They hadn’t practiced since Thursday, and water damage in their gym forced them to celebrate Senior Night on their rival’s home court.
But the Toll Gate boys’ basketball team had no complaints when all was said and done Tuesday night.
The Titans raced out of the gates against Warwick Vets, got a dagger of a three-pointer from Kyle Toolin at the halftime buzzer and rolled from there to a 70-42 victory. The Titans improved to 10-6 while Vets dropped to 4-12.
In imperfect circumstances, it was a perfect night for Toll Gate.
“We haven’t practiced since last Thursday,” said Toll Gate senior John Murphy. “We had to have Senior Night on Vets’ court. It’s been dilemma after dilemma. You just have to get through the obstacles. We came to play.”
Murphy scored 22 to lead four players in double figures, and the Titans shot 50 percent from the field. The 70 points are a season high.
Head coach Tom Rayko didn’t see it coming.
“Honestly, I was scared,” Rayko said. “This was the third time we were going to play them, it’s our Senior Night in their gym, and I’m just sitting there saying, ‘Man, I don’t want to play this game.’ I could see it going one of two ways – it could have gone the way it went, or it could have gone the complete reverse and they could have blown us out.”
The Titans have had to shuffle their schedule since a leak damaged the Toll Gate gym a few weeks ago. They initially moved their Senior Night to CCRI, but the snowstorm altered those plans and the game was shifted to Vets. Toll Gate also hadn’t played since Feb. 4 and hadn’t practiced in four days.
Ultimately, none of it mattered.
“That might have been one of the best offensive games we’ve had,” Rayko said. “All around – passing, shooting, scoring – we just played really well. Maybe the rest was good.”
After honoring their eight seniors before the game, the Titans sprinted to a 5-0 lead in the first 25 seconds of the game. Murphy hit a layup off a pass from Ben Mann after the opening tip and buried a three on Toll Gate’s next possession.
After Vets scored four straight on a Will Remak three and a Carter Thomas free throw, Murphy scored in the post and converted a three-point play. Mann then drove for a layup to make it 12-4 with 11:46 left.
“We had to bring the intensity right from the start,” Murphy said. “Some games, we’ve lacked that. Tonight, being Senior Night, we had that goal. We just brought it.”
The ’Canes got back within three at 12-9, but Murphy answered with another three-pointer, which gave him 13 of the team’s 16 points. That three also touched off a 9-0 run. John Coleman scored inside, Zach Mitchell hit a layup and Derryck Anderson made two free throws to power it.
The ’Canes stayed within striking distance over the next few minutes and seemed primed to get closer before halftime. When Tim Hogan scored inside with 2:28 left, it was a 10-point game.
Instead, the Titans surged.
Two free throws and a putback by Coleman plus a bucket in the post by Tyler Inkley pushed the lead to 14. Thomas cut it to 13 with a free throw with 23 seconds left, and he then stole the ball on the press. But he missed a pull-up jumper and left Toll Gate with some time.
The Titans seized it.
Toolin dribbled into the front-court, and with two defenders on him, he rose for a step-back three and watched it swish through the net at the halftime buzzer.
“You talk about a Senior Night memory,” Rayko said. “That was a bomb, two guys on him, step-back, buzzer going off – all net. You can’t ask for a better moment.”
And it was a big moment. The Titans never looked back after the break, out-scoring Vets 20-8 in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
“I think maybe that three by Toolin at the half fired them up,” said Vets head coach Chris LeBlanc. “That’s a big difference between down 13 and down 16. That was a big shot. I think a couple of our guys just kind of got down on themselves a little bit after that. We couldn’t catch up.”
Toolin scored four quick points to start the second half. Later, the Titans put together a 10-0 run, with Inkley scoring six of the points. The lead grew to as much as 31 when Toolin hit a three at the 3:53 mark.
“We just shot really well,” Rayko said. “We were in a very good groove and I thought we passed the ball really well.”
In addition to Murphy’s 22, Toolin scored 14, Coleman tallied 12 and Inkley finished with 11. Each of the team’s eight seniors got into the scoring column, with Mann, Anderson, Mitchell and Evan Stamps scoring two points apiece.
“All the seniors played great,” Rayko said.
Thomas led Vets with 10 points, Hogan scored seven and Remak had five.
“We were cold tonight, and we don’t match up with that team,” LeBlanc said. “They’re big inside and they took advantage of some of their mismatches.”
The loss was the third straight for the ’Canes. They were scheduled to play Pilgrim on Wednesday, with results unavailable at press time. They’ll close out their season on Friday at 5 p.m. when they host Juanita Sanchez.
There have been bright spots in recent weeks, especially a 30-point performance by Remak in a loss to undefeated North Smithfield, but overall, it’s been tough going.
“We can play with anybody,” LeBlanc said. “We’re going to keep working at it.”
As for the Titans, they’re hoping the victory can be a springboard for the rest of the regular season and the upcoming Division III playoffs. Toll Gate is still in the mix for the regular season division title.
“This is a good start – hopefully we win out, get a banner and see what we can do in the playoffs,” Murphy said. “If we play like this every night, we’re going to be hard to beat.”
Whatever happens, it’s been a fun year for the Titans and their seniors, most of whom didn’t see significant action until this season. Tuesday was a fitting send-off.
“They’ve really come together and done a great job,” Rayko said. “Summer league was rough for us. Fall league was rough for us. But the season has been great. I’m very proud of all the seniors. We have a chance, if we win out, to put up another banner. Just to have that chance is awesome. I’m very proud of them.”
The Titans were scheduled to play Juanita Sanchez on Wednesday, with results unavailable at press time. The regular season finale will be today at 4:45 p.m. at Pilgrim.