CUMBERLAND – Until about the midway point of Wednesday night’s Division I opener against host Cumberland, nothing seemed to fall for Diandra DaRosa.
But once the St. Raphael Academy sophomore got her shooting touch, there was no stopping her.
The talented point guard, who starred for Tolman last year, tossed in a game-high 29 points, including 22 in the second half as the Saints earned their first league win in nearly two years with a 61-51 victory over the Clippers at the Wellness Center.
It wasn’t all DaRosa last night as her teammates managed to keep pace with the speedy and gutsy Clippers early in the game when their top player couldn’t get things going offensively. The Saints also had strong outings from a few other players, such as sophomore Lauren Gaj (nine points) and junior Emily Millar (nine points)
But DaRosa certainly was the spark, and SRA head coach Fred Lashley-Saunders couldn’t be any happier with his newest addition. During last year’s magical run by Tolman, DaRosa teamed with recently-graduated standout Leanna Fanning to carry the Tigers all the way to the Division II semifinals.
“Right now she is the heart and the rock of our team,” Lashley-Saunders said. “She is really brought a certain toughness that we lacked the last few years. What we saw today is the will and determination on her part and what it does is it really brings out the confidence in the other kids on the team.”
Cumberland, which lost three starters from last year’s playoff team and also had five of its juniors decide not to play this year, was led by 17 points from senior Ali DeHertogh. Senior Teammate Kelsey Cahill chipped in 15.
With a dozen points coming from DeHertogh, the Clippers led the Saints by a slim 28-25 margin at halftime. It was soon after, though, that DaRosa started to heat up.
She didn’t score her first basket until hitting the first of two free throws with 7:22 left in the first half. DaRosa scored seven of her team’s final nine points in the initial half and then carried the momentum when the two teams returned to the floor for the final half. The most damaging spurt came with a little more than three minutes left in the game.
After the Clippers got within a point of the Saints, at 50-49, on a 15-footer from freshman Kaitlin Engels, DaRosa netted seven unanswered points in the next 40 seconds to put her teammates ahead by eight (57-49), beginning with her third 3-pointer of the night and a pair of hard drives to the hoop.
That quick offensive explosion appeared to drain the final energy out of the Clippers, who mustered just two free throws the remainder of the way.
“We knew prior to the game that she left Tolman to come to Saints and was a quality player,” said Cumberland coach Deb Engels, about DaRosa. “We tried to contain her and put someone on her. I don’t think it really worked so we switched back. She played a good game and they are a good squad. I haven’t seen them play so early in the season so I didn’t know what to expect. (Lashley-Saunders) has some weapons. We don’t have a lot of height so we try to counter that with speed and hustle and other things that have to help us.”
Saints earned the victory a year removed from finishing 0-15 last year.
“(Last year) was just a growing year for us,” Lashley-Saunders said. “We were young. We had some key injuries that really affected our team. Nonetheless, our team stayed strong. We worked really hard this summer so that hopefully what happened last year would never happen again. And we’ve gotten better. We have gotten younger and better.”
The Clippers, who were 8-7 last year and lost to South Kingstown in the Div. I quarterfinals, demonstrated throughout the game that their primary strength right now is underneath the hoop. Cumberland (1-1 overall) has some quality outside shooters in Cahill, a four-year starter, and senior Carlynn Smith (eight points on Wednesday), but so far most of its offense comes in close proximity to the hoop.
Engels is confident that aspect will improve as the season progresses with her young and dedicated squad.
“I got a whole new crew,” she said. “I had five juniors that didn’t come back and graduated three seniors. I am down eight people and scrambling and looking to see who I’ll put on varsity. Every practice we work on things for everybody to get better. It’s kind of what we have to do. We have to do it as a team.”
I have seen a lot of good things,” she added. “We hustle. We run the floor well. We look for each other. We talk. Those are some huge things we haven’t had in a while.”
SAINTS (61) – Diandra DaRosa 9 8-8 29, Samantha Ferreira 3 0-0 6, Lauren Gaj 4 1-4 9, Rebecca Gonzalez 1 0-0 2, Emily Millar 4 0-0 9, Stephanie Stuttard 1 0-0 2. Totals – 19 9-12 61
CUMBERLAND (51) – Sam Bertherman 2 0-1 4, Kelsey Cahill 6 3-8 15, Ali Dehertogh 7 3-5 17, Kaitlyn Engels 1 4-6 8, Carlyn Smith 4 0-0 8. Totals – 20 10-20 51
Halftime – C, 28-25. 3-point goals – SRA (4) – DaRosa 3, Millar.