WESTERLY — Six minutes into its WCCU Holiday Basketball Tournament opening-round game Tuesday against South Kingstown, Chariho High might have experienced a flashback to its winless campaign of a year ago in Division I.
South Kingstown, a D-I team, pressed Chariho into numerous turnovers to jump to a 16-4 lead. A year ago, the shorthanded Chargers would likely have been blown out.
But these Chargers are a different team.
Chariho regrouped to challenge the defending WCCU champ Rebels all game, cutting the gap to four in the final minute before succumbing, 58-48.
SK (5-1) will meet Stonington, a 47-44 winner over Westerly in Tuesday’s first game, for the title on Thursday at 8 p.m. Chariho (4-2) plays Westerly in the consolation game at 6:15 p.m.
“We’re a young team and the girls might have been a little nervous in the beginning in front of the largest crowd they’ve played in front of,” Chariho coach Tom Gilligan said. “But this team is resilient. We have good athletes this year and talked about fighting back. I’m pleased with the effort.”
Chariho senior center Sydney Davis scored 11 of her 13 points in the first half to keep the Chargers within, 27-18, at halftime.
In the last 16 minutes, Charger freshman point guard Spencer Shiels put on a show, pouring in 17 of her game-high 20, including making a trio of 3-pointers.
Shielsdidn’t score her first points until four minutes remained in the first half. Her last trey with 46 seconds left pulled Chariho within four, 52-48.
The Chargers had possession down four, but turned the ball over. SK made six of six from the free-throw line to pull away in the final seconds.
“I’m not surprised Chariho hung in because they’ve played well,” SK coach Henry Herbermann said. “We didn’t continue pressing effectively, which has been a key for us, and we didn’t fabricate our own energy without our home fans cheering us on.
“For us it was an 8 p.m. game the day after Christmas. I would have liked to see more intensity from us.”
SK threatened to run away and hide early in the second half, taking a 36-21 lead on layup by Brooke Peasley (10 points) with 12 minutes left.
But Shiels hit a layup, pull-up 3-pointer on a fastbreak and fed Kate Powers (8 points, 10 rebounds) for a hoop to cut the lead to 36-28.
SK guard Taylor Prout canned a three to make it, 45-32, with 6:06 left, but Chariho hung around again on a 11-4 run. Powers’ layup made it 49-43 with 1:45 left.
“We settled down and became more aggressive,” Gilligan said. “We had more turnovers early than our stat crew could keep up with, but we believe in ourselves this year.”
Peasley led four double-figure scorers with 13 points. Davis contributed 10 rebounds.