WOOD RIVER JCT. — For the first game of the season, it was a pretty solid outing for both boys basketball teams Friday night.
Westerly High used a dominating first quarter to build a big lead and held off Chariho High in the final few minutes to beat the Chargers, 66-61, in a nonleague game.
The longtime rivals found plenty to be pleased with, but also found plenty to work on. Both coaches played a lot of players and got a good look at their teams in a variety of situations.
Westerly is in Division I for a second straight season, while the Chargers continue in D-II. They likely won't see each other again unless they meet in the title game of the WCCU Holiday Basketball Tournament later this month or perhaps the state tournament in early March.
"I am very happy with the opening-night performance," Westerly coach Mike Gleason said. "I thought our movement and execution on the offensive end was pretty good for the most part.
"I thought we came out and played really good defense in the first quarter, in particular. I thought we had an almost perfect quarter of defense."
Westerly forced the Chargers into a bunch of turnovers in the first quarter and built a 22-7 lead after the first eight minutes.
"It was a tough start. Their physicality, their quickness, their defensive pressure really caused problems for us in our half-court sets," Chariho coach Corey Downey said. "We were struggling. We couldn't get a shot, let alone make one."
Chariho did get back in the game in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to six points, 24-18, on a 3-pointer by Jeremiah Graham. The 6-foot-2 guard/forward led the Chargers with 18 points.
But Westerly closed the second quarter with an 11-3 run to lead 35-21 at the half. Westerly's Jessie Samo scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Dante Wilk had 11 of his 23 points at the half. The Chargers had a difficult time stopping Wilk on drives to the basket throughout the game.
"My teammates spacing out allowed me to get those 1-on-1s," Wilk said. "I thought we played really well. We just have to limit our turnovers. I had a couple of turnovers on drives at the end and I have to fix that. I know we didn't play perfect, but I liked how it went."
Chariho cut the Westerly lead to nine points by the end of the third quarter, 49-40.
"We played a little harder and a little tougher," Downey said. "Offensively, we started going north-south more because they were forcing us east-west. In the second quarter, Riley Reed, Kyle McGovern and Brendan McGovern gave us a little spurt off the bench that we needed."
Westerly still had an eight-point lead with 4:36 remaining when Jackson Ogle (11 points, 10 rebounds) scored inside off a feed from Wilk to make it 57-49.
Westerly got a lift from sophomore Romello Hamelin, who drew a charge on Chariho's next possession. Hamelin then found Marcus Haik open under the basket. Haik did a good job of pump faking several Chariho defenders off their feet and scored while drawing a foul. His ensuing free throw completed the three-point play and made it 60-49 with 3:23 left.
And when Samo delivered a 3-pointer deep on the baseline to make it 63-52 with 1:42 left it appeared the Bulldogs were in good shape.
Chris Niziolek hit a 3-pointer for Chariho, but Ogle responded with a layup for Westerly. Graham hit a 3-pointer for the Chargers and stole a lazy pass by the Bulldogs and scored to leave the Chargers trailing, 65-60, with 1:08 left.
Westerly turned it over, but the Chargers gave it right back and the Bulldogs held on for the win.
Westerly, which was 2 for 9 from the free-throw line in the second half, rushed several possessions when it had the ball and the lead in the final minute.
"The first time they pressed, we got a layup and then we panicked a little bit," Gleason said. "We talked about time and score, but in the heat of the moment on the road at Chariho, it's hard to put on the brakes. But then again, we want to be on the attack. That's the style we play."
Downey was pleased with his team's ability to get back in the game after the early deficit.
"That's what this first game is for in a lot of ways, to try and figure on what we need to work on, how hard you need to play, and I couldn't be more proud of their effort," Downey said.
Nate Allen contributed eight points and eight rebounds for the Chargers, who played without Zoot Boschwitz, the leading returning rebounder. He watched from the bench in street clothes.
Chariho next travels to Burrillville on Tuesday for a 6:30 p.m. game. Westerly travels to Barrington on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. game.