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The South Kingstown girls basketball team with its hardware after winning the WCCU title

WESTERLY — South Kingstown’s girls basketball team is going to need to dedicate a trophy case to just house the hardware they’ve brought home from the WCCU Holiday Basketball Tournament.

On Thursday night, they won the tournament for the fifth time in as many tries, taking down host team Westerly, 51-34.

“It’s always nice to bring home the hardware,” SK coach Robert Cruz said. “We can work off this. It builds confidence.”

The Rebels were powered by a 13-0 start and the heady play of Sara Hancock (15 points, 3 for 5 at the free-throw line). The senior shook off a slow start to her final high school season to score 10 of her team’s 12 points in the third quarter and earn the tournament’s MVP honors.

“She’s been struggling the first few games,” Cruz said. “This tournament, this game, was her coming out. She’s a really cerebral, good, skilled player. She’s one of our seniors, a leader.”

The Bulldogs were led by Rachel Federico (nine points, four rebounds) and Sydney Haik (eight points, an assist and a steal). They were both named to the all-tournament team.

South Kingstown (2-3) hit a pair of early 3-pointers that complemented their tight defensive play. The Bulldogs had 20 turnovers in the contest and missed their first seven field goal attempts.

“We were missing our shots so early on that we got tentative on the defensive end,” Bulldogs coach Sue Haik said. “After the first quarter, we went right after them. Our shots were in the paint, where we wanted them. They just weren’t dropping.”

The Rebels took full advantage of the Bulldogs’ shooting woes, leading by as many as 19 points in the first half. Nine SK players scored a point in the final, with contributions coming from Avery Martin (seven points), Finley Carr (six points, fouled out in the fourth quarter) and Victoria Hancock (six points).

“We’ve been stressing for them to play hard and play smart,” Cruz said. “Get after it on defense first. That led to some really good opportunities in transition and on the offensive end.”

The high-tempo start to the contest was short-lived, as both teams made repeated trips to the free-throw line. There were a total of 38 free-throw attempts in the contest. SK held a distinct advantage in that area, scoring 14 points on free throws to Westerly’s six.

“The flow wasn’t great,” Haik said. “But, when you’re shooting like 25 percent for the night, it puts a lot of pressure on them.

“We kept fighting, that’s all I can say. You keep asking them to play, make adjustments.”

Westerly (2-4) won the second quarter, 8-3, and the fourth quarter, 10-9, but the 19-point deficit in the first quarter was simply too much to overcome. A Juliana Voisinet layup in the fourth quarter cut the SK lead to 13 points; the Bulldogs would come no closer.

“We’re young. Every game we learn something new,” Haik said. “It was a good tournament, it’s always great, the credit union does a great job. It was a great experience for us. Good to be back in the gym.”

The Rebels take home the trophy, and, their coach hopes, some newfound confidence to compete up at the D-I level.

“We struggled in our first three Division I games,” Cruz said. “We wanted to use this tournament to build some confidence and work on some things. That’s what you saw in that first quarter, was us finally putting stuff together.

“We’re not the same team we were last year. We lost a lot. These girls right here, they’re definitely more than capable of being that team that nobody wants to play come playoff time.”

South Kingstown’s Celine Barbera received the Joseph N. Cugini Community Service Award. South’s Abigail McDonald was named to the all-tournament team as was Chariho’s Jules White and Stonington’s Anne Drago.

South’s Martin received the sportsmanship award.

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