MIDDLETOWN — The opportunity was there to knock off the only undefeated team remaining in the league. The Chariho High girls basketball team, though, didn’t quite do enough to pull off the upset as Middletown stayed perfect in Division II with a 42-35 win Friday night.
“We’re better than we showed tonight,” Chargers coach Tom Gilligan said. “The points are hard to come by lately, but in Division II, most teams are playing well, it’s pretty well balanced and we have to fight just about every night we’re playing.”
The same goes for Middletown (9-0, 7-0 Division II). The Islanders may be undefeated, but their past five victories all have been by single digits.
“Great game. We always have a great game with Tom,” Middletown coach Mike Yates said of facing Gilligan. “Tom’s a good man, he’s always well prepared, he knows how to get the most out of his team and we knew we were in for a tough one.”
Junior forward Kate Powers led the Chargers (3-7, 3-4) with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Sophomore point guard Spencer Shiels also posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Chariho was within four points, 32-28, after a couple of Caitlin O’Leary free throws with 4:50 to play. Powers later had a breakaway layup that would have cut the deficit to two, but her shot was off the mark and Middletown grabbed the rebound.
“Kate Powers doesn’t miss that many shots — she normally makes most of those underneath the basket,” Gilligan said. “If Kate had made that layup at the end, it would have been two points and, then, that might have changed the outcome.
“But they played their hearts out and we’ll get ready for next week.”
Middletown senior Erin Clancey led all scorers with 17 points and added 14 rebounds, five assists and four steals. Senior Ireauna Pegus finished with 12 points.
“They’re scrappy; they don’t let up. They got quite a few second shots off offensive rebounds, because they’re always going after the ball,” Gilligan said of the Islanders. “[Clancey] is a very good player, and when you’re playing well, you’re feeling good about yourself and that really does help your confidence.
“They’ve earned every win they’ve got, and they’ve played some tough teams, so they’re for real.”
It’s been quite the turnaround for Middletown, which went 0-18 in Division II a season ago.
“After last year, we said, ‘We’re going to have to find some pieces to have a competitive team,’” Yates said. “We knew we had one with [Eliza] Hellendrung from Gaudet [Middle School]. We got lucky with a military transfer in Ireauna Pegus, and Jennica [Arsenault] came from Rogers and knows how to play ball.
“So three pieces came and added to our regular team. We’re great now.”
Everyone in Middletown’s starting lineup is 5 feet 8 or 5-9, according to Yates, and all have similar skill sets, which made for difficult matchups. The 5-9 Powers, though, still found room to work in the paint.
“When we play teams that have big people, we have to double and scrap and hopefully our press will not let them get the ball inside,” Yates said. “That girl Powers tore us up inside. She’s tough.”
Chariho led for several minutes late in the first half, but Middletown closed with a 7-0 run — including a free throw and a field goal in the final seven seconds — and led 23-19 at halftime. Both teams struggled offensively coming out of the break — Middletown held a 26-19 lead with 11:40 remaining.
The Islanders looked as though they might pull away, twice extending the lead to nine, but once the Chargers scored their first points of the half, they kept it close the rest of the way.
“We missed a lot of layups. … We missed some shots we normally make,” Gilligan said. “They’re a good team, they’re undefeated, but this was a missed opportunity.”