Once again, a Pilgrim sports team is turning heads and proving doubters wrong.
After multiple down seasons, the Pilgrim girls basketball team has jumped out to a 7-0 start and looks poised to not only secure a playoff berth, but also contend for a title.
It’s a little early on, I know, but so far this winter there is no piece of evidence that suggests otherwise.
The Pats made the move down from Division II to Division III this offseason, and have made the most of the new schedule. Although it’s easy for people to say that that is the reason for the team’s success, there seems to be something a little more when watching this club. I’ll admit, the divisional move absolutely is a factor, but from what I saw in the Woonsocket game last Friday, this team played like a Division II team, not a Division III team.
The first time I saw the club in action was during the holiday tournament in Coventry. I was there when Pilgrim squared off against the host Oakers, and watched the reeling Pats get beaten pretty soundly on both ends of the floor.
I remember at half time looking at my phone and seeing that Pilgrim was off to a pretty good start, but I had some serious doubts after that performance. The team struggled to produce offensively, was beaten regularly on defense, was sloppy in transition, was passive in the paint, and looked defeated in the early going. Coach Scott Bayha said after the game that it was a matter of confidence … when the girls played with confidence, they were able to compete with anyone.
I decided to make the trip to Woonsocket last Friday and had no clue what to expect. The Pats still had not lost in league play, but I just couldn’t get over what I saw back in December. However, by the time I left, I was totally sold on the team.
I think the biggest flaw that a lot of high school teams have is being top heavy. It’s important to have top-notch players leading the way, but in basketball specifically, there are far too many times that a team will have one or two studs that they rely on too much.
This isn’t the NBA where adding a LeBron James can automatically make you a contender, it is very rare in high school for one player to be able to do that. Sixteen-year-old kids just aren’t developed enough physically or mentally to be able to do that, excluding the very rare cases.
In most cases, you can have the best one or two players in the state but still come up short. Sure, having a top-heavy lineup can help you win some regular season games, but it is much different come playoff time. Whether the kids get tired, or the team faces a club with more overall talent, a team that relies on a small number of kids rarely wins it all.
When I met with the team in the preseason for a preview, Bayha also told me that the strength of the team would be its depth … and you could see it in full force on Friday.
The Pats cruised to a 43-18 win over Woonsocket, and saw nine different girls score in the process. Of course, the leaders stepped up. Nadine Ongi, Sara Langevin, Kailey Giarrusso all had strong performances and proved to be a legit top-3. All three are talented but also bring different skillsets to the table, and look to be heating up at the right time.
There were a few other big performances beyond that as well. Alexandra Brown put up seven timely points, Alysia Medeiros also put on a show down the stretch which included a big 3-pointer to put the exclamation point on the win. It was just one of those nights where everything was clicking, and you saw a well-oiled machine at work.
It wasn’t just the offense that shined either. The Pats were aggressive on defense and won the rebound battle on both ends of the floor. They dominated the first half, and held the Villa Novans to just seven points in the opening period.
After such a convincing win, I was thinking back to that game in Coventry, and my biggest takeaway was that Bayha was right. This team played with confidence and trusted one another on Friday, and put on one of the top performances I have seen this winter.
Like I said, it is early. We are right around the halfway point of the regular season, so there are many shoes that need to drop before I make a definite prediction.
All in all though, this team seems to have hit its stride. The girls appear to be hungry, confident, and seem to have figured out the right formula to win. Whether it is beating team with depth, teamwork, aggression, or all of the above, Pilgrim has certainly taken a big step forward recently.
Pilgrim was full of surprises in the fall, and I am starting to think that the girls basketball team may end up being one of the state’s biggest surprises when it is all said and done.