By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Eastern girls basketball team thrives on its transition game and once the squad was able to ramp up the pressure on crosstown rival Bristol Central on Thursday, Jan. 23, the home team nabbed a significant lead.
Forcing Central into several turnovers, Eastern turned defense into offense as the Lancers won the contest by a 48-27 final from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol.
“Basically, we wanted to set the tempo,” said Eastern coach Tony Floyd. “And we felt we had to get up and down the floor in transition and have Central eventually use their bench and I think depth wise, I think we have a little bit better depth than they do at this time of the season. We were able to get in our secondary break and run our offense out of the transition which was nice.”
“We got some second and third shots, the ball wasn’t going in real well for us but I’m glad to see us hitting the boards.”
Eastern forced 27 turnovers – mainly from its vaunted full-court press – allowed Central to shoot just 23 percent from the field and held the visitors to a single digit scoring total by intermission.
“They jumped on us and we didn’t handle the pressure,” said Central coach Steve Gaudet. “I thought we would have done a better job against their press but they turned us over. They sped us up and jumped on us.”
“With their type of pressure, their experience, they got up on us and we never got back in it.”
Eastern’s Ciara Collins played extremely well, posting 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting while also collecting seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Jordan Ouellette added 16 points, eight points, three assists and three steals while Alyssa Kehler – the newest member of the starting line-up – pieced together an excellent seven points, four rebounds and three assists in a big night of action.
“It’s really important,” said Collins of Kehler’s production. “She’s really one of our key players on our team and whenever she has a good game, we all play well together too.”
Avery Arbuckle added three points and had the two loudest blocks of the evening, Sage Scarritt scored two points but added 10 rebounds, a couple assists and four blocks while Janessa Gonzalez added two points and three rebounds.
Central’s Sophia Torreso scored eight of her 12 points over the second half and she once again showed why she’s one of the young, bright, players in the city.
Ella Watson added five points while Janessa Bartell and Gwen Torreso had four apiece.
Central slowed the tempo down to open play but the Lancers nabbed a double-figure lead off a quicker pace.
A jumper and then a three from Kehler pushed the lead out and when Scarritt found Collins for a little jumper and an Ouellette steal led to two free throws, Eastern’s edge reached 13-3 with 2:05 to play in the first.
“Pushing the ball up the floor is really key for us,” said Collins. “It just gets us a lot of easy points. We have beaten most teams down the court and it really helps.”
In the second period, a Sophia Torreso lay-up with 6:20 left before the half cut the deficit to single digits for Central at 15-6.
But an 8-3 Eastern burst to end the half saw the Lancers’ defense force 10 turnovers while Collins canned three hoops and Gonzalez added one more as the home team led 23-9 at halftime.
But a 15-2 Eastern run to open the third period quickly made the contest a 38-11 affair with just 2:15 left in the stanza.
“We did an okay job with the boards,” said Gaudet. “But when [Eastern] was up 14 going into the second half, I think eight of their 14 points was off second chance opportunities. That’s been our weakness all year, boxing out.”
Ouellette attacked the lane with zest as she notched 10 points during that run, Kehler laid in a shot as well and Collins blasted in a 3 as that 27-point edge saw Eastern’s bigs made solid interior passes for open looks.
“I thought we weren’t patient in the first half executing,” said Floyd. “In that third quarter, I thought we made that extra pass and I thought that was the key in the second half as to why we got some nice looks and some nice shots.”
To end the third, Sophia Torreso canned a three-point play, Collins hit another lay-up and when Watson put back a miss, the Central deficit was 40-16 going into the final quarter of play.
Central’s deficit reached 44-18 off a Scarritt lay-up with 6:46 remaining but to end the game for the Rams, Sophia Torreso drained a three and sister Gwen Torreso made two free throws and sliced in a long jumper to end the scoring as the visitors fell in the end, 48-27.
“We’ve got to get better breaking the press,” said Gaudet. “I never thought I would see that today. I thought we were doing a good job breaking the press but credit to [Eastern]. I guess their press is at another level.”
That defensive effort by the Lancers led the squad to a five straight wins and, with victory number eight in hand, Eastern will once again be a postseason contender as the team is rolling at this point of the season.
“I think the girls are really starting to pick it up and know what we’re looking for offensively and defensively,” said Floyd. “I’m pleased about how Ciara did outside and Jordan running offense. I’m very pleased about how Sage and Avery have been hitting the boards. They’re making their presence known a lot more now than earlier in the season.”
And, of course for the players, there’s nothing like a Bristol Central/Bristol Eastern battle on the hardwood.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Collins of the rivalry. “It’s nerve-racking at first coming in and you always want to beat the rival. It’s a lot of fun winning but [Central] plays well every year.”