The Toll Gate girls’ basketball team is back in the win column.
After coming close in tough losses to Central Falls and Mt. Hope, the Titans got over the hump Friday with a 41-36 victory over Tolman. It’s the program’s first win in league play since the 2009-10 season.
“I’m very pleased,” said head coach John Paolino. “We didn’t make it easy, but I’m pleased. Tolman is a well-coached, disciplined team. We played very tough. Everyone stepped it up. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The Titans picked up a non-league victory over Pilgrim in their season opener, but league play hasn’t been kind. The Titans started the new year with four straight lopsided losses.
But on Jan. 17, the Titans regrouped and played one of their best games of the season in a one-point loss to Central Falls. In their next game, they were within four points in the late going against Mt. Hope before eventually falling by nine.
It was time.
“We came close the last couple of times, and I think losing to Central Falls really motivated us to come out here and get a win tonight,” said junior Laura McGuire.
Tolman came in with a 1-7 record, so the Titans knew the door would be open if they could play well. They were the aggressors in the early going, turning on a full-court press and scoring the first four points of the game on a deep jumper by Jackie Falso and a driving layup by McGuire.
From there, things got tougher. The Titans didn’t score for almost seven minutes and committed 16 first-half turnovers.
But they also didn’t back down. Trailing 8-7, they put together a 10-2 run. Amanda Iadevaia hit a jumper and a three, McGuire converted a three-point play and Jillian Eaton scored inside after a steal by Falso.
That made it 17-10, but Tolman ended the half on a 6-0 run. Toll Gate went to the break leading 17-16.
“At halftime, we basically said, ‘Girls, the only thing that matters now is coming out of here with a win,” Paolino said. “If we don’t win, we haven’t been successful.’”
The Titans stayed in front for the first five minutes of the second half, but the Tigers came up with another 6-0 burst to take a 28-24 lead with 9:57 left. Adding to the difficulty, Toll Gate center Courtney Sheridan fouled out with 10:38 left.
But the Titans came to life.
Sarah Sagnella buried a three-pointer from the top of the key with the shot clock winding down on Toll Gate’s next possession. That made it a one-point game.
After the Titans committed a turnover on their next trip, McGuire stole the ball right back and was fouled. Off an inbounds play near mid-court, she streaked into the open and finished a layup while getting fouled. McGuire missed the free throw, but the Titans led 29-28.
A rebound of a Tolman miss and a quick outlet led to a chance for Ingrid Freeman, and she was fouled going to the basket. She hit one of two free throws to make it 30-28. A minute later, McGuire stole an inbounds pass and cruised in for a layup and a 32-28 lead with 6:34 left.
In all, it was an 8-0 run for the Titans, but it didn’t quite seal the deal. Tolman got within one at 33-32 before a follow by Freeman pushed the lead back to three with 2:40 left. Tolman’s Shelby Hofknecht answered with a steal and layup on the press, making it 35-34 with 1:45 left.
From there, the Titans had to hold on.
Tolman got three chances on its next trip thanks to a rebound that went out of bounds and a jump ball. Ultimately, the Tigers turned the ball over, but Toll Gate gave it right back. After a miss and an offensive rebound, a Tolman player traveled, but the Titans took a quick shot at the other end and missed.
It was still a one-point game as the clock ticked under a minute.
With 38 seconds left, Tolman’s Aicha Kone was fouled. She went to the line for two and missed both. When McGuire ripped down the rebound and was fouled, she started a surge to the finish. McGuire hit both of her free throws on a one-and-one to make it 37-34. A deflection by Sagnella led to a jump ball, and the Titans had the possession arrow. Sagnella was fouled with 13 seconds left and she too hit both free throws to make it 39-34.
Tolman got back within three on a layup with four seconds left, but Sagnella buried two more free throws with one second left to seal the victory.
“We had a close game against Central Falls and we couldn’t finish,” Paolino said. “Tonight, we were able to finish. We hit the big shots at the end. We have not been hitting our free throws at the end but we picked a very good time to make those.”
McGuire led the way for the Titans with 11 points, and she added five assists and five steals. Sagnella scored nine points, Freeman and Iadevaia had seven each and Falso scored four.
“This is my first league win since I’ve been here,” McGuire said. “It feels really good. Hopefully it’ll hype us up a little bit.”
The Titans will try to build some momentum when they host Tiverton today at 3:45 p.m.
“We have to build on it,” Paolino said. “This will hopefully make them realize that they can win games. We have some really tough teams in our division, and crossing over has helped us build some confidence. We need to keep carrying that over and build upon that.”