The Johnston Lady Panthers beat the Wheeler Warriors, 69-49, in the season opener at Johnston High School on Tuesday evening. The Panthers went undefeated last year while winning the Division II title. On the other side, Wheeler, which played in D-III last season, also went undefeated and won the championship. This was Wheeler’s first game since moving up to D-II.
Johnston senior standout and point guard, Jordan Moretti, poured in 31 points and Caroline Howe chipped in 12 while Gabby DiRaimo finished with 10. For Wheeler, Anna Metcalf had 21 points and Kate Keenan scored 17.
Wheeler won the opening tip and scored first with sophomore forward Iris Cephas making a layup. Johnston tied it at 2 when DiRaimo dished to Moretti for a deuce in front.
Midway through the first half, Johnston went on a 12-0 run and took a 16-4 advantage. Moretti scored six points during the spurt, plus Sophia DaCosta hit a pair of free throws and Lauren Civetti and DiRaimo both chipped in a basket each.
Wheeler finally ended its scoreless drought when Metcalf dished to Keenan, who buried a 3 from the top of the arc and got her squad within nine.
A few minutes later, Wheeler started a run of its own. It began with Jacqueline Faulise, who assisted to Keenan for a jumper. It ended with Metcalf driving down the baseline and making a layup and Keenan stealing the ball and burying a jumper, which got Wheeler within 21-19 with 4:22 remaining in the first half.
Johnston’s Howe stopped the bleeding when she sank a couple of free throws. After that, Moretti made a jumper and extended the Panthers’ lead to six. The Panthers went back up by as much as nine before taking a 35-29 edge into halftime.
Going into the break, Johnston head coach Chris Corsinetti was worried about his team protecting its own net.
“My concern was on the defensive end,” Corsinetti said. “We didn’t play very well defensively in the first half. I thought we gave a lot of good looks to them. We gave up the back door a few times. So I wasn’t very happy with the effort. The second half, we came out much better and we clamped down.”
The Panthers got their first points of the second half when Howe scored on a putback, which started a 5-0 run. The next tour down, Moretti nailed a 3-pointer and extended the Panthers’ lead to 40-29.
Wheeler would try to battle back, but it would only get as close as eight.
With just under five minutes to play, Howe helped put the nail in the coffin, scoring a layup that put the Panthers up 60-43. DiRaimo rattled in a shot shortly after and Moretti added a pair of freebies and a layup before Bianca Robbins finished the game with a putback and gave the Panthers a 20-point victory.
Despite the blowout win in the opener, the Panthers’ coach was not ready to talk about having another undefeated season.
“I don’t want to go there, but we just have to strive for our competitiveness,” Corsinetti said. “We’re going to go out there and compete every night and out-work and out-hustle the other team. That’s all we did last year, so that’s all we want to do this year.”
Next, Johnston plays host to Mount St. Charles on Friday at 7 p.m.