WESTERLY — When it was over, Stonington High junior forward Aliza Bell called the finish “wild.” Bears coach Paulla Solar was “very relieved.” And Westerly High coach Sue Haik said a down-to-the-wire conclusion was virtually a given.
“We played to the end; Stonington played to the end. We both competed hard,” Haik said. “It doesn’t surprise me the way it ended, with that intensity from both teams.”
It ended with Stonington beating Westerly, 47-44, in a first-round girls game of the 34th annual WCCU Holiday Basketball Tournament on Tuesday at Westerly’s Federico Gym.
The Bears, who have won the WCCU crown 18 times, shoot for title No. 19 on Thursday against South Kingstown at 8 p.m.
South Kingstown defeated Chariho, 58-48, in Tuesday’s other game.
Stonington (3-1) never surrendered the lead in the second half — the Bears held a 24-20 lead at intermission — though Westerly (3-3) tied it at 33 at one point.
In the final frantic minute, Westerly’s Lauren Dobson hit a 3-pointer — her only points of the game — from the left wing to cut it to three, 47-44, with 57 seconds left.
Dobson then made a steal, but the Bulldogs were unable to convert. The ball went out of bounds and Westerly retained possession. After another Bulldogs miss, a jump ball was called that gave Stonington control.
The Bears inbounded to near half-court, and there was a scramble to gain possession of the errant pass before the Bears got it and drew a foul with 9.2 seconds remaining.
Stonington missed the ensuing free throw, but Westerly mishandled the rebound giving the ball back to the Bears. Natalie Ritacco (12 points) was able to make another steal for the Bulldogs, but they missed two field-goal attempts and time ran out.
“We missed quite a few shots that we usually make,” said Haik, who also pointed out that the Bears finished with a decided edge in free throws (11 of 17 to the Bulldogs’ 4 of 5).
“The way we matched up, we knew it’d be a battle the whole night. In the end, they got a few more buckets [and] they went to the free-throw line more than we did.”
Stonington was hoping to make up for a disappointing loss to Ledyard on Dec. 14.
Solar said a lackluster start led to the Bears trailing 21-7 early. They were never able to dig themselves out of that hole and lost, 53-49.
“We’ve used that as a learning tool to say, ‘Look what happens when you don’t come out with intensity,’’ Solar said.
Said Bell, who led the Bears with 13 points and 11 rebounds, “We knew coming in here we had to start out with a lot of intensity.”
They did, but the Bulldogs still led for the majority of the first half. It wasn’t until Bell’sputback with 1:31 to go that the Bears took their first lead, 22-20.
But once they got the lead, they never gave it up.
“Westerly’s a good team,” Solar said. “They have their outside shooters and they have their inside players. I knew they’d be tough. And they have home-court advantage. It was a good win for my girls.
I was proud of them because they kept up that intensity right till the end, and that’s something we’ve been working on.”
Miranda Arruda added 11 points for the Bears. Kate Hall had eight points and six steals, and Kate Johnson had seven points, six rebounds and three assists.
Megan Albamonti finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds for Westerly, which plays Chariho in Thursday’s consolation game at 6:15 p.m. Victoria Carreiro had nine points, three assists and three steals, and Isis Hamelin had eight assists.