WEST WARWICK â€” The West Warwick girls basketball team, for the second time this season, defeated Tolman at home. And while the score, 63-54, indicates the Wizards were comfortable Division II first-round playoff winners, the game was still up in the air with three minutes remaining.
Thanks to 20 points from center Jenna Ayala and 13 from guard Janelle Gonzalez, the Tigers gave the No. 3 Wizards all they could handle.
The short-handed Wizards, however, had all-division guard Tyreese Garrick on their side. Playing without backcourt mate Cara Genest, the senior scored a game-high 28 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out five assists in the nine-point win.
â€śDown the stretch we did a good job of boxing out and we went back to basics,â€ť Garrick said after she earned her first playoff win as a Wizard. â€śI wasnâ€™t nervous because basketball is just basketball. You just go out there and give it your all, win or lose.â€ť
Tolman coach Tammy Drape was proud of her teamâ€™s effort, especially with the way the Tigers battled back from a 13-point deficit early in the second half to cut the lead to one. Drape simply lamented the fact that her team couldnâ€™t contain Garrick.
â€śWe wanted to play man-to-man, but we couldnâ€™t, at times, because Garrick is who she is,â€ť Drape said. â€śSheâ€™s very quick and ewe really didnâ€™t want to go to a man but with five or six minutes to go we had to do it. My kids simply played hard.
â€śAfter the game I told my kids to hold their heads up high because they have nothing to be ashamed of. The season didnâ€™t end up the way I anticipated it ending, but this was one of the better games we played.â€ť
The Wizards, since losing to Prout in the middle of February, have now won eight straight games to improve to 13-6 in division game. No. 6 Tolman ends the season 9-10.
West Warwick, which will play the winner of Thursdayâ€™s game between No. 2 Johnston and Narragansett Sunday at Rhode Island College, was playing without freshman starting point guard Cara Genest. Genest, who scored 20 points when the teamâ€™s met in a non-league game back in January, had a stomach bug but should be back for Sundayâ€™s game
The Wizards were forced to play with a seven-man rotation and that began to catch up with them late in the second half. Starting forward Mackenzie Ramsay fouled out with 6:38 left in the game and the Wizards up by just seven points. Ayala hit two free throws after the foul to fuel a 6-0 run and close the gap to 43-42.
Garrick then made the biggest play of the game. The senior intercepted an errant Tolman pass and ran around the perimeter before swinging the ball. The ball eventually reached the corner where Christina Colafrancesco connected on a 3-pointer to extend the lead to four. Colafrancesco hit three 3-pointers and scored 13 points.
â€śI was excited when I hit that shot,â€ť Colafrancesco said. â€śBefore that shot we were rushing too much. We just needed to settle down and play our type of basketball.â€ť
â€śWhen she knocked down that 3-pointer to put us up four points, it was a phenomenal shot,â€ť West Warwick coach Mike Francois said. â€śEarly in the season I donâ€™t think Christina looked for her shot as often as I thought she shouldâ€™ve. Since we went on this winning streak sheâ€™s been scoring more and more.â€ť
Colafrancesco kept the run going with a pair of free throws to build the lead up to six. Ayala, who had a double-double, made it a five-point game with a free throw but Garrick hit too many free throws for Tolman to put a dent into the lead. The Wizard senior, at one point late in the half, connected on six straight free throws.
Garrick was clearly the catalyst in the victory, but the Wizards received strong performances from the other six players who played meaningful minutes. Mikaela Grosso battled with Ayala and scored 11 points. Nicole Chamberlain scored five in the second half, while Mina Colon and Nicole Moretti played great defense.
â€śAs I said, every single girl stepped up tonight, it was a phenomenal team effort,â€ť Francois said. â€śColon and Moretti played well and even Nicole Chamberlain got into the starting lineup and made some tough shots in the post and rebounded well.â€ť
Ayala gave Tolman and early jumped when she scored four points in the first two minutes to put the Tigers ahead. Tolman, thanks to a 6-0 run, took a 14-13 lead midway through the first half. But the Wizards only allowed four points over the final 7:44 of the half to grab a 10-point lead at halftime, 28-18.
The lead continued to build early in the second half. After the Tigers hit a 3-pointer, Colafrancesco responded with a wing 3-pointer to put her team up 38-25. Tolman cut the deficit all the way down to one, but the visitors never could retake the lead.