WOONSOCKET --- Defense has been the name of the game for St. Raphael this year, and on Thursday night, it was the Saints’ tenacious ‘D’ that helped fetch them their sixth Division II victory against no defeats.
Junior forwards Rybecca Gonzalez and Kelsy Lynch shared contest-high scoring honors with 18 points each and had stellar games defensively to help the Saints create the bulk of Mount St. Charles’ 32 turnovers and pave the way to a 77-36 crossover rout on the Mounties’ court.
The Saints, who are in their first season as a Division II club after five straight losing seasons in the Division I ranks, raised their overall record to 8-2, and not only was this their seventh straight win, but also was it their ninth straight game in which their defense allowed fewer than 37 points.
“That’s our motto,” veteran SRA coach Fred Saunders said of his team’s defense. “We have a pretty fast and athletic team, so I’m going to utilize their athleticism defensively, and we feel like if we can play solid defense, we’re going to have a chance to win every game.”
Gonzalez enjoyed one of the finest games of her young career for the winners. In addition to her 18 points (just one off her career-high in scoring), she also ripped down a career-best 12 rebounds, recorded six of the Saints’ 16 steals in the contest, and handed out four assists.
Lynch, who was the first player off the Saints’ bench, was also excellent on the boards with 10 rebounds, the bulk of them coming off the defensive glass, and she blocked six shots.
Senior co-captain Lauren Gaj was also good for 14 points, Sevn Shittu added a fine all-around game with 11 points, six assists, and five steals, and Felicia Baccari had nine points.
As for the contest, there wasn’t much drama in it. The Mounties scored the game’s first points on a layup by Noreen Mulledy, but the Saints took over from there, and with 9:08 still to play in the first half, they took advantage of nine turnovers by the Mounties to storm out to a 21-3 command.
A jumper by Marissa Botelho gave the Saints their first 20-point lead (25-5) with 6:43 on the clock, and Shittu and Gaj supplied all the scoring during a 14-point run in the final 2½ minutes of the half to make it a 43-12 game.
The Mounties, who dipped to 2-6 overall and are winless in five league games as the team and first-year head coach Jessica Sheil try to rebuild the program this winter, were led by Amy Schmitt’s nine points and Mulledy’s seven.
For the Saints, the schedule promises to get a little bit tougher over the coming weeks. Awaiting them in the coming weeks are difficult tests against undefeated Division II-North foe Scituate and second-place Johnston, as well as the other “team to beat” in the Division II-Central ranks, Moses Brown.
“We’ve had a great start,” remarked Saunders. “We’re new to this league, so we don’t know all the teams yet. We’re getting a feel and adjusting to the league – and I see the league is adjusting to us as well – but I like where our heads are right now. We’re playing with a lot of confidence.