WOONSOCKET — For Division I openers, Woonsocket High coach George Coderre wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels when he saw Smithfield on the schedule. Historically, the Sentinels have always given the Villa Novans a battle whenever the two squads have faced one another on the court.
It was no different on Monday night.
Despite never trailing in its I-North contest and building a lead to as much as 14 points, Woonsocket was never in the comfort zone against the pesky Sentinels until the closing minutes of an eventual 53-41 victory at Savaria Gymnasium.
The Villa Novans led by just five points (40-35) with less than three minutes remaining. In an often-sloppy contest, Woonsocket was able to secure the triumph down the stretch with its grilling defense and accuracy at the free throw line, converting eight of 10 from the charity stripe.
“Smithfield always plays you tough. Smithfield forces you to play out of your comfort zone,” Coderre said. “We just have enough inexperience that we struggled with that. It was an ugly win and some of our kids struggled a lot. But you know what, in the end it was well worth it. It was an invaluable experience, especially seeing how they came out on top.”
Senior Kailey Fugere finished with a monster night for the Villa Novans, scoring a career-best 34 points, ripping down nine rebounds and adding a trio of blocks and steals. Senior Katie Marcoux added 11 points and classmate Michelle Brayboy dished out nine assists and had three steals.
Fugere sparked the offense for the Villa Novans in the opening half with 20 points. The WHS standout did most of her damage from underneath, scoring all but two of her points on driving layups to the hoop.
With the Villa Novans holding an early 6-3 lead, Fugere scored her team’s next 18 points. She scored eight unanswered points to give Woonsocket an early 16-4 advantage and netted her final bucket of the half with 1:43 left on the clock for a 24-16 lead.
Woonsocket went into halftime leading, 26-20.
“We were running things properly the first half,” Coderre said. “We got off to a great start. We were executing and Kailey was the recipient of that. It wasn’t really by design. It was spontaneous.”
“She knows the game of basketball,” added Smithfield coach Bob Comella. “She uses her body well on the floor. She gets herself in good position and she does an excellent job trailing. She made a couple of big rebounds off some missed baskets. She’s a solid all-around player. I thought we could have done a better job than what we showed tonight. It’s only the first game. We’ll build from there.”
Capped by a three-pointer from Brayboy, Woonsocket began the second half with a 7-2 streak to boost its lead to 33-22 with still 13:25 left on the clock. Smithfield managed to make it a game from there, double-teaming Fugere and tightening up their zone defense. A steal and layup by senior Ashley Lasalandra (seven points) would finish off a 5-0 run for the Sentinels and whittle their deficit to five (36-31) with less than seven minutes remaining. But that would be the closest.
Fugere would score seven of her 14 second-half points down the stretch. She hit five of six from the free throw line the last two minutes. Smithfield’s Meaghan Reall was her team’s top scorer with 15 points.
Coderre felt his team was somewhat flustered by Smithfield’s more-aggressive defense in the latter half.
“They got bogged down,” he said. “(Smithfield) did a nice job and changed the momentum of the game and we lost all aggressiveness. I was never comfortable in this game, not even in warm-ups.”
Woonsocket will play two more league games before Christmas, traveling to St. Raphael Academy on Thursday and then hosting Barrington the following Thursday, Dec. 22.