PROVIDENCE HIGH — It has been 11 years since the Providence High girls' basketball team won a championship in its own Providence Pioneer Shootout.
In addition, last year's third-place finish by the Pioneers was their best showing in their own event since also placing third in 2003.
However, in this year's 14th installment, the Pioneers are serious about doing well, and hopefully taking home their first championship since 1999.
Providence looked like a team on just such a mission Monday when it opened the tournament with a first-round game against New Roads. After a slow start, the Pioneers stepped up their game and were able to coast to a 64-25 victory against the Panthers.
"I talked to the girls about approaching every game in this tournament like a championship game," said Providence Coach Andrew Bencze, whose team won the Liberty League title last season. "We feel we have a good team this year and we think that this just might be the year that we are going to be able to compete for the championship."
The Pioneers (6-3) pride themselves on playing solid, lock-down defense. It is that defense that sets the stage for their offense. However, coming into Monday's game, that defense attack hasn't been as potent as Bencze would have liked.
"We just haven't been playing our style of Providence defense in the last few games," Bencze said. "That has been a big problem for us. We need to play tough defense to keep us in games."
That defense started out slowly in the first quarter against New Roads (0-3). But thanks in part to eight points — including two three-pointers — by Ana Solis in the opening stanza; the Pioneers were able to hold a three-point lead, 14-11.
Things changed in a big way in the second quarter, however. The Providence defense began to force more turnovers, as New Roads committed 17 in the game. The defense was so dominating in fact, that the Panthers were able to score just four points in the second quarter.
The Providence offense also began clicking in the second quarter behind eight points from Bea Benedicto. Benedicto paced the team with 14 points. Teammate Rita Khatchadourian added 10.
The Pioneers also got a boost off the bench in the second quarter. Catherine Saint came in and paced the defensive effort, collecting five steals in the frame. She also had five points in the second.
All that led to a 36-15 lead for the Pioneers at the half.
The Pioneers weren't shy about chucking up three-point attempts, even if they missed a few.
"When Ana and Rita are on, they can shoot that shot whenever they're open," Bencze said. "If they miss a few, they come right back and put it up again. We have complete confidence in them as shooters."
It was more of the same in the third quarter, as New Roads was outscored, 19-4, giving Providence a comfortable 58-19 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
"You always want to come out and do well in your own tournament, especially in the first game," Bencze said. "Hopefully we can keep it up."