PAWTUCKET — “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
St. Raphael Academy is bent on turning one of Nietzsche’s most memorable quotes into a rallying cry, head coach Fred Saunders hopeful that it pays off in the form of a playoff berth. That figures to be a tall order considering the Saints no longer have leading scorer Diandra DaRosa in the fold, but as Saunders noted after a gutsy 38-34 win over a green Ponaganset squad Wednesday night, the show must still go on for St. Raphael.
“I’m very proud of the resiliency this team has shown, we’re playing together now,” said Saunders after the Saints improved to 6-6 in Division I-North. “We’re starting to gel and starting to get it together.”
In DaRosa the Saints had a high volume scorer who was able to make everyone else’s job a bit easier. In the sophomore’s absence SRA has become a squad relying on grit and toughness on both ends of the court. Both traits were on display Wednesday as the Saints held a 21-10 edge in free throws attempted.
“It’s been a little bit of an adjustment because with all the storms, we really haven’t practiced without (DaRosa),” said Saunders. “We’re getting used to it, but we’re not worried. Diandra was really great for us and really boasted our confidence, so in the long run that’s what she did. We’re now going to take that all the way to the playoffs.”
Sophomore Lauren Gaj finished with 11 points to top St. Raphael, the lone player reaching double figures for the victors. Ponaganset’s Lea Lemoine also scored 11 points in a game that saw the Chieftains’ perimeter attack endure a cold night shooting-wise.
Ponaganset had a myriad of chances in the final 2:23 to tie or take the lead, but each offensive trip yielding nothing except more frustration for veteran head coach Gary Martinelli. The Chieftains had a basket taken away with 48 seconds remaining when Lemoine was called for steps, the Saints holding on to a 36-34 lead. Katie Wendt, one of many underclassmen on this year’s roster, got a clean look on the baseline with 18.1 ticks left, but the freshman left the potential game-tying attempt short.
SRA’s Becca Gonzalez then hit a free throw that put the pressure on Ponaganset to go for three. Lemoine released a shot from downtown with eight seconds on the clock, but the missed and the Saints were able to come up with the rebound.
“We’ve got to hit some shots, and (last night) we didn’t,” surmised Martinelli. “We don’t have a lot of size, and when the shots aren’t falling … we just struggled all night.”
The pace was such in the first half that both sides were begging for some sort of offensive burst. Martinelli shuffled bodies in and out, hoping to find the right combination. On the flip side St. Raphael had just nine points to its name at the eight-minute mark, trailing 13-9. The home team, however, rallied down the stretch as a spin move by Gaj in the final 20 seconds gave SRA a 19-18 lead at recess.
The Saints rattled off a quick nine points to begin the second half, so quick in fact that it probably caught everyone in the Wellness Center by surprise. Ponaganset now trailed 28-18 at 12:34.
Slowly but surely the Chieftains chipped away behind a trapping scheme that held the Saints to just three points in a seven-minute stretch. A three by Rachel Tassoni closed the Chieftains to within 33-31 with 4:23 remaining. That would also serve as the last field goal of the game for Ponaganset, now 2-9 in league play.
“We had some looks, but we just couldn’t do it,” Martinelli said. “We’ve played well enough to hang in there. We’re competitive, but we haven’t gotten over the hump.”
The Saints suffered a scare when senior Tanikqa Hodge went down after colliding with a Ponaganset player underneath SRA’s basket with 3:39 remaining. She needed to be helped off the court and was spotted afterwards with ice on her knee.
“I hope it’s just a bang because we can’t afford to lose any more bodies,” said Saunders. “We’re determined. Right now we’re in fifth place in our division, so this was a big win for us.”
PONAGANSET (34): Liz Coburn 0 0-0 0, Marisa Harding 0 1-2 1, Ami Humphrey 0 1-2 1, Julie Keedy 0 0-0 0, Lea Lemoine 5 1-2 11, Amanda Maynard 0 0-0 0, Aishwarya Nambiar 0 0-2 0, Rachel Tassoni 3 0-0 8, Katie Wendt 1 3-4 5, Chandler Williams 3 0-0 6. Totals: 12 6-10 34.
ST. RAPHAEL (38): Emily Miller 2 2-2 6, Ebun Shittu 2 3-6 7, Trina Lomba 0 0-0 0, Samantha Ferreira 0 0-2 0, Lauren Gaj 5 0-2 11, Becca Gonzalez 1 1-2 3, Christa Thomas 1 2-7 4, Tanikqa Hodge 1 0-0 2, Stephanie Stuttard 1 0-0 2. Totals: 13 8-21 38.
Halftime: SRA 19-18.
Three-point field goals: P 2 (Rachel Tassoni 2); SRA 1 (Lauren Gaj).
JV: SRA 40-37.