SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Early in the second half of Thursday night’s finale of the 30th annual Rhode Island Girls Basketball Holiday Tournament, Ponaganset guard Jillian DelPrete hit back-to-back runners to put the Chieftains ahead 23-22 and force King Philip to call a timeout.
After the timeout, KP settled down and the Warriors defense clamped down. Ponaganset was held to only eight points over the final 12 minutes of the game.
Senior Courtney Kelleher scored all 10 of her points in the second half and also pulled in 14 rebounds on the night, while sophomore guard Shannon O’Connor scored 14 points and dished out five assists to help the Warriors pull away for a 49-31 win and the tournament title.
“They’re a scrappy, physical, tough team,” said KP Martin Crowley about the Chieftains. “We knew we’d have a tougher game today, but our kids responded really, really well.”
It did not start well for the Warriors, who came out flat and fell behind by as many as seven points in the first half. DelPrete (team-high 13 points) buried a three to make it 11-4, but KP responded with a 6-0 run to close the gap. O’Connor scored four of those points and Catherine Cummings (seven rebounds) grabbed an offensive board and put-back.
Trailing again by five, KP took control of the game with an 11-0 run. Julia Leroux (seven points) collected a lobbed pass from Faith Roy for a layup to get it started then O’Connor hit Roy for quick-release jumper to make it 16-15 and give KP the lead for the first time. Leroux assisted on a jumper by freshman Sophia McLaughlin and the Warriors went into the break leading 22-19.
“We were a little flat coming out but we closed the half strong and one of our goals was to keep them under 20 points for the half and in the second half we were even better defensively,” said Crowley.
O’Connor hit a pair of free throws to give KP back the lead at 24-23 then Roy hit her second jumper. That was when Kelleher started to assert herself on the boards and on the scoreboard. She scored on an offensive rebound then off an assist by Roy. Another put-back and another layup, this time on an assist by O’Connor, provided some separation between the teams.
“Courtney Kelleher was huge for us coming down the stretch,” said Crowley. “She’s the lone senior on this team and we needed senior leadership today and we got it.”
While Kelleher was controlling the paint (she also had three blocks), O’Connor was controlling the point guard position, especially after Leroux fouled out late in the second half. O’Connor continually got into the lane and had the vision to drop passes off to her teammates, including twice to Christina Hathaway as the Warriors put the game away down the stretch.
“Shannon is a good ballplayer,” said Crowley. “She’s the real deal. She doesn’t usually play point for us but this week she did. She did a good job handling the ball. She was under control and we put the ball where it needed to be.”
KP was able to rotate players down the stretch and got buckets from Kendall Mason and Grace Ely (off an assist by Faye Vellieux), as the closing minutes ended up being comfortable with a double-digit lead.
“You know, it’s a good win for us, on the road,” said Crowley, and it’s back to the battles next week and we’re off and running.”
When it was noted that the Hockomock League was doing well at the start of the season (8-of-12 teams have a winning record), including KP and Attleboro each going 2-0 in Rhode Island tournaments, Crowley responded, “Not that our league needs validation…but it’s a testament to the players and coaches we have in our league and how good they are.”