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NORTH SMITHFIELD â€” A win on Senior Night for North Smithfield turned out to be more than just a nice way to honor its lone 12th grader, Anissa Robitaille.
It earned the Northmen a few extra daysâ€™ rest for the upcoming Division III playoffs.
Jamie LaFazia scored 14 points and teammate Sidra Ethier netted nine and grabbed 11 rebounds as North Smithfield avenged an earlier loss and held off visiting Central, 48-44, at Lovett Gymnasium.
With the verdict, the Northmen finish in second place behind league champion and newcomer from Div. II Middletown with a 14-4 record. Central, another newcomer, dropped to 13-5 and will have to wait and see how Shea fares in its league finale against Bishop Keough this Saturday. If the Raiders (13-4) come out on top in that tilt, it pushes Central down to fourth based on Sheaâ€™s sweep in their two league matchups.
The bonus for defending state champion Northmen in the new six-team playoff is a bye in the first round of next weekâ€™s tournament.
While he likes that extra perk, N.S. head coach David Ruff is also quite pleased how his team responded this season after taking it all last year at the Ryan Center with a three-point win over Mount Pleasant.
â€śI think itâ€™s kind of surprise,â€ť Ruff said. â€śI didnâ€™t know about Middletown and how they would be. I figured Central would be tough because when we played them in Division II they were tough against us. I figured Central would be toughâ€¦I noticed in the Division III, the teams are getting better. The players and overall league has gotten better.â€ť
Along with LaFazia and Ethier, North Smithfield had a balanced effort with Emily Dodd scoring eight points and Robitaille adding six and finishing with five blocks,
â€śWe have a bunch of players that play about equal,â€ť Ruff said. â€śAnybody can come in the game and score. Just about anybody can have a good game between our forwards to our outside girls.â€ť
Although it was never behind by more than a half-dozen points, North Smithfield trailed for most of the first half. The Northmen didnâ€™t take their first lead until there was four minutes remaining when LaFazia stole a pass from the Knights and then scored on a layup to give her teammates a 16-15 advantage.
North Smithfield built its cushion from there and led at halftime, 26-18. On four of the final seven baskets, N.S. scored as a result of a steal.
The Northmen held the Knightsâ€™ top scoring threat, Adrianna Stephens, to just six points in the initial half. Stephens finished with a game-best 19 points, but boosted that total considerably with a pair of 3-pointers with eight seconds left in the game.
â€śBasically I told (the girls) to try and control (Stephens); try to control her and have her make long passes and then weâ€™ll worry about the other four players,â€ť Ruff said. â€śWe wanted to keep her off her game. That was our strategy.â€ť
With a layup by Melicka Manning, the Knights cut the deficit to three points (30-27) with 10:20 remaining in the second half. But the Northmenâ€™s Meredith Oâ€™Donnell converted on a three-point play and then Dodd nailed a 3-pointer to jack the lead back to nine.
Central could get no closer than six the rest of the contest.
â€śI told the girls (before the game) this is great run for us to get ready for the playoffs so weâ€™ll treat it like a playoff game,â€ť Ruff said. â€śI wanted their minds to be just like a playoff game. They stepped up and played it like a playoff game.â€ť