three on the other end. Two free throws from Grosso extended the lead to 33-20 for West Warwick before Amanda Iadevaia scored on a baseline drive. The Wizards missed a shot on their next trip, and Freeman made them pay when she buried another three for the Titans. At that point, the score was 33-25.
“We were very focused tonight,” Paolino said.
Toll Gate forced a turnover immediately following Freeman’s bucket, and Courtney Sheridan turned it into points when she scored inside. Laura McGuire then capped the run with a steal near half-court and a layup, bringing the Titans within four points at 33-29 with 12:16 to play.
With all the momentum on Toll Gate’s side, though, West Warwick stepped up. Grosso took a pass on the right wing on her team’s next possession and buried a three, re-upping the lead to seven and halting the Titans’ run.
“They came down and hit the big shot,” Paolino said. “They are one of the best shooting teams in the state. Free throw shooting, outside shooting, they just do a great job working with their players.”
The Wizards didn’t stop there, as Genest hit a jumper two possessions later and Mackenzie Ramsay hit a three after that, making it 41-29 just two minutes later.
Toll Gate didn’t give up, but it couldn’t find the consistent shooting to really get back in it. A Genest three-pointer made it 44-30, and Toll Gate never got closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
Every time the Titans tried to make a run, the Wizards were there to knock down an outside shot and stem the tide.
“I thought our defense was good,” Paolino said. “They didn’t have a lot of inside penetration. We did a nice job on the boards. But a lot of the points came from the outside.”
Outside of Genest’s 26 points, West Warwick also got 18 from Grosso and six from Mackenzie Ramsay.
Toll Gate’s leading scorer was Sheridan with 12 points, and she made her presence felt all night on the inside.
“She’s starting to make some nice offensive moves,” Paolino said. “She’s starting to put the ball in the hoop.”
Freeman, Nicole Fraser – in one of her first games back after suffering an early season injury – and Barnes each had six points, while Iadevaia had five.
Even with just the one win, the Titans are still alive for a postseason berth. They would need to win their final three games and then they could potentially be the No. 16 seed in D-II.
It won’t be easy. Their next game is Thursday when they host 10-3 East Greenwich at 7 p.m. Following that, they host 7-6 Coventry next Tuesday and then finish the season at 8-4 Prout next Thursday.
“I think tonight they believe that they played well,” Paolino said. “We didn’t have a great offensive night against Narragansett. They understand that they can win now and they can compete, it’s just bringing that every night.”