Moretti nets 30 to help Panthers earn spot in semis

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After eking out a 56-52 win over The Prout School earlier in the season, the Johnston girls’ basketball team made sure Tuesday night’s quarterfinal playoff game would not be another nail biter. The Panthers’ Jordan Moretti scored 25 of her 30 points in the first half, propelling her team to a 62-44 victory at Johnston High School, earning them a semifinal matchup with Rogers in the Division II tournament.

“Jordan Moretti is our heart and soul, she rolls us to victory about every night we play,” said Johnston head coach Chris Corsinetti. “We go where she goes, and tonight was no exception. She was ready to play.”

With the win, the top-seeded Panthers keep their perfect league record intact at 19-0. They have not lost a game since Dec. 27 – a non-league one-point loss to Division I Saint Raphael.

No. 8 Prout defeated Mount St. Charles, 43-36, in its preliminary game last week and was looking for an upset, but Johnston proved to be too tough for Crusaders, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

“Our goal was to play 32 minutes of hell on defense,” Corsinetti said. “We walked out of the first game with them with a bad feeling with the win. I wanted to play them again. We did not play very well in that first game. I'm glad we redeemed ourselves.”

Johnston led from start to finish in this game, unlike the previous game with the Crusaders where the Panthers won in the final seconds.

Moretti, who played all 16 minutes of the first half, came out on fire, scoring 17 points in just six minutes of play to give Johnston a 17-4 lead. A nice save by Gabriella DiRaimo and pass to Moretti sparked Johnston to that big lead midway through the first half. It was not until the eight-minute mark that someone other than Moretti entered the scoring column for the Panthers as Taylor Poland knocked down a pair of free throws. A three-point play by Moretti opened up a 27-12 lead, and her lay-in made it 31-12.

“We prepared for man-to-man defense and Prout went zone tonight,” Corsinetti said. “I'm surprised they changed their strategy. We exploited their zone defense all night.”

Johnston enjoyed a 33-18 halftime advantage with Moretti netting 25.

The Panthers continued to excel early in the second half. An uncontested lay-in by DiRaimo and her steal and lay-in would make it a 39-19 game. Moretti’s deep 3 upped the home team’s lead to 21 points, and a DiRaimo 3 made it 51-30. Back-to-back 3s by Julianna Zalewski gave Johnston its biggest lead of the game, 57-34.

“This is the second time we played them. The first game was very close,” said Prout head coach John Silva, who knocked Johnston out of the playoffs two years ago. “We had a 13-point lead in the second half in that game and we knew what we were up against. They exploded in the first half tonight and we just could not recover. They overpowered us. I give them credit. They are the better team and I hope they do well in the rest of the playoffs.”

Kayla Barbera led Prout with 14 points.

Moretti, who recently scored the 1,000th point of her career was glad that it was in the books so the team could concentrate on the playoffs.

“I'm relieved now that it is over,” she said. “I was a little nervous, but my teammates helped get there. If we play like we played tonight, I think we will be good with Rogers.”

Moretti commented on how much hard work Corsinetti puts into the team.

“He comes to practice prepared and he is ready to play every day. He motivates us every day,” Corsinetti said.

Corsinetti was recently named Division II Coach of the Year. Moretti earned First Team All-Division/All-Class and was the top vote getter. DiRaimo earned Second Team All-Division/Third Team All-Class and Bianca Robbins also earned Second Team All-Division and Honorable Mention All-Class.

“It’s fun to coach great kids. They are all very respectful,” said Corsinetti.

Johnston will now face fifth-seeded Rogers in the Division II semifinals tonight at 6 p.m. at CCRI in Warwick. Rogers received a bye in the first round of the playoffs and got a free pass into the semifinals when its quarterfinal opponent, Juanita Sanchez, was disqualified for the remainder of the postseason.

“We have a tough matchup with Rogers,” Corsinetti said. “They have a few big players and some quality shooters, so we will have our hands full.”

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