NP girls' basketball team repeats as Division III-North champions

NP girls' basketball team repeats as Division III-North champions

North Providence guard Destiny Gregson, center, rips the ball out of the hands of Burrillville guard Elizabeth Ethier during the first half of last Friday night’s Division III-Central showdown at the Broncodome. The Cougars turned in an excellent showing defensively to defeat the Broncos, 34-25, and clinch the regular-season title. The Cougars, who are 12-5, will host North Smithfield tonight at 7 p.m. before setting their sights on the Division III playoffs, which are scheduled to begin on Friday night. North Providence will be either the fourth or fifth seed. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Winners of six of their last seven games, Cougars clinch title with win over Burrillville

NORTH PROVIDENCE – In order to clinch its second straight Division III-North regular-season championship, the North Providence High girls’ basketball team had to put away second-place Burrillville last Friday night at the Broncodome, the Broncos’ tiny domed-shaped gym that has traditionally been a not-so-welcoming venue for opposing teams.

The Cougars also needed to weather the electricity from their hosts’ ‘Senior Night’ and the energy from the vocal student body that cheered on the Broncos, as well as a span of more than seven minutes to start the second half that saw NP not score a single point.

But the Cougars overcame all that by turning in an exceptional effort defensively, as well as receiving 10 straight points down the stretch by sophomore point guard Stephanie Saucier, and that helped lift them to a 34-25 victory.

“I’m really happy and I’m really proud of my team,” said head coach Jerry Rubino, whose Cougars last claimed consecutive division titles in 2007 and ‘08 whey they played in Division II-Central. “I knew (Burrillville) was going to come at us with everything they had. It’s their Senior Night, it’s a Friday night, there’s a big crowd, and they’re a very good team, but we weathered the storm and played very well.”

The Cougars definitely had to weather the storm during the first seven minutes of the game, as they quickly rattled off the first five points, only to watch the Broncos answer back with the next 10 and force Rubino to call a timeout and settle his crew with 9:06 on the clock.

But three minutes later, the Cougars came back to tie the score at 12-12 on a three-pointer by Karissa Shearman that came off a nice pass from Emily Palumbo. Both teams then spent the rest of the half jockeying for the lead, but the Cougars soared into the break with a 22-18 lead, thanks to a late free throw by Gionna D’Ovidio and a wide-open three-pointer by Saucier with 35 seconds on the clock.

While the Cougars finished the first half strong, they couldn’t buy a bucket at the start of the second half, and despite a couple of timeouts by Rubino, they weren’t able to score their first points until Gifty Osei threw in a layup off one of her own steals with 8:43 to play in the game.

That was the bad news. The good news for them was that, after the Broncos sliced their deficit to 22-21 in the first 3:12 of the half, they also went ice cold offensively and went scoreless for exactly nine minutes, as the Cougars turned up the heat on them with their defense.

Saucier, meanwhile, gave the Cougars some breathing room after Osei’s basket by hitting consecutive three-pointers to give NP a 30-21 lead with 5:54 to play. Fifty seconds later, she stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a layup, and with 4:40 on the clock, another turnover by the Broncos resulted in another layup by Saucier.

The Broncos finally ended their drought with a layup with 3:48 to go, but by then, the Cougars had a double-digit command and the game in hand.

“Our defense was again fantastic tonight, as it has been all year,” said Rubino. “They bring the defense every night. But our offense needs to be more consistent. We were getting the shots tonight, but we missed layups and wide-open looks, and I told them, ‘If we can get our offense to the level that our defense is, this is going to be a scary team.’”

Saucier finished the contest with 15 points, and D’Ovidio tossed in seven first-half points and led the way on the glass with 11 rebounds. Also coming off the bench to play well was Osei, who recorded four steals and added eight rebounds.

“Gifty played great,” said Rubino, whose team posted a 55-39 win over Burrillville in their first meeting of the season on Jan. 10. “She really provided a lot of energy and did a great job. And Stephanie hit some big shots in the second half, especially those two three-pointers. Everyone played really well and I couldn’t be happier.”

Even though the Cougars had reason to celebrate after their victory, they couldn’t, because the following morning, they had to bus down to South County and hop on a ferry for a crossover game against Block Island.

But the Cougars showed no signs of fatigue, as they stormed out to a 20-7 halftime lead before ending up with a 39-24 triumph. D’Ovidio scored a career-high 18 points to lead the offense, and Raffaella Brunetti and Palumbo teamed up to score a dozen more.

The Cougars also went to Lincoln on Monday night for a contest against Davies, which they won by a 50-41 score. NP, which will host North Smithfield tonight at 7 p.m. in their regular-season finale, has now won six of its last seven games to improve its record to 12-5.

The Division III playoffs will begin on Friday night, and Tiverton, Classical, and Shea will be the top three seeds. Either the Cougars or Central Falls (12-5) will be the fourth seed, and if both end up with the same mark, then NP will earn the seed – and possibly a bye into the quarterfinals – because the Cougars own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Warriors.

North Providence center Gionna D’Ovidio, right, races down the court to beat Burrillville guard Elizabeth Ethier to a loose ball during the first half of last Friday night’s game at the Broncodome, a 34-25 victory by the visiting Cougars.