RUNNING THE TABLE

Panthers cap undefeated season with D-II title

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Johnston girls’ basketball head coach Chris Corsinetti, gleeful as ever with a medal around his neck, made a shocking assertion on Saturday.

He said, with an ear-to-ear smile, “I still don’t think we’re the best team in D-II, we just play the best each time there’s an opponent in front of us.”

Anyone at Rhode Island College that afternoon would have to disagree. The Panthers led wire-to-wire to complete their undefeated league campaign with a 60-46 victory over East Providence. It is Johnston’s first championship in the sport since 2002.

“It’s a special team, I’ve noticed since Day 1,” Corsinetti said. “It’s the most amazing group I’ve been involved with. I never saw a team gel like this and get along so well.”

Star junior Jordan Moretti set the pace for Johnston, leading all scorers with 15 and adding three steals. Her early scoring flurry put the Panthers on top for good. Out of the gate, Moretti drained two 3-pointers to immediately swing the momentum.

She sank two free throws later to up Johnston’s lead to 10-0. East Providence didn’t get on the board until more than three minutes had faded, with Amber Drainville getting one to fall to make it 10-2.

The Townies found some rhythm from there. They ripped off a 13-3 run that culminated in Courtney Dorr cutting the deficit down to just two, 15-13. Moretti was held scoreless during that stretch, and for much of the first half after that.

It didn’t matter, though. Johnston put its depth on display to slowly pull away. Five Panthers finished with at least eight points on the afternoon, and second-leading scorer Gabriella DiRaimo was one of them.

Her bucket gave Johnston a two-possession lead once again, 17-13, and sophomore Bianca Robbins helped keep the Townies at bay with a solid first half. Robbins posted seven points, seven rebounds and five steals in the opening 16 minutes.

“No one sees Bianca’s defense in the box score,” Corsinetti said. “Our defense is set by Bianca. She cuts angles off, what an incredible defensive player.”

It was retribution for the multi-sport athlete, who suffered a penalty shootout upset loss to East Providence during the soccer season. When asked if that gave her extra motivation, she answered with a simple “Yes.”

It showed as she rattled off five consecutive points to build the advantage back up to 22-15. Both sides traded blows from there as East Providence tried to claw its way from behind, but Moretti delivered the death strike.

As the shot clock wound down late in the first half, she hit a 3-pointer from NBA distance to give the Panthers their largest lead of the day, 34-21. East Providence took a 36-26 hole into the intermission, and it never got much closer.

“There’s so many underrated players [on our roster],” Corsinetti said. “I’ve never had a group one through 16 on our roster, whatever it is, that bought into our defensive philosophy.”

Moretti, who has carried the Panthers on some days, barely had to exert herself in the second half. She hit one shot as the rest of Johnston’s young core carried the load.

Freshman Caroline Howe and sophomore Amelia Moore dominated the glass, combining for 17 points and 17 rebounds. DiRaimo continued her balanced performance, nailing a 3 with under 10 minutes to go that gave Johnston a healthy 48-30 lead. That 12-4 run out of halftime helped put the game out of reach.

“Thirty-two minutes of defense helped get us where we are,” Moretti said.

Moretti and DiRaimo iced the game not much later with a passing clinic. Moretti poked the ball loose and sent a pass up to DiRaimo, who waited for Moretti to get clear under the basket for the easy layup.

Minutes after, the Panthers piled onto center court to celebrate the completion of their perfect season.

“We’ve been waiting for this day since day one,” Moretti said. “We were just so happy to get here. It means everything. We all get along and I’m just happy for everyone.”

Up next for Johnston was the No. 3 seed in the state tournament and a first-round matchup with Division III North Providence on Wednesday at Ponaganset, but results were unavailable at press time.

“These kids are great, I fill up with emotion when I talk about them,” Corsinetti said. “I know we’ve got the open tournament next, I just don’t want [the season] to end because they’re just great kids. They’re a joy to be around.”

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