The Toll Gate Lady Titans defended their home court on Monday night and defeated city rival and previously undefeated Pilgrim 41-28 during a Division III girls basketball slobber knocker in front of a packed gymnasium.
Natalie Aloisio, a junior forward, led Toll Gate with 13 points, and Sam Arnold, a junior guard, added 12 points on four 3-pointers. Other key contributor for the Lady Titans were senior center Isabel Donnelly, who recorded seven points, five blocks, and 10 rebounds and Sam Bertrand, a junior forward, who scored four points and grabbed 13 boards.
“It was an exciting night,” Toll Gate head coach Owen Paquet said. “I can talk wonders about how the players played. The production, the ball security, and running the offense. They really showed that they have the heart and desire to compete with any team in our division. So, it was nice to see that they really stepped up.”
“I love being at home playing the inner city rival,” Paquet added. “There’s nothing like it. This is why we coach and that’s why they play. And, give Pilgrim a heads up too because they played hard. They’re a tough team.”
The Pilgrim offense was led by Nadine Ogni, a junior, who finished with 12 points, and seniors Kailey Giarrusso and Hannah French, who added six and five points respectively.
The Lady Pats broke an early 2-2 tie when Giarrusso buried a baseline jumper and put Pilgrim up two.
Then, down the other end, Toll Gate’s Bertrand sank a shot from downtown and gave the Lady Titans a 5-4 edge.
With eight minutes left in the half, Toll Gate upped its lead to 11-6 on a 3-pointer from Arnold and three points from Aloisio.
Over the next four minutes the Lady Titans went on a 10-2 run and ballooned their lead to 21-8.
That spurt started when Emily May, a senior, assisted to Bertrand under the hoop for a bucket. Then, Bertrand corralled a big defensive rebound down the other end of the floor and dished to Aloisio, who passed back to Bertrand for a layup, pushing the lead to eight. After that, Ella Grace Allen swooshed a jumper and then, added a free throw, before Donnelly scored with a put back. Lastly, Aloisio capped the run with a pair of free throws, which gave Toll Gate the 12-point cushion.
Pilgrim got the deficit to 10 when Hannah French sank a 3-point shot with 42.6 seconds remaining in the half.
Toll Gate went into the break holding a 22-11 advantage.
Pilgrim started the second half with a 6-0 eruption, which saw Alysia Medeiros hit a jumper, Tara O’Connor sink a free throw, and Ogni deposit a 3-pointer.
A 3-point shootout ensued as Donnelly put an end to that spurt when she buried a trey of her own from the top of the arc following a Lady Titans offensive board.
Then, Ogni answered with another trey on Pilgrim’s next trip down and got the Lady Pats back within five with 8:46 remaining.
Toll Gate’s Arnold responded with a shot from downtown and put the Lady Titans back on top by eight.
After that, Pilgrim scored six straight buckets and got within 28-26 with a little over six minutes to play.
Those tallies came on two free throws from French, a jumper from Giarrusso, and a deuce from Alexandra Brown.
From there, the Lady Titans closed the contest on a 13-2 run, which was kick-started by two Grace Allen free throws, an Arnold 3-ball and an old-fashioned 3-point play from Aloisio. That sequence gave Toll Gate a nine-point cushion with three minutes remaining.
Toll Gate put the nail in the coffin when Arnold made a steal at midcourt and dished across to Aloisio, who was fouled while sinking a layup with 1.8 seconds left. Aloisio made the free throw and the Lady Titans walked off the court with a 13-point win.
Toll Gate wanted this game badly and you could tell from the opening tip.
“The desire for the team was 100 percent,” Paquet explained. “They did not want Pilgrim coming in and showing that they were undefeated in our house. So, the girls really stepped up and they showed the backbone today. That’s for sure.”
“It feels great,” Aloisio said. “This is a really big win for us. It was a game we were all looking forward to. And, we really brought it tonight. And, I’m really proud of everybody.”
“Really exciting,” Donnelly added. “The girls pulled it off this year. It’s just amazing. I have no words. I’m speechless.”
With the victory, the Lady Titans improve to 7-3 in the conference. Toll Gate has won six of its eight games in January, including a stretch where they conquered five in a row. It certainly looks like the team is jelling at last.
“I think this was the game that really brought us together,” Aloisio said. “We had a slow start in the beginning of the season, but I think we’re really working well as a team now. And, like the coach says, ‘it’s like building a nucleus of a team’. I think we’re really there at this point.”
“Just during practice, a lot of the chemistry’s coming through,” Donnelly explained. “A lot of us have played for three or four years together, so it’s finally good to see us start getting the chemistry and nucleus together.”
Toll Gate hosted St. Patrick Academy on Wednesday, but the score was unavailable at press time. The Lady Titans will play at home again on Friday at 4:30 pm against Times 2 Academy.
On the other side, Pilgrim was without Fran Maroni for this game, who got injured on Sunday and will likely miss time.
“We lost our center yesterday, so that killed us on the boards today,” Lady Pats head coach Scott Bayha said. “So, we got zero rebounds today. And, we didn’t hit our shots. I give them credit. They played great. They played zone, they packed it in, and we couldn’t hit any outside shots today. So, that’s going to happen if we catch that zone.”
While Pilgrim took the defeat, the coach felt his team put up a good fight.
“I don’t think we had anyone play bad,” Bayha said. “The effort’s there. We’ll be back to it. We’ve got Tolman on Thursday. They’re in first now. So, if we beat them, we’ll be back in first. So, we’ve got to pull out that Tolman victory. And, it’s going to be harder without our center, especially, because they have a girl that is 6’3. So, that’s going to be tough.”
That contest will tip at 7p.m.
Pilgrim falls to 9-1 in the conference with the loss.