WEST WARWICK â€“ We hear the phrase â€śforce to be reckoned withâ€ť from those involved in athletics so often that sometimes the exact meaning gets lost in the wash.
Tuesday nightâ€™s Division II showdown against Shea High saw West Warwick High clarify matters. Save for the late scare the Raiders provided, the Wizards provided concrete examples why they figure to be a tough out when the time comes for the open state tournament. With usual suspects John Morrison and Ryan Lawton directing the attack, West Warwick scored a 78-68 win to improve to 10-0 in II-South.
Lawton collected his 12th double-double, his latest effort consisting of 20 points and 11 rebounds to go along with five blocks. Morrison netted 21 points and almost single-handily tried to put the game out of reach in the opening half, where he netted all four of his 3-pointers.
â€śThey have a very good 1-2 punch,â€ť was the compliment paid by Shea head coach Matt Pita, his squad now 7-3 in II-Central. â€śThey had the answers all night long.â€ť
The numbers compiled by senior Elijah Saintfleur were most pleasing to West Warwick head coach Richard Grenier, especially on a night when fellow senior big man Cory Thibault was slowed by an ankle injury. Saintfleur collected 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Raiders had a hard time keeping the athletic forward in check.
â€śElijah had his best high school game,â€ť noted Grenier.
Kenric Carter was the top performer for the Raiders, collecting a game-high 22 points to go along with eight rebounds and four steals.
New addition Michael Neal also scored eight of his 10 points in the second half, while Jordy Brito added 11 points.
For the longest time it seemed the Wizards were going to cruise with the Raiders offering little resistance. The home team got off to a hot start and simply carried that momentum throughout the first half. In the blink of an eye West Warwick turned a 25-15 advantage into a 35-15 cushion with under five minutes remaining. Shea was able to crawl to within 11 points inside the final minute before the Wizardsâ€™ primary catalysts struck again. Morrison nailed his fourth trey and Lawton added two free throws with 4.6 ticks remaining as West Warwick headed to the locker room with a commanding 44-28 lead in tow.
â€śWeâ€™re using our size and when teams are trying to collapse down on us, weâ€™ve got the shooters that can hit the open three,â€ť said Grenier about what worked well in the opening 16 minutes.
The second half saw more of the same with the Raiders trying to catch fire. The Wizards continued to enjoy a double-digit lead after Lawton scored on back-to-back possessions to make it 67-51. Then came the momentum push that Shea badly needed as a Neal two-handed dunk jump-started a quick 10-point burst to cut West Warwickâ€™s onetime healthy advantage down to a doable 67-61 with less than four minutes to play.
â€śWe fought and we fought hard,â€ť said Pita. â€śWe just didnâ€™t get over the top. They always seemed to hit a shot.â€ť
â€śI knew they were going to make a run at us,â€ť said Grenier.
Instead of completely collapsing, the Wizards regrouped. Lawton caught a missed three and stuffed it in before later adding a baseline jumper to make it a 10-point game with 2:05 to play. Free throws by Lawton and Thibault helped put the finishing touches on the Wizardsâ€™ winning performance.
â€śWe needed to make sure we made good decisions and get clean shots off and I thought we were able to do that,â€ť said Grenier.