WOOD RIVER JCT. — For the Westerly High girls basketball team, this season has been about one thing.
"The girls work hard, and when you work hard, good things happen. Tonight was just really about them working together as a group," Westerly High coach Sue Haik after the Bulldogs surprised Chariho, 49-46, in the Division II regular-season finale for both teams.
The victory qualified Westerly (7-15, 7-10) for the Division II tournament.
Westerly was clinging to a 45-44 lead when Alexa Beal (eight points, eight rebounds) hit a 13-footer just inside the free-throw line to put the Bulldogs up 47-44 with 1:10 left.
Shelby Roode (10 points) responded with a pair of free throws for Chariho to make it 47-46 with 1:01 remaining.
Beal delivered again, banking in a shot in the lane to give Westerly a three-point lead, 49-46, with 46 seconds left.
Chariho (11-10, 10-7) turned it over on its next possession, one of its 25 turnovers for the game.
Chariho fouled, and the Bulldogs missed two free throws with 19.8 seconds remaining. Westerly then forced a turnover with 3.9 seconds left.
Westerly was fouled and missed a pair of free throws with two seconds left, but Jackie Fusaro came down with an offensive rebound to seal the victory.
Beal's two baskets down the stretch were big for the Bulldogs.
"I knew we needed some points and I was feeling it today in warmup shooting, and I just took a shot," Beal said. "We've played well as a team the last week or so. We've been building on communicating on the floor and making good passes. This was probably our best game of the season."
Westerly's defensive strategy was to limit Chariho junior guard Spencer Shiels and make post player Kate Powers work inside. Shiels, who averages 17.1 points per game, had scored 20 or more in five of her last six games.
Westerly's Rachel Dobson drew the assignment on Shiels in the Bulldogs' man-to-man defense, but did not provide any help support to her teammates.
Shiels, who has been battling a cold the last two games and was not 100 percent, finished with with just six points and three assists. Westerly's Jackie Fusaro also created a number of turnovers in the backcourt throughout the game.
"I was just in full deny. Once the ball came inbounds I was on her, trying not to let her get a pass back," Dobson said. "I was just trying to avoid the screens that were being set and trying to keep my feet moving as fast as her feet were moving. If we cut her off, they have one less scorer."
West Warwick used a similar strategy to overcome a 14-point second-half deficit and beat the Chargers on Wednesday. It is a defensive tactic the Chargers may continue to see for the remainder of the season.
"First thing, Spencer has to get healthy. If she is healthy, it helps us get the ball up the court and into an offense," Chariho coach Chris Piasczyk said. "Westerly did a fantastic job pressuring us and putting us in positions where we couldn't execute. That was the story of the game."
Powers, the lone senior for Chariho, finished with 22 points and 18 rebounds, but Westerly's Meg Beal made her work hard to get those numbers. Powers also sat out a four-minute stretch in the second half due to foul trouble.
"Meg really stepped up her game tonight on Kate," Alexa Beal said of her younger sister. "We knew this was going to be a learning season, but I'm very proud of how far we've come this season."
Mackenzie Fusaro led the Bulldogs in scoring with 12 points, eight in the first half.
Meg Beal led the team in rebounding with 13. Jackie Fusaro finished with 11 points and five rebounds in addition to her relentless defensive effort. She ended the first half with a 3-pointer just a few feet on Westerly's side of the floor as the buzzer sounded.
Freshman Rachel Federico scored seven points for the Bulldogs, six of them during a key stretch in the second half that helped Westerly build a six-point lead, 42-36.
Both teams await the pairings for the Division II tournament.