The nucleus of the Cranston East girls’ basketball team isn’t fazed by the spotlight at this time of year.
The ’Bolts made a run to the Final Four of the state tournament in March last season, making it all the way to The Ryan Center to play eventual champion La Salle.
Over the next week and a half, East, armed with the same group of starters as last year, will be looking to make a second consecutive deep run through the state’s top competition as the No. 11 seed.
The ’Bolts were set to open play against No. 6 Westerly (16-2 in Division II) in the Round of 16 at Ponaganset High School on Wednesday evening, but results were unavailable at press time.
On paper, the draw was a positive one for East, which narrowly missed potential first-round matchups with familiar division opponents Bay View and Moses Brown.
After facing the same teams in league play for the last three months, East was happy to be facing a more unknown opponent.
“Most D-I games were low scoring this season because the teams knew each other so well,” East head coach Lloyd Bochner said. “After playing everyone in D-I, it’s nice to play someone you haven’t seen before. We’ve done some basic scouting, but I like the level of unfamiliarity there.”
East has been playing well heading into the tournament.
It routed East Greenwich in the first round of the Division I playoffs behind its best defensive effort of the season, 52-19.
The ’Bolts then traveled to Moses Brown and gave the Quakers all they could handle in the D-I quarterfinals last Tuesday in a 67-64 overtime loss.
East actually led by 13 points at the half, but Moses Brown was able to rally to make up the deficit on its home court behind a game-high 21 points from Oluchi Ezemma, forcing overtime and edging out the ’Bolts in the extra period.
Sarah Coutu netted a team-high 16 points for East, before fouling out in the final minute of regulation. The ’Bolts hung tough in overtime, but Coutu’s absence was evident as the Quakers completed their comeback.
McKenzie Richards (15) and Maia Caito (13) were also in double figures for the game.
“We had a great game at Moses Brown, it’s tough to play on the road,” Bochner said. “Ezemma is a fantastic player and their point guard is really good too.”
Despite the loss, East will move forward playing some of its best basketball of the season at the right time of the year.
But, even though it’s confident, East definitely isn’t planning on taking an out-of-division opponent like Westerly lightly.
“If [Westerly] was a D-I team, they’d probably be .500,” Bochner said. “That’s what another coach told me, so we’re not taking them lightly.”
If East was to get by Westerly, it would likely face No. 3 Johnston, which went undefeated in D-II and won its league championship, on Saturday in the Elite 8 at Brown University.
Bochner was excited about the potential opportunity to have his team take the court at the Pizzitola Center.
“I’ve never coached at Brown, but I’ve been to a lot of games there,” Bochner said of potentially making it to the Elite 8 Saturday. “It’s a great place to watch a game, and there’s a great atmosphere there.”
Even though East is a No. 11 seed, few teams, if any, have as much state tournament experience as East does heading into bracket play.
“These kids have been here before, so they won’t be overwhelmed,” Bochner said. “They won’t be afraid.”