The last time the Johnston and Moses Brown girls basketball teams faced each other was in the semifinals of the RIIL state open tournament last year at the Ryan Center which saw the Lady Quakers rally from a 5-point halftime deficit to defeat the Lady Panthers as Moses Brown would go on to capture the state championship. But that was last year. The two teams met last Friday night at Johnston with the Panthers coming away with a convincing 65-37 victory.
The Panthers moved up to Division 1 this year after winning back to back Division 2 titles and are 2-1 in Division 1A and 6-1 overall. The Quakers drop to 1-2 in league play.
Both teams lost key players due to graduation. Johnston’ s Jordan Moretti and Moses Brown’s Oluchi Ezemma, both 1,000 point scores, are now playing in the college ranks.
The Panthers seem to have adjusted to life without Moretti better than the Quakers have without Ezemma thanks in part to their depth and the presence of St. Andrews transfer standout Kaylin Zalewski.
It was Zalewski who got the Panthers off to a good start by nailing a 3 to open the game, a game in which they would never trail. Johnston built a 12-0 lead before Moses Brown’s Tori Matson got them on the board at the 12:03 mark. The Panthers extended their lead on a nice pass from Gabby DiRaimo to Caroline Howe and two 3-point buckets from Tori Viau off the bench as Johnston took a 37-24 lead into the half. Matson would score 16 of the Quakers 24 points and would finish the game with a game-high 18.
“Moses Brown still has players that were on that state championship team last year and we did not want to take them lightly,” said Johnston head coach Chris Corsinetti. “We came out aggressively in the first half and maintained it in the second half.”
The Panthers continued that aggressive play in the second half with strong defense and some nice passing. They recorded 18 assists as a team in the game.
DiRaimo’s nice pass to Zalewski opened the second half scoring. Johnston continued to build its lead thanks to 10 points, all in the second half, by senior Bianca Robbins. Her 5 lay-ins staked Johnston to its biggest lead, 63-33.
The Panthers had a well balanced attack in this game with 11 different players scoring compared to only four Quaker players who only dressed seven players for the game. Zalewski had a team-high 12 points and 5 rebounds, Robbins 10 points, DiRaimo 8, Amelia Moore 7, and Emily Iannuccilli 5 points.
Corsinetti spoke about his new edition to this years team. “Kaylin Zalewski is more than just a shooter, she can play both sides of the ball. She is a very good defender and can pass the ball. She is a floor general and the other kids embraced her and she gelled right in.”
Zalewski, a junior, said she is happy being back playing basketball for the town of Johnston. “It feels like I never left,” she said. “The atmosphere is just great, it is different from playing at a prep school. There was a lot of competition at St. Andrews, my freshman year was very nerve racking and there was a lot of pressure on me. I gel well with this team and I love playing with my older sister Julianna.”
The Lady Panthers will host St. Raphael Academy tonight at 6 p.m.
Over the past two-plus seasons, the Panthers have posted an impressive 51-6 overall record, one of those losses was to the Saints two years ago.
“I’m happy with our team and where we are,” Corsinetti said. “We are a deep team and can go four or five deep with our bigs. Our practices are very good, we push each other in practice and are very competitive. We have a few team leaders and Gabby DiRaimo does a good job leading. We have great kids here that love and respect each other.”
The Panthers upped their league record to 3-1 with a solid 59-42 road win at Portsmouth High School. Amelia Moore led the way in another balanced attack with 14 points. Robbins, DiRaimo, and Zalewski netted 11, 10, and seven points respectfully.