PAWTUCKET – George Coderre is well aware of all the gimmicks and schemes opposing teams have deployed this season in pursuit of slowing down Diandra DaRosa, St. Raphael’s top ballhawk.
Instead of following the pack, Coderre chose to stand by what has made Woonsocket a successful unit in recent seasons. That means playing tough, hands in your face man-to-man defense, which SRA was privy to on Friday night in a Division I matchup at the Wellness Center. The task of chasing DaRosa up and down the court fell on the slender shoulders of Michelle Brayboy, as Coderre delivered a simple message to the junior just prior to the opening tap.
“I said, ‘Michelle this is your challenge. She’s a terrific player and so are you,’” said Coderre.
Brayboy stayed with DaRosa the entire game, including the final possession which saw the Woonsocket guard fight through two picks to cross paths with the St. Raphael sophomore at the top of the key. Though DaRosa got off a clean look at a potential game-tying 3-pointer, Brayboy was right in the vicinity, which was her mantra all night as the Villa Novans held on for a thrilling 56-53 triumph.
DaRosa’s bid to force overtime was exactly the shot Saints head coach Fred Saunders had in mind when the teams took the floor with 7.8 seconds left. It was simply a matter of the iron betraying the home team at a most inopportune time. To her credit DaRosa followed the miss by snatching the rebound and making a hard drive to the basket, but time expired before she could get a shot off.
“We wanted (DaRosa) to come off a double screen. If she didn’t have the look, then we would have (Emily Miller) following right behind her,” said Saunders. “She got a good look; it just didn’t fall.”
Coderre was pleased with the way Woonsocket closed out St. Raphael after struggling to do so against Smithfield earlier in the week. The Villa Novans (5-2 Division I-North) went ahead to stay with seven-plus minutes remaining after a quick offensive flurry that consisted of 3-pointers by Caitlyn Marcoux (two) and Brayboy and a hoop inside from Allyson Cartier. The sequence gave Woonsocket a 50-42 cushion, which was also the biggest lead for either side on the night.
St. Raphael certainly made things interesting down the stretch, moving to within 54-53 with two minutes remaining on Samantha Ferreira’s lone basket of the contest. The Saints were on the move once again when DaRosa started to drive with 59.8 ticks left, but Kailey Fugere was able to force a jump ball with the possession arrow going in Woonsocket’s direction.
Brayboy looked to put Woonsocket up two possessions when she tossed up a three with 33 seconds to go, but the shot was off-target. DaRosa was then called for traveling at 27.1 seconds, but St. Raphael remained alive after Fugere missed the front end of a 1-and-1 bonus with 24 ticks still to go.
With SRA in a tight spot, DaRosa again found herself operating as the chief playmaker. A spin move in the paint gave way to a bid that danced around the cylinder before falling off with 10.3 seconds left. St. Raphael immediately fouled as Ashley Dubois rolled home two free throws to give Woonsocket some breathing room.
That set the stage for St. Raphael’s last chance, which Woonsocket was more than ready for.
“We had trouble closing the other night. It was a game that was there to be won, but Smithfield was more aggressive than us and made the plays when they had to,” said Coderre. “(On Friday), we kept our poise. It was exciting to see a reverse of what happened the other evening.”
The usual suspects chipped in for Woonsocket as Dubois (19 points, 12 rebounds), Fugere (15 points, 7 rebounds) and Marcoux (14 points) all enjoyed strong games. Brayboy also figured prominently with 5 points and 7 assists, but it was her defense on DaRosa that helped Coderre pin “player of the game” laurels on her.
DaRosa, who played despite being slowed by the flu in recent days, still managed to toss in a team-best 18 points. Fellow sophomore Lauren Gaj came alive in the second to score eight of her 12 points to along with 14 rebounds.
The Saints, now 4-3 in league play, shook off a slow start to grab a 29-22 lead at recess. Ironically things started to turn in SRA’s favor when DaRosa left the court the 8:17 mark and Woonsocket up 14-8. She reentered four minutes later with St. Raphael down just two, 18-16. Her return helped galvanize the home team, which ended the half on a 13-4 run.
“I’m proud of the way the program is progressing, but we still have a ways to go. By the time all is said and done we’ll be in the hunt,” said Saunders. “We’re a good team but need everyone to play at a certain level.”
WOONSOCKET (56): Michelle Brayboy 2 0-0 5, Allyson Cartier 1 1-2 3, Ashley Dubois 8 3-3 19, Kailey Fugere 6 3-4 15, Caitlyn Marcoux 5 2-2 14, Amanda Sloan 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 9-11 53.
ST. RAPHAEL (53): Diandra DaRosa 8 0-0 18, Emily Miller 3 1-1 7, Samantha Ferreira 1 0-0 2, Lauren Gaj 5 2-2 12, Christa Thomas 2 0-0 6, Tanikqa Hodge 1 1-2 3, Stephanie Stuttard 1 0-0 2, Ebun Shittu 1 1-1 3. Totals: 22 5-6 53.
Halftime: SRA 29-22.
Three-point field goals: W 3 (Caitlyn Marcoux 2, Michelle Brayboy); SRA 4 (Diandra DaRosa, Christa Thomas 2).
JV: SRA 37-23.