Sports editor emeritus
PAWTUCKET â€” Moses Brown came looking to spoil St. Raphael Academyâ€™s bid for a perfect 16-0 regular season on Tuesday night at Alumni Hall.
The Saints had defeated the Quakers by 21 points in mid-January. That was a rare off night for the visitors, who carried an 11-3 record in Division II action into this playoff tuneup for both sides.
If not for a herculean effort by SRA senior Becca Gonzalez, who fought off persistent leg cramps to finish with 23 points, the Saints would have gone down to defeat against the Quakers, who canned five three-point field goals and actually led 36-35 with 4:30 left in the game before the Gonzalez sisters (Becca and junior point guard Danyele) along with forward Seun Shittu took over the game.
After Claudia Marzec swished a baseline jumper to give the Quakers their lone lead of the second half, Danyele Gonzalez drove through traffic at the other end of the floor and converted a layup while getting fouled. Moses Brown then tied it with a free throw at the 3:27 mark before Becca Gonzalez called for the ball and drilled a three-point basket with 3:02 showing on the clock.
Moses Brown took a timeout but it was Becca who needed the break. Lying on her back during the timeout, Becca pointed her feet in the air. Danyele grabbed one leg and started cranking the foot upwards to relieve the pressure of the painful cramping in big sister Beccaâ€™s hamstring muscle.
â€śItâ€™s usually Danyele who has problems with leg cramps,â€ť said father Walter Gonzalez, who assisted Becca when she went to the floor a minute later after forcing a jump ball with the possession arrow pointing in SRAâ€™s direction.
The Saints led 40-37 when Becca got off the floor and made one of two free throws with 2:01 left. Following a Moses Brown free throw, Shittu added a clutch basket, grabbing an offensive rebound and tossing in a five-footer for a 43-38 lead with 30 seconds left in the game.
MBâ€™s Isabelle Robinson converted a long three-pointer with 19 seconds left and suddenly it was a two-point game. Becca Gonzalez, forced to the bench in pain with 56 seconds left, returned to the court and was fouled after sister Danyele dribbled the ball over half-court. Becca made both free throws for a 45-41 lead with 11.1 seconds remaining that sealed the victory.
â€śIt was a tough game,â€ť Saints coach Fred Saunders admitted. â€śMoses Brown knows us well. We didnâ€™t play our best game but I donâ€™t want to lose sight of the fact that this team just finished a 16-0 season. We have a few things to clean up before we begin the playoffs.â€ť
If not for SRAâ€™s withering defensive pressure, Moses Brown might have won this game by 10 points. The Saints made 19 field goals on the night and at least 10 of them were the direct result of defensive pressure initiated by the Gonzalez sisters and Shittu.
With the game on the line, Saunders can turn to the fearless Gonzalez sisters to handle the ball, take the pressure shots, and step to the free throw line without blinking an eye.
The Saints now have a few days off before playoffs begin. There is no time to savor the perfect season, only a few practice sessions in which to correct some of the mistakes they made Tuesday night during their closest game of the season.