PAWTUCKET — For about 15 minutes in the first half of Friday night’s game, St. Raphael Academy looked every bit like the defending state championship team that it is, sprinting out to a 39-22 lead over a solid East Providence team that seemed troubled by the speed of the contest.
The Saints built their biggest lead of the night at 60-33, then watched a never-quit East Providence almost get back into the game with a 21-7 run.
At the final horn, the Saints walked off with a 72-56 victory that left head coach Tom Sorrentine shaking his head.
“Sometimes we go off on spurts and look great,” the white-haired coach said after the game ended. “And then we start shooting crazy 3s and turning the ball over. It’s my job as a coach to stop that.”
The Saints got 33 points from senior forward Cesar Mejia, an inside-outside scoring machine who hit four threes and converted seven of nine free throws. His running mate, junior point guard Charles Correa, finished with 20 points and 10 assists.
Those two stalwarts scored 53 of SRA’s 72 points, leaving 19 points for the rest of the team. Mejia passed 1,000 points for his career on this occasion.
“We have a solid nucleus of returning starters in Cesar, Charles and Davon (Robertson),” Sorrentine said. “We’re trying to work the rest of the guys into the rotation but they need some seasoning.”
Senior guard Malcolm Williams and junior forward Abdou Bah round out the starting five. Williams is an athletic defender who made two straight steals early in the game that seemed to rattle the Townies’ ballhandlers.
Bah, a 6-foot-5 forward, grabbed three early rebounds before disappearing for the rest of the game. When Bah, a first-year starter, gains some experience and confidence, the Saints will be all the tougher to beat.
Junior forward Ben Duarte comes off the bench to spell Bah and Robertson. He might have the best shooting touch of the three.
East Providence missed a bunch of inside shots in the first half that the Saints turned into fast-breaks at the other end of the floor. The Townies settled down in the second half and played the Saints to a 30-30 stalemate in the second half. Senior guard Nick DeBarros nailed three straight three-point field goals to cut a 63-37 deficit to 63-46 to highlight E.P.’s bleak evening.
The Townies’ best shooter, Brendan Quigley, had an off-night and finished with 15 points. Senior guard Jawaan Lyles settled down in the second half and made some nice passes to center Mathias McGonigle, who finished with eight points after struggling in the first half. Lyles added 12 points to the cause.
E.P., which had lost a last-second 54-52 verdict to Hope High last week, fell to 1-2 in Division I-North.
The Saints moved to 3-0. Sorrentine knows his team has a target on its back after winning the state open championship last March.
“People are going to keep coming after us,” the coach said with a smile. “We’re going to have to fight every night. Tonight, I thought East Providence did a good job of spreading us out (on defense). They hit those three long shots to get back into the game.
“I don’t think there are going to be any easy games in Division I,” Sorrentine added. “We have played tough games with Central and Hope already. I know Mount Pleasant has a really good team. East Providence will be tough to play. We kind of got on them early tonight.”
The Saints are now 6-0 overall and while Sorrentine won’t talk about it, this team has a chance to do some special things before the season concludes. The defending champs can blow good teams like East Providence out of their own gym with a flurry of fast-breaks created by their ball-hawking defense. They are fun to watch and scary to defend against.