WESTERLY — It has been seven years since the Stonington High girls’ basketball team last won the WCCU Holiday Basketball Tournament.
The Bears looked eager to retain the local bragging rights they owned for nine straight years of WCCU titles (1999 to 2007), throwing down the gauntlet defensively to dominate Chariho, 50-25, Thursday in the opening round at Federico Gymnasium.
Employing aggressive full-court presses after made baskets and half-court traps after misses, the Bears (3-2) held the Chargers (1-2) scoreless for stretches of eight minutes in the first half and nearly six minutes in the second half to jump to a 45-12 lead before coasting into the varsity championship 8 p.m. Saturday against Westerly.
Stonington coach Paulla Solar enjoys playing Rhode Island rules of the 30-second shot clock. But the timing piece didn’t come into play too often as the Bears made steals before the Chargers could set up their offense.
“I was very happy with our defense from the front end of the press with (Tatyana LaFrance Boyce) and (Megan Sartor),” Solar said. “They have such great instincts to anticipate passes and fill lanes to look for steals. It’s something you can’t teach, so it’s nice to have that special skill on the team. The rest of the team see the girls up front and they feed into the anticipation for steals.”
Tatyana LaFrance Boyce, a 5-7 sophomore guard, made seven steals to go with her 17 points. Junior point guard Sartor and senior backcourt player Tia LaFrance-Boyce made three steals each. If the guards weren’t igniting the turnover frenzy, then 6-1 Bear junior center Margot Calmar was controlling the paint with four steals to go with her 17 points and 14 rebounds.
“We practiced against zone presses preparing for this game, but we panicked,” Chariho coach Arianna Dolock said. “Plus. it’s tough to simulate in practice what it will be like in a game going against an athletic, lanky player like Calmar. They were tough defensively.”
Chariho tied the score at 4-4 on a 5-foot pop by junior center Abby Cuddy (15 points) with 14:03 left in the first. The Bears proceeded to blitz Chariho on a 21-0 run before Cuddy scored on an assist from Taylor King with 5:38 left to make it 25-6.
The majority of points during the spurt came off turnovers or offensive rebounds with Calmar (7 points), Sartor (6), Tatyana LaFrance-Boyce (4) and senior forward Annie Knizeski (4) providing all the scoring. The Bears took a 30-10 halftime lead, creating offense with defense – a good way to beat the shot clock.
“I don’t mind the shot clock,” Solar said. “It keeps the tempo of the game going at a pace we like. I wish they’d bring it back to Connecticut.”
Chariho’s Jessica Brierly sank an 18-foot jumper to open the second-half scoring with 15:18 left. The Bears answered with a 15-0 run, fueled by five free throws and three baskets on jumpers, to take a 45-12 lead with 10:44 left. Abby Cuddy’s hoop with 9:08 left snapped Chariho’s second drought.
Dolock reasoned that Stonington was much more intense, explaining their huge edge at the free-throw line as the Bears hit 12 of 20 and Chariho just one of two.
“Early on we lacked a lot of energy and had a tough time motivating ourselves,” Dolock said. “But we had just three games coming in and are playing a lot of younger kids. We understand we’re going to take some lumps early, but the future looks promising.”
Chariho played much better in the last 10 minutes, holding Stonington to five points and scoring 13 — nine by Cuddy. The Chargers look to bounce back in Saturday’s consolation game at 6:15 p.m. against a winless Exeter-West Greenwich squad, rebuilding from Division I-South champion team a year ago. which won the WCCU title and featured Gatorade Player of the Year Taylor Buckley. She has since transferred to North Kingstown. It is a non-league game.
“We expect to finish in the middle of the pack in our division so it will be a nice test against Exeter,” Dolock said.
Stonington faced stiff tests coming into the WCCU with tight losses to Montville and Waterford in the ECC-Medium.
“We lost two games by four points total, so it’s not like we’ve eased into the early part of our schedule,” Solar said. “We’re still feeling each other out. We have a mix of returnees and new varsity players like Megan and Annie. We’re learning on the way and look forward to play Westerly in a great atmosphere on their court with the championship on the line.”
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