DeCesare, Mattera will play familiar opponent in Final Four

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This Saturday’s Johnston vs. La Salle Academy girls’ open state tournament semifinal is much, much more than any other girls’ basketball game.

For starters, as people closely connected with the Rhode Island Interscholastic League girls’ program will attest, Johnston pride will surface like never before.

One reason, in particular, as Lady Panthers and Lady Rams fans are fully aware, is that the current cast of Johnston’s undefeated girls’ basketball team played together with La Salle standouts Jayme DeCesare and Kyra Mattera during their younger years on the basketball court.

DeCesare and Mattera shared the same basketball upbringings as Lady Panthers like Gabriella DiRaimo, Cleasia Peoples, Julianne Zalewski and Sophia DaCosta.

So much so, in fact, that they teamed up to win the 2015 Rhode Island Girls’ Youth Basketball Association Championship when they were in the eighth grade, and also wore the town’s popular uniform colors of Columbia blue and white when they were teammates on successful seventh- and eighth-grade travel teams.

However, the girls’ history dates back to when they played on formidable AAU travel teams, where they learned their basketball lessons well.

Saturday afternoon, starting at 2 p.m. inside the University of Rhode Island’s spiffy Ryan Center, those girls will draw a thin dividing line when they tip off in the Final Four for a spot in the championship.

DeCesare and Mattera, who still live in Johnston, are sophomore starters who have been major reasons for the Lady Rams’ success in the 2016-17 season.

DeCesare is averaging 10 points per game and is the Lady Rams’ standout playmaker. Mattera, despite scoring at only five points per game, is a solid rebounder and her presence in the paint has been a key to the Lady Rams’ defense down low.

La Salle, which is 15-3 overall, is coached by Sean Reddy.

For the Lady Panthers, the talented Jordan Moretti has an eye-popping 20.1 points per game, which is fourth in the state. Then there’s Gabriella DiRaimo (11.2 ppg), who teams with Moretti to make the Johnston offense move and has led Coach Chris Corsinetti’s crew to a sparkling 18-0 record that includes winning the Division II state title two weeks ago.

Moses Brown and Barrington will meet at noon Saturday in the other semifinal for the right to take on the Johnston-La Salle winner in Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. finale.

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