WESTERLY — Designed plays look nice on dry-erase boards, but it’s the top-level players who make the decision and are usually the reason a play works, fails or is changed in favor of something completely different.
Monday night, in the latest installment of the best Division II boys basketball rivalry, West Warwick’s Max Motroni knew with his team trailing by a point with 16 seconds left in the game that coach Richard Grenier wanted him to drive to the hoop. Motroni saw the lane was closed and proceeded to bury a 25-foot 3-pointer.
Thirteen seconds later, Westerly sophomore guard Austin Cilley changed coach Mike Gleason’s play call and instead of pounding the ball indie to star Zach Wells, Cilley found an open Michael-Thomas Sciro. Sciro, who didn’t score a point in the first half, buried a 3-pointer with three seconds left to lift the Bulldogs to a 64-62 win over the devastated Wizards.
“It’s a disappointing loss,” Grenier said after his team was bounced in the Division II quarterfinals. “… Korey (Clark) was in Sciro’s face but he just hit a shot right at the line. It’s a nice win for them because they get to move on. It’s disappointing for us because if we had one defensive stop at the end we’d be going to CCRI for the semifinals.”
“The kid hit a nice shot,” said West Warwick junior John Morrison, who had a team-high 20 points and five 3-pointers. “We just have to get back to practice because the season’s not over yet and we have another playoffs to worry about.”
West Warwick (13-6 Division II-South still might have a date with arch-rival Coventry High Friday, March 3 at the Providence Career and Technical Academy. Barrington, which beat Tiverton last night, can knock the Wizards out of the open tournament if the Eagles can defeat Rogers Thursday and either North Providence or Westerly on Sunday in the D-II championship. The Bulldogs (14-5 Division II-South) know they will be in the open tournament against St. Raphael in a few weeks, but the Bulldogs weren’t thinking about that Monday night. They were thinking about Sciro’s 3-pointer from the wing after Cilley appeared to lose control of the ball before finding his teammate on the left wing. “Austin penetrated kicked and found the open man. I just went to the open spot and I just let it go,” Sciro said after scoring six points. “I’m always going to be ready and I’m always going to have my shot ready (even when they play) isn’t for me. The left wing is my spot.” “We respect the hell out of (West Warwick) and I would think they respect us,” Gleason. “It’s a tough loss for them and they could’ve been celebrating just as easily as we could. Max made a 25-footer and that could have won the game, but I guess we had the ball last.” Monday’s game followed a similar pattern to the two regular-season games the two teams contested, which were both won by Westerly. The Wizards, who are normally fast starters, led by six at halftime before Westerly went on a 17-2 run midway through the second half. The Wizards, as they did in the two previous games, made a great comeback but it wasn’t enough to reach the Division II semifinals for the first time since playing in the final in 2008. “This is a tough loss, I wish we could’ve pulled it off,” said Motroni. “That’s life. We did make a nice comeback and we had a chance to beat them, it just didn’t happen.” When the two teams met at the end of the regular season eight days ago, Cilley buried the Wizards under an avalanche of points. The sophomore had 38 points, but Grenier wasn’t going to let that happen again. The Wizards played a ubiquitous 2-3 matchup zone that forced Cilley and Wells to work for their points. The Bulldog duo scored 16 points in the first half, but the Bulldogs only had 20 as the Wizards led 26-20. Motroni had 10 points in the first half and Morrison scored eight. West Warwick, which battled the Bulldogs even on the boards (32-32), used two 3-pointers from Morrison to open up a 35-27 lead with just 11 minutes left in the game. “In the first half we certainly carried the play and we played our best defense against them all season,” Grenier said. “We made a couple of mental mistakes [the Wizards played down a man on a possession because of a substitution mistake]. Unfortunately Westerly has found ways to make runs at us in the second half.” Westerly took control of the game with a 24-6 run over the span of five minutes to grab a 51-41 lead. Wells, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, spearheaded the run with his inside play. Cilley, who scored 17 points, drained two 3-pointers in the second half. The Wizards countered with a 16-5 run capped off by Motroni’s shot-clock beating 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the Wizards up two points with 16.5 seconds remaining in the game. “Coach had the ball in my hands and I know he wanted me to make something happen,” Motroni said. “He wanted me to go to the basket, but I was viewing the court and they were sagging on everything. I was feeling it at that point and I knew we needed a big shot.” Gleason called a timeout and drew up a play for Wells on a pick-and-roll, but the shot the Bulldogs got was better than the play the coach designed. West Warwick still had a chance to score after the basket put the Bulldogs up one, but Kyle Brown over threw Ryan Lawton on a 60-foot pass. Wells made a free throw and then missed the second on purpose with nine-tenths of a second left to finish the game. “Unless something weird happens, we still have another game to play,” Grenier said. “We wanted to be a part of that D-II Final Four and maybe play for a championship. It’s just not in the cards this year.”