Sports editor emeritus
PAWTUCKET â€” St. Raphael Academy coach Fred Saunders understands he needs a complete team effort if the Saints want to bring home a Division II state title later this month.
â€śI think depth is one of our strengths,â€ť Saunders admitted on Thursday night after senior Lauren Taylor made her first start of the season and contributed 14 points, seven points and five rebounds that complemented the usual strong efforts by teammates Becca and Danyele Gonzalez along with Seun Shittu.
The Saints had just rolled to a 64-42 victory over Mount St. Charles in the opening round of the D-II playoffs. They will face ninth-seeded West Warwick on Sunday in the quarterfinals.
â€śLauren Taylor showed her growth this season,â€ť Saunders said of his lanky sophomore forward. â€śI was so proud of the way she played tonight. We are going to need more from her and all the girls as we continue in the playoffs.â€ť
Becca Gonzalez contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds while sister Danyele ran the offense and led the defense, collecting 10 points and five steals.
Mount, which had dropped a 62-12 verdict to SRA during the regular season, came in planning to erase that bad memory. And the visitors got off to a good start when Julia Laquerre drained a three-pointer from the top of the key for an early 3-2 lead. Laquerre then hit a layup for a 5-2 lead, forcing Saunders to call a timeout.
The Saints then strapped on their merciless full-court press, resulting in a 26-0 run that broke the game wide-open.
â€śWe began the game in a man-for-man defense and that didnâ€™t work out very well,â€ť Saunders said. â€śWe went to our full-court press and thatâ€™s one of the things we do well.â€ť
Mount couldnâ€™t get the ball across half-court on most of its possessions while the Saints fed off the turnovers, scoring easy baskets in transition and clicking on all cylinders on offense. Becca Gonzalez hit a three to tie the game, then made a layup for a 7-5 lead. Danyele Gonzalez drove to the basket for a hoop and then Taylor took a pass in the post and flipped in a short jumper.
Junior forward Seun Shittu, an integral part of the press, made two of four free throws as the lead kept expanding. Becca Gonzalez tossed in another three to extend the lead to 24-5.
Mount finally got a basket from reserve guard Rebecca Tillinghast to end the drought.
The Saints went back to their regular man defense. The half ended with SRA holding a 39-19 lead. Mount basically traded baskets with the Saints in the second half with senior captain Noreen Mulledy showing a variety of offensive moves. She collected a team-high 14 points for the Mounties, who finished the season with an overall record of 6-16.
The Saints, now 17-0 in D-II and 18-3 overall, now face a West Warwick team that routed Johnston 59-37 in the opening round.
â€śWe scouted them,â€ť Saunders admitted. â€śThey have some good shooters and they like to run. Weâ€™re going to have our hands full with them.â€ť