PROVIDENCE – For a team that had not won a game in exactly three weeks, or captured a playoff contest of any kind in three years, Friday night seemed as good a time as any for the St. Raphael Academy hoopsters to exercise some demons.
Buoyed by a chameleon defense that never allowed Westerly to slip into gear, St. Raphael took all of the fight out of its opponent in a 58-43 triumph in first-round action of the new 16-team open state tournament at the Providence Career & Technical Academy Fieldhouse. The win earns SRA a date with West Warwick in Monday’s quarterfinals. W.W., seeded 13th, upended No. 4 Coventry late Friday night.
A game like last night’s was a long time coming for the Saints, who held the Bulldogs to 45 total shots while turning them over 20 times. Such stout numbers have been hard to come by for Tom “Saar” Sorrentine’s crew, as St. Raphael entered Friday losers of four of its last seven outings.
What was cooking was a triangle-and-2 defense designed to take guard Austin Cilley and low post threat Zach Wells, Westerly’s two best scorers, out of their comfort zone. The scheme worked to perfection as Cilley registered all of his team-best 14 points in the opening half. The rolls reversed with Wells, who put up seven points in the second half after going scoreless in the first 16 minutes.
“We were trying to shut down one of them, anyway,” Sorrentine said. “(Junior) Davon (Robertson) did a nice job on 35 (Wells) and Charles (Correa), Jazz (Robinson) and Jordan (Peguero) kept switching up on 3 (Cilley). It was probably one of the better defensive games we played.”
“We really wanted to play good defense, which is something we emphasized all week,” noted SRA senior Trevor Vasey. “We haven’t played that good since the beginning of the year. Guys were always switching, so it kind of looks like a man-to-man.”
The other sign that SRA’s harassing ways were working was that Westerly, the 12th seed, attempted just four free throws. Conversely the No. 5 Saints went to the charity stripe 25 times (making just 11), though many of those attempts came late in the proceedings as the Bulldogs made it a point to stop the game when it appeared out of reach.
Mejia paced the fifth seeded Saints with 19 points and 16 rebounds while Correa added 16 points, five assists and four steals. SRA’s bench also made an impact, from the 11 rebounds Ben Pillsbury ripped down to the pressure defense and six points Franklin Batista provided.
Neither side started out strong, as Westerly enjoyed an early 7-1 lead after St. Raphael opened the game missing 11 straight from the field. Slowly but surely the Saints chipped away, as a series of backdoor layups helped in creating a 24-17 lead with less than two minutes remaining. SRA wound up taking a 24-20 lead into the break as a three by Cilley and a free throw from Tony Turano materialized in the final 90 seconds.
“We got inside on them a couple of times. (Down on the blocks) is where I thought we had the advantage,” said Sorrentine.
“They were denying the ball, so went over the top to get some layups,” said Vasey, who finished with six points.
SRA kept up the defensive intensity at the start of the second half, as Sorrentine kept switching between his pressing unit and going big with Pillsbury and Robertson on the floor at the same time. Westerly managed just four field goals in the first 10 minutes on its way to falling out of St. Raphael’s sight, 47-28.
Correa shook off a sluggish first half, one that saw him play with two fouls for much of the way, to score 11 points in the latter half. No one in a Westerly uniform could stay with the speedy sophomore, as Correa routinely dashed into the lane to either finish himself or dish off to a teammate for an easy score. The closest the Bulldogs got was 14 (54-40) with 1:45 remaining.
“Speed-wise I thought we were quicker than them,” said Sorrentine, no doubt referencing to Correa’s push-the-tempo ways.
“I just we came out with a renewed energy,” said Vasey. “Hopefully we can continue that on Monday night.”
WESTERLY (43): Michael Sciro 0 0-0 0, Austin Cilley 6 0-0 14, Jacob Mortrude 0 0-0 0, Brandon Van Horn 4 0-0 9, Hunter Warner 1 1-2 3, Brian Gardner 1 0-0 3, Zach Wells 3 0-0 7, Tony Turano 3 1-2 7. Totals: 18 2-4 43.
ST. RAPHAEL (58): Terrence Manning 0 0-0 0, Jordan Peguero 1 0-0 2, Cesar Mejia 6 5-14 19, Trevor Vasey 3 0-1 6, Franklin Batista 3 0-0 6, Jazz Robinson 0 0-0 0, Ben Pillsbury 1 0-0 2, Davon Robertson 3 1-3 7, Calvin Contreras 0 0-0 0, Charles Correa 5 5-7 16. Totals: 22 11-25 58.
Halftime: SRA 26-21.
Three-point field goals: W 5 (Austin Cilley 2, Brandon Van Horn, Brian Gardner, Zach Wells); SRA 3 (Cesar Mejia 2, Charles Correa).