Unbeaten Johnston jettisons East Providence in D-II girls' hoops championship game
Panthers finish perfect run to league championship
PROVIDENCE — Regardless of the result, the East Providence High School girls’ basketball team was set to make history Saturday afternoon, March 4, in the Division II title game, as the Townies were making their first-ever appearance in a championship final of any kind in the program’s four-decade old existence.
Unfortunately for the locals, they ran up against a top-seeded and unbeaten Johnston squad not about to give them any quarter.
The Panthers completed their unblemished run to the D-II title with a 60-46 victory over East Providence at Rhode Island College’s Walsh Gymnasium.
Johnston, first place in the II-North regular season standings, finished with a 21-0 record in league games, including three in the postseason. The Panthers' run to perfection included a 59-50 victory over E.P. in the teams' lone regular season meeting six weeks ago.
For the Townies, who finished second to Westerly in the II-South ranks, but who beat those same Bulldogs in the playoff semifinals, their league season ends with a 17-4 record. However, like Johnston and Westerly for that matter, East Providence has earned the right to compete in the Open State Championship Tournament which begins this week.
In a high-scoring first half, Shaniah Hazard score 11 points of her team-best 13 points, which helped keep the locals in the game though they trailed 36-26 at the break.
After the half, the Townies could never gain any traction as Johnston continued to slowly build its lead en route to winning in convincing fashion.
“I think their defense never really allowed us to get into our half court offense and our flow,” East Providence head coach Michael Solitro said. “That really stopped us from doing what we do well.”
To start the game, Jordan Moretti scored Johnston’s first on back-to-back 3-pointers as the Panthers jumped out to an early 8-0 lead, causing E.P. to call a timeout. Back on the floor, the Townies watched as Johnston scored once more before E.P. started to find its footing as Amber Drainville finally got the locals on the board.
Another basket on a fast break by Lillian Conti brought the Townies’ deficit down to 10-4. Three straight points from Hazard and two more points at the line for Conti helped E.P. shrink its hole to 13-9.
The Townies continued to stay in it as Conti delivered a great pass to Hazard as she drove to the basket for two before Courtney Dorr hit on a jump shot which brought Johnston’s lead down to 15-13.
But the Panthers proceeded to go on an 8-2 run before Hazard scored on her own offensive rebound which put E.P’s deficit at 23-17 before E.P. took another timeout. Johnston then went on a 9-4 run that including a step-back 3 from Moretti that upped the Panthers’ lead to 34-21 before E.P. took yet another timeout with just under two minutes remaining in the half.
“Our gameplan was to stop Moretti and she was hot from the beginning,” Coach Solitro said.
A great pass from Emma DaSilva to Hazard for a hoop cut Johnston’s lead to eight before a defensive lapse for E.P. led to a Panthers’ answer and they would lead 36-26 as the teams headed into the locker room.
In the beginning of the second half, the Townies scored three straight points from the foul line including two from Conti that made the score at 38-29.
The Panthers again, however, went on yet more big spurt that put E.P. in its biggest deficit of the afternoon as the score reached 45-30 with just 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Though the Townies continued to give an effort that included a step-back jumper for DaSilva, Moretti ended just about any chance E.P. had as she scored two more of her 15 points in the game to bring Johnston’s lead to 53-36.
A floater from Julia Andrade and a free throw from DaSilva added on to E.P’s total, but it was not enough as Johnston continued to make baskets that helped the Panthers maintain their sizable spread and led them to the D-II championship for the first time since the 2001-02 season.
“Having the opportunity to play here at RIC in the finals is something that has never been done here at East Providence and I am glad we could do it with this special group,” Coach Solitro said. “I couldn’t be prouder.”
The Townies can take some solace in knowing their season isn’t over yet, turning their focus and prep to the open tournament they qualified for with this postseason run.
“We get a shot in the Open State Tournament and we are going to try to go and do some damage in that and go from there,” Coach Solitro added.
Like Johnston, the Wheeler School ended a perfect run to the Division III title with a 54-30 victory over Shea in the first championship game played Saturday afternoon at RIC.
The Warriors wound up with a 21-0 record in league games. Wheeler's roster includes junior and Rumford resident Anna Metcalf, who with 10 points was one of three Warriors to score in double figures in the title game.
Metcalf, Wheeler's leading scorer throughout the winter, recently notched the 1,000th point of her career in the Warriors's regular season finale win over Tiverton.
— With contributions from Mike Rego