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Johnston The Panthers, part 2 – John Cardullo

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by John Cardullo, Sportswriter

Photo: Jayanah Rollins. Photos taken by Johnston Athletic Director

For the Johnston High School Basketball team, the clock struck midnight as their hopes for a state championship were derailed by a determined Hope HS team.

It was on the floor of The AMP, aka the Providence Civic Center, where the bubble burst for the Lady Panthers Basketball team out of Johnston. The team which had lost a single division game all season was shocked by Hope HS – a team that they handled quite easily during their previous three meetings during the regular season.

The veteran team was led by seniors Ava Waterman, Jayanah Rollins, Aubree Allen, Riley Guenette and Hannah Lavergne. The team had no juniors on the roster and relied on sophomores to step up and play quality minutes. Annabella Gesualdi who went on to be named All Division was a force as the team’s center. Although a bit undersized, Gesualdi could mix it up with opposing players underneath, and could also could hit mid-range jump shots. She could step back and bury a 3-point jump shot, as well. It was her defense against the taller and bigger opponents that won her praise from both her coaches as well as the opposing coaches.

The balance of the Panthers comprised as underclassmen “role” players. Olivia Iafrate, Venessa Febus, Melissa Monteiro and I’daizha Brown, all sophomores will have two more seasons to play. Freshmen players, Lailany Aponte, Nevaeha Coelho, Josianny Santana and Leah Volvy all played quality minutes throughout the season and will be relied on to contribute as they assume a bigger role in the future.

The team was led by seasoned Coach Jamal Diggs and his assistant coaches, David Allen, Savannah Bissitt and Nicole Chamberlin. The team finished in first place with a 16-1 record in the RIIL Division IV and was seeded in the number one position for the play-offs. Receiving a first-round bye, the Lady Panthers beat Block Island to punch their ticket to the finals that were going to be played at the Amica Center – The AMP. Hope High School was seeded in the number three position. They beat Blackstone Valley Academy and then upset Davies Vocational to play the Panthers one final time.

The first five minutes of the Game saw Johnston take a 12-1 lead. Hope waited for their opportunities and slowly began to beat the Panthers down the court as they climbed back into the Game. Johnston hung onto a slim halftime lead heading into the locker room. “I thought that the break would give us the perfect opportunity to regroup,” said Diggs. But the Panthers came out flat in the third quarter, scoring only six points in the entire quarter.  “I was confident that we would bounce back in the final quarter and pull the Game out,” said Diggs, but Hope, who built up a 5-point lead could feel the championship was in reach.

In the fourth quarter Johnston took a lead but was unable to pull away from the Blue Wave. Hope took over the lead for good, with just under two minutes left to play in the Game, as Johnston was forced to foul the Hope players in hopes of them missing the foul shots, which would be a good strategy. Two of Hope’s best players had fouled out, leaving backups to finish the Game. The Hope players hit 9 out of 10 foul shots to win the championship. For Hope it was an improbable win on the biggest stage the team ever played on. For Johnston, the defeat was deflating.

The team credited their teammates and their coaches for the success they had all season. “But for the season to end like that, it was a very bitter pill to swallow!” said Jayanah Rollings. Coach Diggs said “this will take a long time for me to get over. I will be running this game through my mind. Questioning every move that was made – this will haunt me for a long time!”

It is said that for one team to beat another three times in a season is very hard! For Hope, after each loss to Johnston, they kept creeping up and closing the gap between them. Their last Game was a 3-point thriller that the Panthers pulled out at Hope. But like in the fairy tale Cinderella, for the Panthers, the bell struck midnight and the dream season fell short.

John Cardullo, Sportswriter. John is a lifelong Rhode Islander. His Sports experience is extensive, as a player of youth and high school Sports in Cranston, Rhode Island, a coach, and the Public Address announcer for several local High Schools over the last 16 years for Cranston East, Cranston West, Central, and Scituate as well as CCRI Men’s and Women’s Soccer.

In his spare time John is a Softball Umpire in Warwick and for 56 years he has been active in Men’s Slow Pitch softball and was inducted into the Rhode Island Slow Pitch Softball Hall of Fame in 2019. John had been in the printing industry for over 42 years.

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