Last season, the Toll Gate girls’ basketball team won just a single league game but missed several opportunities for a few more victories. This season, the Titans are in a similar boat, fighting in a tough league with a young team.
But they didn’t miss their chance Monday.
Led by a balanced attack and strong execution in the first half, the Titans picked up a 41-28 road victory over winless Tolman.
“It was a total team effort,” said head coach John Paolino. “We needed that. We needed it for our confidence. I’m pleased to get the W.”
Coming into Monday, the Titans’ only league win was a Jan. 24 triumph against Central Falls. They do own a non-league victory over Mount St. Charles, but the rest of their league slate has been marked by tough challenges on a lot of nights and near-misses on a few others. Most recently, the Titans lost by seven points to East Providence last Friday.
“It’s consistency,” Paolino said. “They’ve got to play for a full 32 minutes and they’ve got to bring it every night.”
The Titans didn’t quite deliver 32 good minutes on Monday, but they had enough to hold off the Tigers thanks to a strong first half.
After scoring just two points in the first four-plus minutes of the game, the Titans broke out with a 10-0 run to take a 12-3 lead. Freshman Courtney Iadevaia started the burst with a jump shot and later hit a three-pointer. Hannah McNulty scored inside and hit a free throw, and Laura McGuire hit a deep jumper from the corner.
The Titans took advantage of three turnovers to spark the run. The court at Tolman is smaller than regulation size, and the Titans turned that into a positive with their pressure. The Tigers didn’t have much room to work.
“We were pressing and I think that helped us,” Paolino said.
Tolman ended Toll Gate’s run with 7:41 left in the first half, but the Titans remained comfortably in control. McNulty hit one of two free-throws to start a 5-0 run. She also scored on a follow, as did Brooke Casacalenda.
The Titans added another 5-0 burst later in the half on a runner by Iadevaia, plus a free throw and a fast-break layup by Sarah Sagnella.
McNulty finished the half with two driving layups in the final 1:08, sending the Titans to the locker room with a 26-8 advantage. Iadevaia and McNulty, both freshmen, accounted for 17 of the 26 points.
“The first half was a lot better for us,” Paolino said. “I thought Courtney Iadevaia did a good job, particularly in the first half, helping out with ball-handling. Hannah McNulty had a great game last week and she’s starting to come around offensively. She’s doing a good job taking it to the basket rather than falling away.”
Toll Gate got some solid minutes from its bench, as well. Eight Titans hit the scoring column.
“We played a lot of people,” Paolino said. “They did well.”
The second half was more of a struggle for the Titans. Tolman turned up its own pressure and forced 22 turnovers after the break.
“We kind of panicked with the pressure, committed some turnovers,” Paolino said. “We subbed a lot for McGuire because she’s dealing with some back issues.”
Toll Gate also missed a few prime opportunities from point-blank range after breaking the pressure.
“When we can put the ball in the basket, we get more confidence,” Paolino said. “When we don’t, it seems to take a step out of them. We tell them that can’t happen. You’ve got to just keep plugging along. We had some great interior passing on the fast break. I was really pleased. It’s frustrating when the ball doesn’t go in the hoop but when we’re making the right passes and the right plays, there’s not much more I can ask for.”
Despite the struggles, the Titans never really had to sweat. The Tigers out-scored them 20-15 after halftime, but the lead never dipped below 15.
McNulty had 15 points to lead the Titans and Iadevaia chipped in seven. Laurel TenEyck had six and Sagnella scored five.
The Titans are now 2-9 in league play and still technically alive in the Division II playoff race.
In the stretch run, they’ll take on their sub-division opponents for the second time this season.
“We usually tend to do better the second time around in our division,” Paolino said. “I just said to them, ‘Girls, I haven’t talked about playoffs all year. Now with the two league wins, mathematically we’re still in it.’ Realistically, we go back into our league, which is going to be tougher. But we’ll see what happens Thursday.”
The Titans will host Narragansett tonight at 7 p.m. and will be looking for some revenge. They lost in overtime to the Mariners in their league opener.
“That’s a game we should take,” Paolino said. “We had a heart-breaker the first time we played them.”