WOONSOCKET — After watching host Woonsocket High rattle off six straight points in less than a minute early in the second half of Thursday’s non-league, season-opener, Ponaganset coach Mike Girard called a timeout.
Just before his squad returned back to the floor, Girard told his players one last thing – “Games like this,” he said, “can turn in two minutes.”
He was right. And fortunately for him, it was his Chieftains that turned it around.
Ponaganset answered the Villa Novans’ quick second-half run with 10 unanswered points of their own to fuel an eventual 43-37 victory over Woonsocket at Savaria Gymnasium.
The verdict comes as somewhat of a shocker considering the Division I Villa Novans were missing just one starter (Jessie Charette) from its roster and were playing a Div. II Chieftain team that has compiled a combined 14 victories in the last two years.
“Basically what it boiled down to is that Ponaganset played to exactly what their coach wanted them to do and they worked much more harder than we did,” Woonsocket coach Kyle Ivey-Jones said. “They clearly out-worked us. They deserved to win. They weren’t as big as we were, but we couldn’t capitalize on the post and we took a lot of bad shots.”
While the Chieftains didn’t have the height advantage of the Villa Novans, who boast three players at 6-foot-5, it did match their rivals with their speed and defense. Ponaganset’s grilling man-to-man coverage caused Woonsocket to force several of its shots during the night.
Woonsocket held a slim 20-17 lead at halftime. The turning point in the outcome appeared to come just a few minutes into the second half. Tied at 24 after the Chieftains’ Scott Peterson hit a long jumper, Woonsocket looked as though it finally found its rhythm with a 6-0 run in a 38-second span. Senior Flavio Barros began the streak by stealing a Chieftain pass and converting a layup. Dennis Harmon, another senior, then hit back-to-back layups, his last one coming off a turnover with 10:04 remaining.
Girard signaled to the referee for the timeout and it was evident it was just what his squad needed. Beginning with six straight points from John Peterson, including a 3-pointer, the Chieftains went on their 10-0 run for a 34-30 advantage.
Woonsocket was able to knot the score with a pair of buckets from sophomore Cody L’Heureux and junior Kory Lawrence. But Scott Peterson put his teammates back in the lead for good, finishing off a three-point play with less than four minutes remaining.
“I just told them to push,” said Girard, about his pep talk during the timeout. “It looked like we were slowing down a little. We had a few bad passes. I told them this team will run you out of the gym in like three plays. We just told them to keep pushing - push, push, push. They did the job. They did the job.”
Charette, who is normally one of the Villa Novans’ top scoring threats, was out of the lineup last night due to the fact that he’s the star running back for the school’s Super Bowl-bound football team that will battle Tolman this Sunday. The Chieftains held Barros, another strong shooter, to just 10 points. Harmon led the Novans with 11.
Scott Peterson netted a game-high 18 points, including 10 in the latter half. His brother and the lone returning starter from last year, John Peterson, scored eight with all of those coming in the final 16 minutes.
“He really took a step forward,” said Girard about Scott Peterson. “I have been telling him for five years. He utilized the ball fake today for and-one. He’s always been a good free throw shooter. His brother, he’s never played that intense before. I am happy for both of them.”
Girard envisions good things from his team this year.
“I took the program over two years ago. This is my third year. Like anything, it takes two years. This is our team,” he said. “I owe a lot to my assistant coach Nathan Seone. He’s a former student, a former player of mine. The kid came on. He’s always been a winner all his life, and he’s infected the team with that winning attitude. He was the one telling them (today), you are sniffing blood here and you got to go for the kill. We couldn’t do it, putting people away, the last three or four years. We put ourselves away. This is a team that everybody accepts their role. We got scorers. We got rebounders…It’s a team that understands a team concept. It’s taken us three years but we are there.”
As for Woonsocket, Ivey-Jones is confident his squad can rebound from the surprising setback. The Villa Novans return to the court next Thursday when it participates in the Dennis M. Lynch Memorial Tournament at the Pawtucket Boys and Girls Club.
“We can turn it around,” he said. “It’s the first game. Unfortunately, I had four seniors out there that have been in the system for three years. They should have done a lot better. We’ll get back to the drawing board tomorrow and we’ll be ready to play next Thursday.”