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PAWTUCKET â€” For a team thatâ€™s been somewhat sidetracked in its pursuit of a high playoff berth, St. Raphael picked the perfect time to have one of its finest games of the season.
Junior Lauren Gaj and sophomore Rybecca Gonzalez teamed up to score 30 points and help the Saints give a strong showing on the boards that paved the way for a key 52-44 triumph over red-hot Lincoln on Wednesday night at the Saintsâ€™ Alumni Hall.
The Saints trudged into this Division I-North matchup with defeats in four of their last five contests, but got back on track with a splendid performance that saw them bump their record to 7-8 and move into a tie for fifth place with the Lions.
â€śWe have been a little inconsistent,â€ť added SRA coach Fred Saunders. â€śOne thing we wanted to find tonight is some kind of flow and consistency, and I think we rose to the occasion. Iâ€™m very proud of the effort and the hard work that we gave against a very good team thatâ€™s been playing extremely well.â€ť
One area that the Saints played extremely well in was on the boards, where they limited the Lions to just four field goals under the glass and received a dozen rebounds from Felicia Baccari and four blocked shots each from Gaj and Christa Thomas.
â€śI told them we should be able to control the glass, and if we can control the glass, that allows us to get into our transition game, and thatâ€™s when weâ€™re at our best,â€ť said Saunders. â€śIf we donâ€™t do a good job on the glass, it makes it much more difficult for us because weâ€™re not a very good halfcourt offense.â€ť
The Lions, who roared into the game as winners of four of their last five, not only struggled on the glass, but in the turnover department as well, coughing the ball up 24 times, while the Saints gave it away on just 13 occasions.
And the Lions, who havenâ€™t broke the 45-point mark in their last five games, also went through two long cold spells offensively, and while the first one -- a 6Â˝-minute drought midway through the first half -- didnâ€™t do much damage, the second one -- a 5Â˝ minute spell early in the second half, helped the Saints take a 24-18 lead and extend it to 14 points.
Lincoln trailed by as many as 16 (41-25) with 7:50 left, but the visitors made a valiant comeback. Twice, they cut their deficit to seven with less than four minutes to play, but they came no closer to the lead.
Gaj ended the night with a game-high 17 points, and Gonzalez enjoyed a fine all-around contest with 13 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and five steals. Emily Millar, one of just two seniors on the Saints, also added nine points.
A pair of sophomores led the way offensively for the Lions, with Kellyn Dyer scoring 15 points and Casie Beauchemin tossing in a dozen. Jenna Desautel also had a great game with nine points and six steals.
The Saints, who had posted a 57-42 win over the Lions in their first meeting of the year (Jan. 10) at Lincoln, will now try to catch fourth-place Smithfield in the standings and grab a home game in the first round of the playoffs.
They will visit four-win North Providence on Friday, but next week, they will face two playoff teams in Ponaganset (6-9) and the Sentinels (9-5).
â€śEach one of these games are extremely important,â€ť remarked Saunders. â€śWe would love to host a game in the playoffs and try to make our way to RIC (for the quarterfinals) that way. Once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen, and thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve been telling my players.â€ť
The Lions also have three regular-season contests left before the postseason, and all three are difficult. They will host second-place Woonsocket on Friday, and next week, they will face third-place Barrington and unbeaten Bay View.