NORTH KINGSTOWN — Forced turnovers, steals, deflections and constant, unrelenting defensive pressure from one end of the court to the other are embedded deep in the DNA of this Westerly High girls basketball team.
It was on full display Thursday night at North Kingstown High as the Bulldogs dismantled No. 3 Coventry, 52-28, in the Division II tournament semifinals. Second-seeded Westerly will take on No. 4 Classical, which upset top-seeded Scituate in Thursday's first semifinal, 55-52, for the D-II title on Saturday at Rhode Island College at 3:15 p.m.
“We play really, really intense defense. I think that’s the best way to describe it,” said senior center Megan Albamonti, who led the Bulldogs with 17 points. “Our guards have incredible hands. And Alexa [Beal], Emily [Haik] and I in the back, we know our jobs, too. We try to see the steals if they are coming and give help down low.
“Our mentality is even if our shots aren’t falling, then it’s defense, defense, defense. We believe we can outrun any team we play.”
After falling behind, 2-1, the Bulldogs scored the next 17 points to take an 18-2 lead with 8:17 left in the first half.
Isis Hamelin, an All-Division guard last season who's missed a good portion of this season due to injuries, came off the bench to spark the Bulldogs during the run.
She had two assists, a steal and a driving layup during the spurt. Most of the offensive output started from steals and Coventry turnovers. Westerly was also immense on loose balls. The Oakers went a long stretch without getting off a shot.
“I think it got in their heads,” Hamelin said of Westerly’s defensive intensity. “Once we deflected the ball a couple of times, they couldn’t handle it.”
“It definitely rattled them in the first [half],” Albamonti said. “I don’t think they expected us to go full-court man-to-man.”
Coventry made just three field goals in the first half and trailed, 22-9.
It appeared the Oakers might get back in the game early in the second half. They went from a 2-3 zone defense to man-to-man and outscored the Bulldogs 7-1 over the first five minutes to trail, 27-16.
But Westerly (17-6) scored the next 11 points to take a 22-point lead, 38-16, with 7:24 left in the game and was on its way to the title game.
Coventry (16-6) went more than eight minutes without a field goal in the second half against Westerly’s starters. That’s a long time.
Once again, it was turnovers, steals and deflections that made Westerly go during the run. If a Coventry player was on the court, she was under constant pressure regardless of position or how far she was from the basket.
“If we can defend them wherever they are, then we do,” Westerly coach Sue Haik said. “We try to make them feel uncomfortable and take away some of their better options.
“Teams are going to score, teams are going to hit shots. But if you can make them feel uncomfortable for most of the game, then good things tend to happen for us on the offensive end. I think our athleticism surprises some teams.”
Lauren Dobson followed Albamonti in scoring with 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Emily Haik added seven points and seven rebounds. Albamonti also had eight rebounds.
Coach Haik said the intense defense serves another purpose.
“We talked about letting our defense come out hard and strong to get some of the jitters out, get us into the flow of the game,” Haik said. “We have to come out like that. It’s been with us all year. It has to carry us until we are done.”