Warwick Vets returned to the girls’ basketball playoffs Tuesday night for the first time since 2011. Unbeaten Rogers welcomed the Hurricanes back, and not surprisingly, it wasn’t a friendly greeting.
The second-seeded Vikings raced to a 10-0 lead, held off one surge by Vets and never looked back en route to a 57-26 preliminary round victory in Newport. Rogers senior center Brianne Morgera poured in a game-high 27 points, and the ’Canes could never keep up.
“That’s quite a team,” Vets head coach Owen Paquet said of the Vikings. “They’re definitely built to succeed in this playoff bracket. They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. They have everything – their point guard is great, their center is unbelievable, they’ve got some shooters.”
The ’Canes, while happy to be back in the postseason, knew what they were up against. The Vikings have posted back-to-back 16-0 seasons, and the year before, they went 16-2. This year, they’re honed in on a championship after getting bounced in the quarterfinals last year.
Vets was the first victim.
“They’ve been focused in general all year,” said Rogers head coach Frank Brow. “This is the best group I’ve ever had, chemistry-wise. They work hard every day, there’s no baloney. I love these guys, all of them. They’re a great group.”
The ’Canes might have been able to hang around with a quick start, but instead they fell right into a hole. They missed their first seven field-goal attempts and committed three turnovers before they scored a point.
In the meantime, Rogers went up 10-0. Morgera scored inside, Josie Chaves converted a three-point play, Elizabeth Jackson buried a three and Morgera hit a layup.
Casey Bennett got Vets on the board when she hit a three-pointer with 11:13 left, and the bucket started an 8-2 run. Kat Raposo hit one of two free throws and Emily Almonte scored on a putback and a jump shot to make it 12-8.
The other bright spot for the ’Canes was that they were winning the turnover battle. Rogers had five giveaways in the first four minutes of the game.
But ultimately, Vets just couldn’t keep pace.
Starting forward Lauren Almonte went down with an injury at the 8:38 mark and didn’t return. The ’Canes then went nearly four minutes without a point, and Rogers pulled away. Morgera scored seven points to power a 14-0 run that was capped by a Quiara Brooks three. When Emily Almonte ended the drought with a jumper at 5:04, Vets trailed 26-10.
“It would have helped if Lauren didn’t get hurt in the first five minutes of the game,” Paquet said. “We struggled to move the ball offensively. Defensively, we held our own for a while there, but they hit their shots and it was tough to stop Morgera.”
Bennett hit her second three-pointer with 2:02 left, but the lead never dipped below 17 for the rest of the game as Vets struggled to make any offensive headway. The Vikings used a 2-3 zone that paid special attention to Bennett, and the ’Canes didn’t get many quality opportunities. They shot 16-percent from the field.
“If we had been able to work the ball around a little better, get some cleaner looks, maybe we could have done a little more,” Paquet said.
At the other end, Vets had no answer for Morgera. Last month, the returning All-Stater scored her 1,000th career point and she had no trouble adding to her total against Vets. The ’Canes tried to deny her the ball, but if she got post position, the 6’1 center was going to finish.
“She’s a beast, she really is,” Brow said. “She’s tough to move, she’s long, she can finish with both hands, she runs the court well. I’m a lucky guy.”
Chaves chipped in 12 points for the Vikings and Jackson had eight. Bennett led the ’Canes with 12 and Emily Almonte had 10.
The loss marked the end of the line for Vets captains Bennett and the Almonte twins, as well as seniors Ricki Beaufort, Tara Fernandes and Jenna Fontaine.
“These seniors, especially my three captains, have been such a big part of the team the last few years,” Paquet said. “They’ll be missed.”
The seniors led Vets to its best finish since 2010.
“We always want to make the playoffs, so it’s good to get there,” Paquet said. “It was a good season overall. The girls gave me everything they had and that’s what I’m always looking for.”