The Islanders trailed 21-3 at the outset before rallying to take a lead in the second half. From there, though, the host Tigers regained their composure and took control.
TIVERTON — Tiverton High School girls basketball coach Chris Cicchinelli could be heard throughout the gym during a timeout as he tried to motivate his players, who were in something of a funk. The Tigers, who led Middletown 21-3 to start the game, found themselves trailing 36-35 six minutes into the second half.
The hometown crowd also was stunned by the Islanders' comeback. Cicchinelli pointed to the student section in the stands and yelled at them to get going, too.
“That’s just lots of vocalization on my part,” Cicchinelli said. “We came out of halftime like we were down 15 and there was no hope. I’m trying to get the student section going. I’m trying to get noise in our favor and kind of get that vibe going.”
While the Tiverton players seemed get a spark, Mariah Ramos was the catalyst for the Tigers the rest of the way. With Tiverton clinging to a two-point lead with less than five minutes to play, Ramos scored 10 straight points and 14 of the Tigers' final 20 as Tiverton pulled away for a 60-49 win.
“We just knew we had to keep our heads in the game,” Ramos said. “We needed to step up and light a fire and all five of us did it.”
“It was just getting someone to step up and be that leader. We needed someone to respond to it,” Cicchinelli said. “They don’t necessarily have to be vocal, but that’s what it takes sometimes. That’s what we needed tonight.
“Mariah was attacking, she’s passing the ball. She’s shooting the ball when she’s open. The last six minutes we closed it out very, very well.”
Ramos scored 19 of her 27 points in the second half. Emma Lopes, Aja Caldwell and Halie Ronan each scored eight points. Jaimi Vaillancourt and Lopes grabbed eight rebounds apiece and Caldwell dished out five assists.
Grace Haskell led Middletown with 13 points, including 11 in the second half. Haskell nailed a trio of 3-pointers to aid the Islanders' comeback and all of them went in off the backboard.
“The bank was open. I’m glad they were open tonight,” Middletown coach Mike Yates said.
Middletown’s Marin Holden and Mia DeSantis each scored 11 points, Bella Wiggins snared seven rebounds and blocked three shots and Holden also pulled down seven rebounds. Rylee Donovan had seven points and five rebounds, and Ashley Ney scored five points and had six boards.
Middletown was able to get to within 35-34 then, after committing two turnovers, got a layup from Donovan to take the lead. But the Islanders couldn’t extend the lead because they committed three straight turnovers. The Islanders closed the game with three more miscues in the final minute as Tiverton pulled away.
“We were up by one point four times and we had four turnovers,” Yates said. “Every game when we lose, it’s because we don’t take care of the ball. We just had too many turnovers, and that was the game.”
Middletown appeared dead in the water early in the contest as the Tigers built their 18-point lead with seven minutes left in the first half. Then DeSantis entered the game for Middletown and drilled three 3-pointers in a four-minute span to spark a 15-3 run that got the Islanders back to within six points.
“Mia’s from Massachusetts and she’s an awesome soccer player,” Yates said. “And I’m so glad that we have her playing basketball. She comes off the bench and scores for us and we love it. She did the same thing the last game. She’s going to be good and she’s only a sophomore.”
Tiverton led 28-20 at halftime but the Islanders caught and passed the Tigers with a 16-7 run to start the half.
“I don’t think we necessarily got a little relaxed,” Cicchinelli said. “I don’t think they knew that [DeSantis] could shoot the way that she shot. Then when she started hitting her shots, she was the leader for her team. And then [Haskell] started stepping into her shot.
“Then they started getting some rebounds and they started playing defense. The dominoes started falling that way, and it took the wind out of our sails.”
As the Islanders sputtered, the Tigers got the lead back and pushed it to five before it dropped to two on Haskell’s final visit to the bank. Ramos came down the court and banked in her own 3-pointer, then followed it up with a reverse layup, a trey from the top of the key and a coast-to-coast drive for another layup that gave Tiverton a 55-45 lead.
“They got a few lucky shots from the 3 and we needed to adjust to the situation and we did,” Ramos said. “I think this really helped us for the rest of the season.”
“They’re having fun and playing really, really hard for me,” Cicchinelli said. “We’ve just got to keep the chain rolling. I think we’ll definitely be a hard team for anyone to play in Division II.”