PROVIDENCE â€“ Way back in January, St. Raphael Academy faced Scituate in a crossover tilt between league frontrunners.
Despite the Spartansâ€™ physical presence, or the fact it would eventually become the Division II-North champion with a stellar 16-2 mark, the Saints manufactured a 44-38 triumph, though head coach Fred Saunders claimed it was a tough, aggressive affair.
The two foes met again in a R.I. Division II semifinal at Rhode Island College on Wednesday night for the right to play for the state crown on Saturday. And this time, the same ensued, except â€¦
Senior co-captain Rybecca Gonzalez mustered a display for the ages, recording a phenomenal 22 points, 15 rebounds, four steals, three blocks and three more assists. With that astonishing effort, the top-seeded Saints collected a thrilling 51-46 victory.
It also gained a berth in the championship final opposite second-ranked Rogers â€“ a 56-48 victor over Coventry â€“ at the University of Rhode Islandâ€™s Ryan Center on Saturday afternoon.
Game time is slated for 1:30 p.m.
For a total of 29:35, excepting the initial 42 seconds of the first and the final 1:53, Scituate (which fell to 18-3) held the lead; in fact, it had a 38-30 cushion with 9:30 left in regulation, but â€“ from that point on â€“ St. Raphael outscored the Spartans, 21-8.
While the elder Gonzalez paced her triumphant teammates, fellow senior co-captain Felicia Baccari mustered seven points while junior sharpshooter chipped in nine and classmate Seun Shittu six.
For Scituate, senior co-captain Julia Corsi netted a team-high 13 and fellow captain Talia Pino 12. Junior center Sadie Ross gathered 10 points while easily leading her club in rebounds.
â€śI donâ€™t have enough adjectives to describe Rybecca,â€ť an elated head coach Fred Saunders gushed later. â€śShe was second-team All-State, but I canâ€™t find five kids better than her in Rhode Island. She carried this team (Wednesday night), and I donâ€™t know many girls who can say that.
â€śShe just wanted it,â€ť he added. â€śI could see that before the game. She was a sparkplug offensively and the same defensively. We needed her to come up big for us, especially the way we were playing, and she did just that.â€ť
Corsiâ€™s trey with 9:30 left had lifted Scituate to a 38-30 advantage, and the Saints seemed in big trouble. But after a Shittu free throw, she nailed a baseline hook.
With 6:41 remaining, Gonzalez drained a foul shot to make it 38-34, but Ross hit a long jumper to lift Scituate to a 40-34 lead.
Three times between the 5:22 mark (sister Danyel Gonzalezâ€™ trey) and 2:11 (Baccariâ€™s shot hoist), the Saints closed it to a mere point, but it didnâ€™t get over the hump until sophomore Lauren Taylor canned a fast-break layin to give SRA its first lead of the game (47-46) with 1:53 left.
At the 29.3 mark, the elder Gonzalez bobbed and weaved through the lane for a layup that virtually closed it.
The Spartans needed little time to gain a cushion. They took advantage of four SRA turnovers in the opening 2:53 as Scituate ran out to a 9-0 lead, helped out by a Ross conventional three-point play and Pinoâ€™s four-foot jumper with 13:07 left.
Scituate maintained a similar advantage through the middle of the session until the Saints began finding the basket. Trailing 15-7 with 8:37 remaining, Rybecca Gonzalez hit a layup, but the Spartans responded with seven of the next nine points.
There was still 4:27 left when Gonzalez, the senior co-captain, nailed back-to-back treys in the span of 33 seconds to slice the SRA deficit to 22-18.
It cut it to four again at 24-20 on Lauren Taylorâ€™s seven-foot baseline jumper, but Scituate outscored the Saints once more, 7-3, in the final 3:00.
Birell sparked that mini-surge with a three-point bomb.
All told, Rybecca Gonzalez closed the stanza with a game-leading 14 points. For the Spartans, Corsi and Ross each dropped seven.