East doubles up West in rivalry matchup

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Holding a seven-point lead at halftime, the Cranston East girls’ basketball team clamped down on defense in the second half, holding rival Cranston West to just five points over the final 16 minutes in an eventual 40-20 victory.

The Falcons displayed some offensive fluency in the first half, going on a 10-0 run after trailing 13-1 early, as the two teams went into the break with the ’Bolts ahead, 22-15.

In the second half, however, East junior center Maia Caito dominated in the paint, scoring nine of her game-high 15 points to help East run away with the win.

“That’s something you certainly want to strive for,” East head coach Lloyd Bochner said of his team’s defensive play in the second half. “We preach that defense creates opportunities and it certainly wins games. If you have any hopes of going further in states, you have to play D.”

East came out of the gate with an impressive 13-1 run over the first seven minutes of the game.

A Caito offensive board and lay-in just over a minute in gave the ’Bolts a 5-0 lead.

A few minutes later, East kept its momentum going when Sarah Coutu drove and kicked to Tatyana Correia for a baseline jumper to make it 11-1.

At 13-1, West began to show some fight.

Lauren Plociak sent an inbounds pass to Mia James near the free throw line, and she swished a jumper to trim the deficit to 10, 13-3.

Katie Blake then converted an and-1 on the next trip down the floor, and roughly a minute later, James drove for a lay-in to make it 13-9 while pushing West’s run out to 8-0.

“In the first half, [West] was too quick for us, so we had to get out of man,” Bochner said.

East was able to slow West down after that and keep the Falcons in check.

Caito ended the 10-0 run when she corralled a miss off the glass and converted a short basket, and McKenzie Richards drilled a deep straightaway triple on East’s next possession to push the ’Bolts’ lead back out to seven, 18-11.

Coutu scored her only points of the first half on a driving layup in the waning minutes of the half to help East take a 22-15 lead into the locker room.

In the second half, East would utilize Caito’s size advantage down low frequently.

With three minutes gone, Caito got fouled going hard to the hoop, and she would make 1-of-2 free throws – the first point of the half by either team.

A few minutes later, Shayna Cousineau dished to Caito in the post, who spun off a defender for a deuce to make it 27-15.

Caito’s teammates kept feeding her in the post down the stretch, as Richards tossed the ball in to her, before eluding a double team for another 2.

The advantage was upped to 31-17 with four minutes left when freshman Hope Halvarson lobbed the ball up to Caito off an inbounds pass. Caito came down with the ball, before banking a shot in off the glass.

Caito would finish the night with 15 points and 13 rebounds – both game highs.

“Teams are shading and doubling her, but I think it’s always important for us to look in to her,” Bochner said of Caito. “I have no idea how many points she had, but we needed her tonight. If you have a weapon like that, why not go to it?”

A layup by Halvarson and a corner 3 by Madison Stetson would help further the margin on the scoreboard late, securing the win for visiting East (10-5).

In addition to Caito, Richards and Coutu each netted six points and Stetson added five.

For West, Katie Blake posted five points, a team-high 12 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. James also had a solid night with a team-high eight points to go along with six boards, one block and one steal.

After a promising first half for West (2-13), the Falcons struggled from the field and the free throw line in the second half.

“If you can’t throw the ball in the hoop, can’t hit your free throws and you miss open shots, you get shellacked,” West head coach Russ Ferri said. “It’s frustrating. I feel bad that our senior captains had to go out this way in their last East-West rivalry game. If you score five points in the second half, you’re not going to win any basketball game.”

West will look to snap its four-game losing streak at Cumberland on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Adversely, East will try for its fourth straight win this evening when it hosts Cumberland at 7 p.m.

East is now up to fourth in the state rankings thanks in large part to its latest run, and it should have no problem securing its third consecutive state tournament appearance in the coming weeks.

“We just finished four games in seven nights,” Bochner said. “We lost to North Kingstown in overtime, and then beat South Kingstown, Coventry and West, so 10-5 for our first year in D-I is pretty impressive. It puts us pretty close to gaining entry into the open 16, which would be really cool. We’re playing pretty good ball right now.”

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