WEST WARWICK – The program’s reputation has been built on its offensive prowess.
Thursday night the West Warwick girls basketball team showed it can play a little on the other side of the court as well.
After falling down early, coach Mike Francois unleashed a press on East Greenwich that threw its offense out of sorts as the Wizards’ defense frustrated the Avengers all night, which saved the game because the offense struggled to make anything from anywhere in a 45-38 win in their Division II opener.
“Defensively, we’re turning people over with the press,” said Francois, whose team forced 25 EG turnovers. “We’re pressing the entire game. The offense wasn’t pretty, the free-throw shooting was unspeakable but we made free throws when it counted. “
West Warwick made 14 of 55 from the floor, hit only 5 of its 22 3-point attempts and 12 of 25 from the line. Numbers like that usually result in blowout losses, but the Avengers didn’t fare much better because they were either turning the ball over or not getting clean looks at the basket.
All told East Greenwich had 68 possessions in the game; they had 25 turnovers and scored on 21 possessions. Any time a team scores on half its possessions in a game – and the Avengers scored on 21 of the 43 possessions it took a shot – it’s in line for a win.
But those other 25 possessions were the difference. You can’t score when you turn the ball over. The pressure from the guards up top – especially point guard Sarah LaMountain, who barely let EG point Jen Sarazen breathe – disrupted the Avengers flow and the Wizards had a knack of coming up with turnovers in key spots.
“When we press, we just want to anticipate all the passes and we did a good job of that,” said LaMountain, who led the team with five steals. “We had a lot of steals and we played good defensively.”
Up 12 with 3:49 left after a pair of free throws by Mikaela Grosso, the Avengers staged a comeback. Down seven with 1:36 left, Joya Pelosi made the front end of a free throw and missed the second but the ball was rebounded by EG’s Kaley McMullen.
She was swarmed by the defense and dished to Sarazen, who ran herself into a trap and traveled, giving the ball back to the Wizards. Briana Gough was fouled on the ensuing possession and with the team in a funk from the free-throw line, she made a pair to make it 45-37 with 1:14 left.
EG’s Margaret McCaffrey missed a jumper coming down and the Avengers got another offensive rebound, but again the West Warwick defense stepped up, trapping Pelosi and forcing her to travel, all but clinching the win with under one minute left.
“Our defense has never been our calling card,” Francois said. “In all my years here it’s been my offense.”
There wasn’t much to say about the offense. West Warwick turned it over 13 times, a good number in Division II hoops and one less than EG did in the first half, and had plenty of looks at the basket, but nothing went in.
Gross led the team with 14 points but it was on 3 of 17 shooting. Cara Genest scored 11, but made only 4 of 12 from the floor. Gough had a tough night, going 1-for-11 from the floor but more than made up for it with the late free throws.
“We are good shooters, but we have our nights when we’re off,” said LaMountain, who scored three points and had five assists. “He just tells us to keep shooting because you don’t make any of the shots you don’t take.”
“The offense will come eventually. I told the girls by January we have to be clicking offensively,” Francois said. “The defense has been outstanding and it’s going to keep us in more games.”
The win improved the Wizards to 3-1 on the year, 1-0 in Division II-South; it was also the first time Francois faced the best girl he ever coached. East Greenwich’s head coach is Tori Ahrens, the former all-stater from EG who was coached by Francois from her freshman to junior season.
“Before the game Tori and I spoke after the game we spoke and I’m sure she’ll call me after she drops the girls off in East Greenwich,” Francois said. “She’s a first-year coach and I’m sure, give her time, if they play half of what she was – and she was all-state three years in a row – they’ll have a very, very good team. She’s getting her feet wet, learning as she goes but it was a tough game and they never let up.”
EAST GREENWICH 38
Jenn Sarazen 3-6 1-2 7; Margaret McCaffrey 2-13 1-2 6; Julia Pelosi 3-9 2-2 8; Keri Pallister 3-6 0-0 6; Joya Pelosi 2-7 3-6 7; Kaley McMullen 1-1 0-0 2; Maggie Mathieu 0-1 0-2 0; Sarah Gavin 1-1 0-0 2; Gabby Nicastri 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS 15-48 7-16 38.
WEST WARWICK 45
Sarah LaMountain 1-3 1-4 3; Mikaela Grosso 3-17 7-9 14; Cara Genest 4-12 0-1 11; Mackenzie Ramsay 3-7 0-5 7; Briana Gough 1-11 4-6 6; Amy Carney 0-0 0-0 0; Andrea Resendes 2-5 0-0 4. TOTALS 14-55 12-25 45.
Halftime: West Warwick 26-21. 3-pointers: East Greenwich 1-9 (McCaffrey 1-5, Julia Pelosi 0-2, Sarazen 0-1, Carosotto 0-1); West Warwick 5-22 (Genest 3-7, Grosso 1-8, Ramsay 1-4, Gough 0-3). Rebounds: East Greenwich 48 (Joya Pelosi 14); West Warwick 37 (Ramsay 7). Assists: East Greenwich 8 (Sarazen 3); West Warwick 8 (LaMountain 8). Turnovers: East Greenwich 25 (Sarazen 8); West Warwick 13 (LaMountain 4). Steals: East Greenwich 6 (Sarazen, Julia Pelosi 2); West Warwick 12 (LaMountain 5). Blocks: East Greenwich 6 (McCaffrey 3); West Warwick 3 (LaMountain, Genest, Gough 1).