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Powerhouse Juanita Sanchez hammers North Smithfield for third straight Div. III girls' title

March 22, 2014

North Smithfield sophomore forward Samantha Kent (right) drives the baseline for a layup as Juanita Sanchez senior forward Seth Quire tries to defend her during the second half of Saturday’s Division III championship game at URI’s Ryan Center. Kent finished the game with 13 points, but the undefeated Cavaliers cruised to a 59-27 victory for their third straight title. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

KINGSTON — North Smithfield High sophomore forward Samantha Kent stood just outside her locker room just before 1 o’clock Saturday afternoon flashing a rather satisfied grin.
Deep down, she and her teammates knew it would take a Herculean collective performance to dethrone two-time defending champion Juanita Sanchez in this, the R.I. Division III Tournament championship game.
The Northmen failed in their attempt, yielding to the taller and more wily Cavaliers, 59-27, at the Ryan Center, but they were hardly disconsolate.
There were no tears; disappointment, naturally, but nothing more.
“Our goal was just to play harder and better than we had before,” Kent explained, referring to her squad’s lopsided, 40-point regular-season loss at Juanita Sanchez’s gym back in February. “We wanted to push the ball up the floor quickly, then settle it down in our offensive zone to eat some time.
“It was so tough to get position down low,” she added. “It was so hard; that’s why I started taking outside shots in the second half … I will say this: After getting blown out last month, we played much better in this one.
“To us, just getting here was great. Our win over Middletown (in a semifinal), that was our championship game.”
The good news for Kent: She not only led North Smithfield with 13 points (nine from beyond the arc) while manufacturing five rebounds, but also earned a berth on the All-Tournament Team and was named the Northmen Player of the Game.
Senior co-captain Angela Barber managed just two points but a team-leading eight boards.
As for the bad: J.S. sophomore guard Elfreda Hoff torched head coach Alicia Pirri’s bunch for 20 points, including 18 in the opening session. For that effort, she earned the MVP trophy and the Sanchez contingent’s Player of the Game.
Freshman center Willcia McBorrough contributed a “double-double” with 14 points, 12 boards and six blocks, while junior guard D’Asia Allen closed with 13 points and sophomore Azareia Randall seven in the win.
With the victory, the Cavaliers finished the campaign undefeated, snatching its third straight state crown.
The Cavs needed just 3:19 after the opening tip to forge a 6-0 cushion, doing so on five NS turnovers. They later catapulted that cushion to 16-2 with 5:47 remaining, courtesy of four straight fast-break layups by Hoff, not to mention a putback by Randall.
The Northmen, however, fought back, manufacturing an 8-2 flurry in only 59 seconds. Kent started the surge with a trey at the 5:38 mark, and it closed another trifecta with 4:39 left.
That tightened the gap to 18-10. Unfortunately, that would be the closest NS would get on this day.
Juanita Sanchez continued to turn up the heat on both sides of the ball, mustering a 10-2 flurry over the final 4:27. After Allen’s long jumper, Hoff canned a pretty reverse lay-in, then landed an easy bucket on the break with 3:44 remaining to give the Cavs a 24-10 lead.
The half ended with the Cavs up, 28-12, and it didn’t help that NS turned the ball over 17 times in that session. Sanchez had only six.
Thanks to senior co-captain Alexa Scalzo’s baseline jumper just 13 ticks into the final stanza, the Northmen knifed the deficit to 28-14, and freshman Lorenza O’Donnell hit a layup 1:15 later to make it 30-16.
The Cavaliers, though, manufactured a 13-0 run over the next 5:35 to put the contest out of reach. McBorrough netted a pair of layups/short jumpers while Randall hit four more during that surge.
When Allen dropped her lone three-bomb with 7:04 left, the Cavs had snagged a 48-19 advantage to close a 20-7 flurry.
All that was left? The celebration.
“Our game plan was to slow things down, get beyond mid-court and then take 10-15 seconds off the clock before running our offense,” Pirri stated after her club’s campaign ended at 16-3. “It was just really hard to shut down Elfreda and Willcea. We had a lot of turnovers, and they turned them into points. Elfreda just took over.
“At the half, we switched to a 3-2 zone to take away their drives, which we did, but then they got the ball low to Willcea,” she continued. “She just dominated us in rebounding. She was so much taller than the girls we have, but we didn’t box her out enough.
“After the game, I just told the girls they have nothing to hang their heads about. They worked so hard all season; I just said how proud I am of all of them. Hey, there’s got to be a winner and a loser, and – unfortunately – that was us.”
Those making up the All-Tournament Team included Kent and O’Donnell from NS; Allen from J.S.; Central’s Jada Littlejohn; and Middletown’s Maddie Lyman.

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