Panthers hold off Pats to remain unbeaten
The Johnston girls’ basketball team moved one game away from completing a perfect regular season on Tuesday evening, spoiling Pilgrim’s season finale with a 61-40 victory behind a game-high 21 points and seven steals from junior guard Jordan Moretti.
Pilgrim battled in the second half, but Johnston’s 19-point halftime lead proved insurmountable for the Pats.
“That was a good competitive game that we needed,” Johnston head coach Chris Corsinetti said following the win. “I don’t want anyone to lay down, because that gives our kids a false sense of hope going into the playoffs. We want the kids to treat these games like playoff games to get prepared.”
Moretti went right to work, converting a pair of steal-and-scores within the first few minutes to give the Panthers an early 7-2 lead.
Pilgrim hung tough, as Caitlyn Fallon dished to Kat Raposo for a short deuce, and Raposo broke Johnston’s press a couple minutes later and found an open Grace Maguire under the basket for an easy layup to trim the Panthers’ lead to 15-7.
However, Pilgrim couldn’t slow Johnston’s high-powered offense.
Moretti racked up a pair of assists when she facilitated to Julianna Zalewski for a 3 and Bianca Robbins for a deep two-point shot, giving Johnston a 22-7 lead.
Moretti went to the bench near the midway point of the second half, but Johnston’s offense didn’t miss a beat.
Pilgrim cut its deficit to 11 after buckets from Maguire and Raposo, before the Panthers stretched their lead in the waning minutes of the half.
Caroline Howe stole the ball and passed ahead to Gabby DiRaimo, who dished to Robbins for a jumper. Zalewski then drilled a corner 3 with less than a minute left to send the Panthers to the locker room with a 19-point lead, 38-19.
That lead would grow when Moretti returned to the court to start the second half, as she went on a 7-0 run by herself over the first four minutes.
That run was ended when Fallon made a free throw at the charity stripe to make it 45-20.
Johnston didn’t have an answer for Fallon down low all game long.
She grabbed an offensive board and converted a putback with 11 minutes left, before spinning off a defender for a bucket two and a half minutes later to trim the deficit to 47-31.
Fallon put together a monster stat line in Pilgrim’s season finale, posting 12 points, 24 rebounds and eight blocks.
“I can’t say enough about her as an athlete,” Pilgrim head coach Scott Bayha said of Fallon. “I’ve coached 20 years and I’ve had All-Americans, three national track champions, and she’s right up there in mental toughness and you can’t teach that.”
The Pats continued to chip away when Raposo drove into the paint and scooped a shot in for an and-1 to make it 47-34.
Pilgrim never got any closer than that down the stretch, though.
Moretti drove to her right and banked a shot in off the window, and she would steal the ball near halfcourt seconds later before cruising in for an easy layup.
It was still a 15-point game near the five-minute mark, but Moretti would stretch the lead when she grabbed an offensive rebound and drove the length of the floor for a bucket.
“She’s a stud,” Corsinetti said of Moretti. “She’s been our leader and our catalyst all year. The kids play how she plays. They see the best player diving to the floor and hustling back on defense. The team follows her lead, and she’s been our heart and soul all year.”
In addition to Moretti’s 21 points, Zalewski posted eight points and Robbins, Howe, Taylor Poland and Amelia Moore each chipped in with six points.
Raposo netted a team-high 13 points for Pilgrim, and Maguire added eight first-half points.
Tuesday marked the final game for Pilgrim’s group of seniors that included Raposo, Crystal Armstrong, Jeriann Evans, Emma McGrath, Victoria Ferri and Mary Mullane.
Bayha had nothing but good things to say about his seniors and the work ethic that they displayed.
“Kat came over from Vets and she was a star over there, and we asked her to change her game and play more of a team concept,” Bayha said. “It took time, but I think you can see how we ended from where we started. I just talked to the CCRI coach, and she’s planning on going there next year and playing. I think that’s a great fit for her and she’ll be very successful there. I think Crystal is one of the most dedicated players I’ve ever had. I also have Mary Mullane. She was injured last year and showed up to every game. Same thing with Jeriann Evans. When players are injured and still show up to every game, I think that means a lot as a human being.”
As for Johnston, it was looking to complete a perfect season at Lincoln on Wednesday night, but results were unavailable at press time.
The Panthers have already secured the top seed for the Division II tournament, and are a lock to play in the state tournament, as well.
But, even though Johnston’s record is perfect, Corsinetti noted that his squad is far from a perfect team.
“We don’t believe we’re that good of a team to say we’re undefeated,” Corsinetti said. “I don’t believe that we’re the best team in Division II, I don’t believe that at all. I just think that when we play against other teams that are up there, we just like to play better. We tell the kids that we have to play better than those teams. It’s not necessarily that we are better, we just make sure that we play better. There are games where we look like we’re 0-17. We just take it one game at a time. We’re not a dominant undefeated team by any stretch of the imagination.”