PAWTUCKET â€“ As good as St. Raphael Academy is, very little comes easy for the defending state champions against the other elite teams in Division I.
After scoring a pair of three-point wins over Central and Classical in the past 10 days, the unbeaten Saints welcomed talented Mount Pleasant to Alumni Hall on Friday night.
The Kilties field their usual fast and athletic group of players. They came out in a box-and-one defense and then a 1-3-1 that focused on limiting the shot opportunities for SRA scoring leaders Charles Correa and Cesar Mejia.
â€śThatâ€™s what I would do if I were coaching against us,â€ť Saints coach Tom Sorrentine said after his club broke away from a 49-49 tie with 4:20 to go and walked out of the gym with a 60-51 victory.
â€śThe final score doesnâ€™t tell you how close this game was,â€ť Sorrentine said while staring at his stat sheet for clues to how this battle was won.
This was a back-and-forth contest that played off of the two rival point guards, Correa and Kip Stewart, a 5-foot-9 sophomore who is almost as slick as the Saintsâ€™ floor leader. Stewart scored all 11 of his points in the second half. Correa scored 12 of his 17 after intermission.
Neither team led in the first half by more than three points until Mejia (15 points) hit a field goal for a 30-25 lead with three minutes left until intermission. The Kilties then scored five in a row to tie the game at 30 before Mejia drained two free throws for a 32-30 halftime lead.
Saintsâ€™ guard Malcolm Williams, who finished with eight points, put the Saints up 34-30 on the first possession of the second half, scoring off a nice feed from Correa (just four assists, a number that would have been doubled if several other great passes had been converted into points).
Correa then drained a three from the left corner for a 37-30 lead.
Mount Pleasant answered with an 11-0 surge that seemed to portend a bad ending for the home team. Stewart drove the lane and flipped in a scoop shot to start the run, then stroked a three-point basket. Mejia threw away passes on consecutive possessions as the Kilties took advantage to move ahead 41-37 with 11:09 left in the game.
This is normally when Correa takes over the game. However, the junior guard missed a pull-up jumper and a long three. When Jayquan Monteiro split the Saintsâ€™ defense for a driving layup, the Kilties had a 43-38 lead.
Mejia answered with a strong drive to the hoop and then took a pass from Williams that ended in another basket. The Saints were down one point and the packed gymnasium, featuring a strong Mount Pleasant fan club, was buzzing with noise.
Mejia then made a nice pass to Davon Robertson (17 points, 12 rebounds) for a short hoop. After a Kilties miss at the other end, Correa capped a four-shot Saints possession with a three-pointer from the top of the key.
The last tie came at 49 when Mount center Ed Cooper deftly tapped in a missed shot.
Mejia broke the tie with a pair of free throws after getting fouled on a well-executed set play. Correa then peeled off Robertsonâ€™s screen to hit another three-pointer (this one was the dagger). It was now 54-49 with 1:52 left in the game.
The Kilties turned the ball over and SRA spread the floor, working the shot clock, until Robertson hit a fall-away jumper from 10 feet away with 1:05 left for a 56-49 advantage. Robertson, it goes without saying, is not known for this shot. But the Saints were on a roll, now, and good things were happening all over the court.
Stewart then made Mountâ€™s final basket of the night, only to see Correa answer with a strong move to the hoop and a 58-51 lead with 49 seconds left.
The final seconds played out uneventfully. The Kilties had taken their best shot but couldnâ€™t put the Saints away. When SRA had its chance to take control, it did.
Mejia, who like Correa struggled shooting the ball for most of the game, finished with 12 rebounds.
Sorrentine thought his team got beat on the boards in the second half.
â€śThey are so athletic,â€ť he said of Cooper and his mates, â€śthat they jump right over you for rebounds.â€ť
The Saints may have benefited from home-court advantage, too. They shot 16 free throws to just four for the Kilties, who went to the basket as often as the Saints did.
When asked how the game turned in his teamâ€™s favor, Sorrentine just smiled.
â€śCharles,â€ť he said with a grin, speaking of his floor leader, who had a tough night shooting the ball until the game was on the line.
The Saints are now 8-0 in league play while the Kilties fell to 5-3.
â€śTheyâ€™re going to cause a lot of problems in the playoffs,â€ť Sorrentine predicted.