SMITHFIELD — Despite senior Brittany Bilodeau’s ability to notch a team-leading 14 points, Tolman High started too slowly and eventually yielded a 41-24 triumph to Ponaganset High in a Red Division semifinal at the 26th annual Rhode Island Board of Girls Basketball Officials/Smithfield Boosters Club Holiday Classic at the Smithfield High gym late Wednesday afternoon.
The Tigers allowed seven first-half turnovers in the final 6:10 to enter the break down, 22-10, but did play well enough to keep it interesting through most of the final session.
In the end, junior Chandler Williams posted a contest-high 17 points, while classmate and forward Marisa Harding contributed eight and sophomore MacKenzie Obiurka six points for the Chieftains, a Division I-North squad that improved to 3-4 overall.
After Bilodeau, freshman Reggie Costa chipped in only six as Tolman – a Division II-Central representative – remained winless at 0-6.
“We just made too many mental mistakes, and they resulted in turnovers,” offered Tigers’ veteran mentor Tammy Drape after the tilt. “We were too sloppy. We’re down two bodies right now, as we lost our point guard, (senior captain) Jazmine Almeida, to a torn ACL during the soccer season, and we don’t have another player who I’ll choose not to add.
“We only have one returning starter, Brittany, and senior Ariana Wood saw some playing time last year, but not a ton,” she added. “We don’t have a lot of varsity experience, so this is a building process … Frankly, we’re not real good, but we’re so young, how can you be? You could see some of the kids dying out there, but they kept playing pretty good defense. I also thought we rebounded the ball pretty well, especially in the second half.”
With 6:58 remaining in the opening session, Ponaganset clung to a miniscule 8-6 advantage, but Williams drained a 14-footer at 6:07 and sophomore guard Jade Sylvia drained a three-pointer to initiate a 10-4 run in five minutes. And, down the stretch, Harding landed a turnaround baseline jumper with 67 ticks left and Obiurka a trey at the buzzer to lift the Chieftains to a 22-10 cushion at intermission.
Junior Rachel Tassoni (five points) canned another three-pointer 37 seconds into the final half, but the Tigers responded with a bucket of their own when Cosby took a steal in for the layup to make it 25-12. Later, Bilodeau dropped an off-balance hook shot to cut the deficit to 30-19 with 7:46 left, though Ponaganset rattled off nine straight points over the next 4:28 to ice it.
Highlights included Harding’s putback of a rebound, Williams’ fast-break layup off a turnover, a Williams trey and a Tassoni putback with 3:18 remaining. That made it 39-19.
All told, the Tigers suffered 13 second-half turnovers, but – before Sara Keefe netted a one-hand jumper with four seconds left in regulation – they had played Ponaganset rather evenly, losing just 17-14.
“”Reggie’s just a freshman, and she’s raw, but there’s some talent there,” Drape noted. “Aicha (Kone) is a freshman as well. We’ve had some kids walk in and think playing varsity basketball is like a rec league, and I’m trying to get through to them there’s more to this than shooting and dribbling. Still, they’re figuring it out. Right now, I’m trying to keep it really simple, tell them we want our defense to propel the offense.”
With the win, Ponaganset now will face Burrillville, a 54-23 victor over Davies, in the Red Division championship game at 7:30 p.m., Friday. Tolman, meanwhile, will take on the Patriots in the divisional consolation game earlier, at 4:30 p.m.