PAWTUCKET – St. Raphael Academy’s Diandra DaRosa may have been the top talent on the floor Tuesday night, but East Providence High proved that team play wins out every time.
Paced by a monster effort by Michaela Wiggins, the Townies held on to defeat the Saints, 55-49, at the Wellness Center. Wiggins, a senior, finished with a game-best 24 points and 22 rebounds, a performance that helped offset the 23 points DaRosa scored for SRA. Shania Connor aided E..P.’s cause with 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Townies, who protected a 27-23 lead at halftime, watched as the host Saints (1-1 Division I-North) went up by three points on two different occasions early in the second half. E.P. then rallied behind the play of Wiggins, whose jump-on-my-back attitude was on display every time she received an entry pass at the top of the key. Blending a series of strong dribble drives and soft jumpers in the paint, Wiggins single-handily brought East Providence back to the point that St. Raphael simply had no answers for her.
How hot was Wiggins? She scored nine straight points in the second half, a half that saw her finish with 18 points. Instead of being strictly a back-to-the-basket player, which Wiggins was earlier in her high school career, she now possesses the ability of handling the ball, which in turn makes defenders even more at her mercy.
“I think sometimes she doubts her ability when we put her (near the free throw line) because she’s so used playing down low,” said E.P. head coach Mike Solitro after his crew grabbed its first Division I-North win of the year against one defeat. “We keep telling her to make a move. I thought she got caught in the first half and was a little hesitant in looking for her offense. We want her to use her versatility.”
What made Wiggins an even tougher cover for the Saints was that SRA could not afford to throw a double team her way, not after Connor and Alyssa Dias opened the game by knocking down two jumpers apiece. By spacing the floor with capable threats, Wiggins was able to pick and choose when she could attack the goal. That resulted in East Providence hitting 8-of-12 shots to begin things on its way to opening up an 18-8 lead with six minutes gone by in the first half.
“Shania and Alyssa did a nice job shortening their shots in the first half,” said Solitro.
As SRA head coach Fred Saunders noted afterwards, how DaRosa performs will go a long way in determining what kind of night is in store for his Saints. A well-regarded perimeter threat who can take and make just about any shot on the floor, DaRosa wound up scoring 15 of her team’s 23 points in the opening half.
Then came the worst possible scenario for Saunders and the Saints. DaRosa picked up her fourth foul with 10 minutes to go, which left SRA no choice but to seek out other offensive options. Sophomore Lauren Gaj tried to shoulder the burden by scoring seven straight points on her way to finishing with 14, but no other Saint was able to crack double figures.
“I’m trying to get us away from (DaRosa being the top ballhawk) because you never know when she’ll be in foul trouble like she was (last night),” said Saunders. “What are we going to do in case she’s not there?”
Saunders was left with little choice but to substitute offense for defense with DaRosa, a move that clearly limited her effectiveness down the stretch. While SRA’s main power source was all but cut off, East Providence got on a roll. Up 46-39 with 7:22 left, the Townies watched as Wiggins continued to dominate, which helped the visitors maintain the lead the rest of the way. The closest SRA came with 51-47 with 2:17 remaining after two free throws by Tanikqa Hodge (eight points).
Told the Townies held the Saints to 1-of-20 shooting to close out the game, Solitro responded, “We tried to switch it up a lot just to create a little confusion. The thing about DaRosa is that you can’t lose her. We tried to double her a little bit and give her different looks so that way she wouldn’t be comfortable.”