Sports editor emeritus
PAWTUCKET — Tolman’s Jesse Fernandes went to the free throw line with two seconds left in Thursday night’s Division II-Central game with Exeter/West Greenwich. The scoreboard showed a 67-67 deadlock. Tolman students rattled the bleachers with their feet in anticipation of the upcoming free throws.
“I’m a 70 percent free throw shooter,” the junior said a few minutes after he made the second of two freebies for an exciting and hard-fought 68-67 victory over the Avengers. “I’m glad I had two free throws. I missed the first one but the second one was pretty good.”
Tolman coach Mike Kayata, who designed the in-bounds play that got Fernandes to the foul line, stood a few feet away, basking in the glow of victory.
“The in-bounds pass was supposed to go to Steve Otis,” Kayata said, “but they deflected the pass and we had to do it over again. I said to Prince (Johnson, the in-bounder) that he should get it to Jesse in the middle if that was open. And I told Jesse to take it to the basket.”
Tolman’s players executed these instructions perfectly. Fernandes caught the ball at the top of the key, spun to his right and went straight to the basket, drawing EWG’s 12th foul of the second half. The Tigers, who shot 15 free throws to seven for the visitors, had been in the double-bonus for the past two minutes.
“That’s the first time this season we have won a close game with everything on the line,” Kayata admitted. “I thought we played well on offense and defense. We had too many turnovers (21) but that is a good team we played tonight. This is a good win for our team. We needed it.”
EWG seemed to have the upper hand most of the game, if only by a basket or three, until Tolman fell behind 37-31 early in the second half after a 6-0 run by the visitors. Tigers’ wing man Luis Pagan drained a three from the corner but EWG pushed it back out to 47-38 before the Tigers cracked down on both ends of the floor.
Fernandes initiated an 11-1 Tolman spurt with a hoop. Denzel DePina scored on a layup and then Steve Otis, who finished with a game-high 18 points for Tolman, made two free throws. Keanu Perry hit a huge three to bring Tolman within one at 48-47. Perry then scored two more buckets for a 51-50 lead.
Pagan hit his third three-pointer of the game to make it 54-50. Following a EWG turnover, Fernandes drove the baseline for a layup that made it 56-50 with six minutes left.
EWG’s Jack Livsey (21 points) brought his team back with a serious of steals and jump shots, finally draining a three for a 64-62 EWG lead with just under two minutes left. Tolman tied it on a strong move to the hoop by Tyler Reece. Otis then stole the ball with 55 seconds left, got fouled, and made both free throws to put the Tigers ahead, 66-64.
Livsey, a deadly outside shooter, drilled his second three of the final two minutes for a 67-66 EWG advantage with 45 seconds left in regulation. Otis made one of two from the line with 28 seconds showing on the scoreboard to tie the game one last time.
Following a turnover by each side, EWG missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 10 seconds left. Fernandes grabbed the rebound and dribbled to mid-court, where Kayata called timeout with four seconds left to design the in-bounds play that won the game.
“This was a great team effort,” the coach said. “We used nine guys in our rotation tonight. Everyone contributed.”
Tolman improved to 3-3 in league play with the win. West Warwick leads the division at 6-0 while EWG fell to 2-4.
The Tigers swing back into action tonight with an 8 p.m. home game against Westerly (1-5) that follows a 5 p.m. opener between the Tolman girls and Prout.