PROVIDENCE – When St. Raphael Academy dropped a seven-point defeat to South Kingstown in the Division I semifinals inside the East Greenwich gymnasium back on Feb. 28, it left junior swing Paige O’Brien both distraught and miffed.
She felt she and her fellow Saints were better than that, and figured they let themselves down.
“That loss really motivated us; it showed us we didn’t want our season to end, and we probably had taken that (opportunity) for granted,” she said quite matter-of-factly. “We got angry, and that anger has turned into something good. It taught us a lesson. We knew we needed to play harder.
“I know it motivated me,” she added. “I didn’t like losing like that.”
When the Saints qualified as the third seed for the Open tournament, they took it as a chance to start anew, not make the same mistakes, and it more than showed in a gritty 45-33 quarterfinal triumph over sixth-ranked Westerly at Rhode Island College’s The Murray Center on Saturday afternoon.
“We knew we could play harder and tougher than we had in the D-I (tourney), and this was our chance to do that, so we used it,” O’Brien grinned.
While head coach Tammy Drape assembled a solid game plan of limiting the offensive and rebounding abilities of senior center/forward Megan Albamonti, it took a yeoman’s effort to execute it, and O’Brien succeeded. She not only led the victors with 13 points, but also manufactured five rebounds and two steals while filling in at times at the point.
Other significant contributions came from sophomore guard Tatum Forbes (nine points, six assists, four boards, two steals); sophomore forward Amaya Dowdy (six points, six rebounds and three blocks); sophomore Liz Bruno (five points and three steals); senior captain Monet Gailloux (five points, six boards and three steals); senior co-captain Sierra Gonzalez (three points and five steals); and sophomore Kaylee Mulligan (four points and five rebounds).
With the win, the Saints not only improved to 18-5 overall but also secured a semifinal spot at the University of Rhode Island’s Ryan Center next Saturday at 2 p.m. Ironically, they will face the winner of second-ranked South Kingstown and No. 7 Classical, which had been postponed because of a car accident involving three SK students Friday night.
Not surprisingly, Albamonti paced the Bulldogs’ crew with a game-high 16 points, but no other player reached double digits. In fact, only one – senior guard Isis Hamelin – managed eight, and no one else notched more than two.
Another key to this particular win: SRA caused the Bulldogs to cough up the ball a whopping 37 times, including 20 in the first half alone.
“That’s good; we’ve been stressing defense all year,” Drape said calmly. “We want to let our offense come from our defense, and we did an OK job of that. I thought Paige had a huge game for us, as she helped take some of the pressure off Tatum bringing the ball up, and she hit a few important baskets.
“When we play a ‘32 Flat,’ she helps deny the foul line,” she continued. “We know Megan likes to come up to the foul line, so it was imperative we deny her. We didn’t all the time, but did enough. And anytime she was in the low post, we knew we had to front her; that seemed to be their bread and butter, and we were pretty decent taking that away, too.
“As for the rebounding? We’re better than that.”
The Bulldogs (16-7 overall) nevertheless controlled the first eight minutes of the initial half. After Albamonti netted a pair from the charity stripe with 10:11 remaining, Westerly found itself up by four (10-6), but that’s when Drape chose to introduce the tall, powerful Mulligan to the WHS bunch.
She immediately scored on a driving lay-in, and Forbes drained a trey with 7:27 left before the break to give the Saints their first lead at 11-10.
They wouldn’t trail again.
From the 10:11 mark, when Westerly had that four-point bulge, to the horn, SRA outscored its foe, 14-3. Still, it only led 15-12 when O’Brien powered up on a short jumper and was fouled, then hit the “freebie” for the conventional three-point play. That made it 18-12 with 51 ticks remaining, and Mulligan added a putback before Albamonti dropped a foul shot with 3.8 on the scoreboard clock.
Ahead 20-13 at intermission, the Saints took 4:52 in building that lead up to 26-15 following a Gailloux jumper off a turnover and Dowdy’s turnaround flick from the baseline, yet the ‘Dogs surged back with a 7-0 run over the next 2:27. Hamelin canned a trey and senior Emily Haik a baseline one-hander to slice the gap to 26-22 and turn it back into a contest with 8:41 remaining.
Or was it?
Exactly 26 seconds after Haik’s bucket, Bruno landed a trifecta, Dowdy a six-footer and O’Brien a short baseline hook off her own rebound to immediately increase the advantage back to 11 (33-22). That flurry lasted 1:27, or a minute less than it took for Westerly to cut it to four.
The Bulldogs got it as close as seven (37-30) following Albamonti’s left-handed jumper at the 2:50 mark, though the Saints initiated another 7-0 run sparked by – who else? – O’Brien’s off-balance jumper in the lane and a pair of Forbes free throws.
When she drained two more with 1:10 left to make it 44-30, that in essence sealed it.
“All year, these kids have been buying into my philosophy where really good defense can win you a championship,” Drape noted. “They’re really buying into that system; I hope they continue to believe that. We’re playing pretty well right now, but there’s a long way to go.”
WESTERLY (33) – Megan Albamonti 6 3-5 16, Carley Bowen 0 2-2 2, Jaime Murray 1 0-0 2, Isis Hamelin 2 2-2 8, Emily Haik 1 0-2 2, Lauren Dobson 0 1-4 1, Talia Sisto 0 0-0 0, Mia Capparelli 1 0-0 2, Anna Cozzolino 0 0-0 0, Alexa Beal 0 0-0 0, Jaclyn Fusaro 0 0-0 0; totals 11 8-15 33.
ST. RAPHAEL (45) – Paige O’Brien 5 2-5 13,Tatum Forbes 2 4-4 9, Sierra Gonzalez 1 1-2 3, Liz Bruno 2 0-2 5, Monet Gailloux 2 1-3 5,Amaya Dowdy 3 0-1 6, Kaylee Mulligan 2 0-0 4 Aliviyah Perryman 0 0-0 0, Tatyana Vicente 0 0-0 0, Malyse Vieira 0 0-0 0, Faith Omollo 0 0-0 0, Chloe Rayko 0 0-0 0; totals 17 8-17 45.
Three-point field goals: Hamelin 2, Albamonti, O’Brien, Forbes, Bruno.
Halftime: St. Raphael, 20-13.