In the three games leading up to Thursday’s showdown with Pilgrim, the Warwick Vets girls’ basketball team averaged 36 points. Head coach Owen Paquet certainly wouldn’t have minded seeing that number go up, but mostly he wanted to see another number go down.
“The last couple of games, we’ve been averaging 36 points a game,” Paquet said. “We talked about team defense and we said, ‘If we’re going to average that low an amount of points, we have to play defense.’”
That deal worked out just fine on Thursday.
The ‘Canes didn’t have a huge offensive breakout, but they forced 27 turnovers and limited Pilgrim to just 20 points on their way to a 39-20 victory. It was the first league victory for the ‘Canes, who improved to 1-1. Pilgrim is now 0-1 in league play.
“It was a solid win,” Paquet said. “They really played defense tonight. They communicated well and the press worked.”
Pilgrim played without starting point guard Katelyn Reph, who was out with an ankle injury. The timing couldn’t have been worse – Vets had its press in full gear and the Pats struggled to handle it without Reph, especially in the first half.
“It was a perfect storm in a way,” said Pilgrim head coach Ian Smith.
Pilgrim committed six turnovers in the first three minutes of the game. With each one, Vets seemed to ramp up the pressure even more. In all, the Pats turned it over 17 times in the first half.
“I love to see that,” Paquet said. “I’m a defensive coach all day. That’s No. 1 in my book. It’s nice to see after a couple of games of letting teams score into the 40s and 50s. I love to see teams under 40 points. That’s a big goal for us.”
For the game’s first five minutes, Vets didn’t take full advantage of the turnovers. They led just 4-2 with 10:56 left.
Twenty seconds later, they were off and running. Katie Gregory hit a hook shot before a long rebound led to a fast-break layup by Casey Bennett. Bennett then hit a three to make it 11-2 with 9:21 left.
From there, the ‘Canes hit the gas pedal. After two Pilgrim free throws, Vets put together a 12-2 run to go up 23-6. Megan St. Jacques hit two free throws for Pilgrim in the final minute, but Vets still went to the break leading 23-8.
“The biggest thing that stood out was that the whole team played with a lot of confidence,” Paquet said. “They didn’t hesitate about getting on loose balls or shooting the basketball or defending.”
That continued early in the second half, where the ‘Canes quickly put a damper on any Pilgrim comeback hopes. Gregory scored the first points of the half on a short jumper before Bennett drained back-to-back three-pointers to make it 31-8 just three minutes into the half. The Pats turned the ball over on their first five possessions.
“We want to push that tempo when we can take advantage of it,” Paquet said. “If we’re going to do it, we’ve got to go hard to the hole. It actually showed with all of the offensive fouls we got. We had that mentality of taking the ball to the hole. I’d much rather see that than seeing them say they’re not going to do it. I’ll take the fouls as long as they don’t foul out.”
After the quick run to start the second half, Pilgrim actually settled in and committed only five more turnovers. That paved the way for a much better showing, as the Pats outscored Vets 12-8 over the final 13 minutes of the game.
It was never enough, though, as Vets coasted to the win. But it was a positive for the Pats.
“I think today, a lot of good things happened, considering we didn’t have our leader on the court,” Smith said. “It took a little while with the press, but we did some good things. We played well defensively.”
Pilgrim also got a solid performance from senior Betsy Heidel, who scored 13 points, nine in the second half.
“Betsy played a great game,” Smith said. “She led us on defense. She was focused and she made a big difference for us.”
Vets was led by Bennett, who tallied 17. Gregory added 14.
The ‘Canes will now head into the Coventry Credit Union Holiday Classic with some momentum.
“I think we’re right where we should be,” Paquet said. “I’m still looking for the bench to come up a little more. That’s lacking a little bit. But right now, I think offensively and defensively, we’re right where we need to be. It’ll be nice to play some non-league games to tweak and work on some things.”
Pilgrim will also play in the Coventry tournament, which begins Friday. The Pats don’t have a win yet – league or non-league – but the tournament will be another opportunity to keep pushing.
“They’ve been getting better,” Smith said. “They’re frustrated by it but they stay determined. They kept going after it tonight.”