PAWTUCKET – During a practice session on Tuesday afternoon, St. Raphael Academy head coach Fred Saunders had a little chat with sophomore guard Kaylee Oliver, who transferred from Swansea's Case High before this academic year.
“I told her that we were going to need her to be the spark off the bench, especially given the injury to our point guard,” Saunders stated of fellow sophomore backcourt specialist Danyele Gonzalez, who sprained her left ankle in the Saints' season-closing game against Warwick Vets on Feb. 21. “Kaylee's a very gifted shooter, and we're still trying to acclimate her into our offense.”
Not anymore. Oliver drained all four three-point attempts she took and finished with a game-high 12 points as fifth-seeded St. Raphael rolled to a 44-31 victory over pesky 12th-ranked Lincoln in a R.I. Division II Tournament preliminary-round tilt at Alumni Hall on Wednesday evening.
With the triumph, the Saints (17-4 overall) qualified for a quarterfinal against fourth-seeded Moses Brown, which had little trouble dismissing No. 13 East Providence, 48-34, this same night. They will face the Quakers (19-2) at Rhode Island College at 4 p.m., Sunday.
The mistake-prone Lions closed their campaign at 10-12.
“I'm a pretty proud coach right now,” Saunders stated. “We're going to keep on working hard to prepare to go to RIC this weekend.”
After Oliver's “pick-me-up” outing, senior co-captain Lauren Gaj mustered 10 points, while junior center Kelsy Lynch collected four points, nine rebounds and two blocks and senior co-captain Christa Thomas eight points, and four blocks.
Junior swing Becca Gonzalez contributed only four points, but added seven boards, five assists, four steals and a pair of deflections; sophomore Seun Shittu garnered another four points to go with four thefts and two assists.
For Lincoln, junior point Casie Beauchemin led her squad with 10 points, and junior “two” guard Kellyn Dyer managed seven points and senior center Emily Bouthillette five more.
SRA had gained a 28-20 cushion at intermission, though Beauchemin's 10-foot jumper pulled the Lions back to within six just 53 seconds into the final session. Gaj responded 1:06 later with a spinning one-hander in the lane to push it back to eight at 30-22.
Nevertheless, it was a sloppy start to that second half, as both teams recorded 11 turnovers in the first 5:08. (All told, the visitors yielded 29 turnovers, the Saints 18).
Thomas' fast-break layup with 10:07 left gave Saunders' bunch a 34-22 advantage, but Beauchemin's 12-footer 38 ticks later sliced the deficit back to 10. Those were the first points Lincoln had scored in 5:38.
Junior forward McKenzie Cavanaugh landed a turnaround hook to make it 36-26, though junior Felicia Baccari's turnaround jumper and Becca Gonzalez' layin off a steal gave the Saints their largest lead of the night at 40-26.
Beauchemin's free throw at the 3:18 mark pushed SRA's cushion back to 11 at 40-29, but Gaj's point-blank, left-handed jumper 11 ticks after sealed the verdict.
“Turnovers have been our story all year,” sighed Lincoln mentor Andrew Hallam. “We played good defense; when you hold a team like St. Ray's to 44 points, that's pretty darn good, as they're a solid offensive team.
“You know, it's too bad,” he added, “because I've really enjoyed this year. I really like the kids. They say, 'FAM!!' after every huddle. We're a family to them, as it should be. It's a great group of girls.”
The Lions knocked down only six of 15 free throws; then again, SRA canned just two of seven.
“That didn't help us,” Hallam acknowledged.
The Saints needed only 3:06 to rush out to a 9-0 lead, the last three coming on Thomas' bomb, but Lincoln responded in kind with its own 10-0 run in the span of just 2:38. Senior Emmalee Mello began the onslaught with a short jumper, junior Shirley Carrington turned a theft into a basket, Dyer hit two of three from the charity stripe, Beauchemin converted a steal with a layup and Dyer's back-door move gave the Lions its only lead with 9:17 left.
Then came “The Oliver Show.” She netted her first trey at 8:51, and canned another 46 seconds later before Gaj lofted a left-hander to give the Saints a 17-10 advantage.
Lincoln responded with three straight points, the last two on Carrington's back-door layup with 5:42 remaining, then knifed into the lead once more at 22-16 after Dyer landed a three-pointer at the 3:14 juncture.
Oliver, however, dropped two more treys in 44 seconds, the last at 2:13, and SRA went into the break with that eight-point lead.
It outscored its foe, 19-10, over that last 8:51.
“It wasn't so much who we were facing, but we had to play our game, our style,” Saunders stated afterward. “I wanted us to execute, handle the ball without mistakes and hit baskets down low in the paint.
“Overall, I'd give us an 8 on a 10 scale, in terms of execution of our strategy,” he continued. “I', extremely pleased by the way we executed, especially late in the game. We missed some bunnies at the end of the second half, and also in the first half, but we hit the big shots when we needed to.
“I was even more impressed because we were without Danyele, but Kaylee – all the girls – picked it up a notch. Lincoln's a very good, gritty team, so I'm really pleased.”