LINCOLN — After the warm-up session, and minutes before a huge Division III-North clash against league-leading North Smithfield High, Davies Tech head coach Joe Handy led his troops outside a door to Gaskin Alumni Hall on Tuesday evening.
There, he looked rather animated, trying to explain to his Patriots how critical it would be to play with fire in their hearts. After all, a postseason berth was at stake.
“I reminded them that we have a tough time scoring, so we'd have to play outstanding defense if we wanted to stand a prayer (of winning),” he stated. “I also told them that they were missing their best player (in NS sophomore Sam Kent), but they were still a really good team. That's why we were going to adjust our defense to a 3-2 zone.”
Its collective back against the wall, Davies responded with supreme aggressiveness and hustle. It held the Northmen to a mere seven points in the opening half, forcing a whopping 24 turnovers in the process, and survived a furious NS surge down the stretch to claim a more-than-satisfying 49-36 triumph.
“I had said to the kids that – for North Smithfield – the game really didn't matter because (it) had already qualified for the playoffs,” noted Handy, whose club moved to 6-7 overall and 5-6 in league action. “For us, we had to win one of our next two games just to tie Shea for the sixth and final playoff spot. I said, 'Let's win this game, get this (victory) out of the way right now to take the pressure off us.'
“Now, instead of settling for a tie with Shea, we'll go into Rocky Hill on Friday (7 p.m.) for the chance to sneak into the fifth spot,” he added. “That's the position Rocky Hill occupies now.”
Sophomore center Gina Miranda played masterfully, recording a near “triple-double” with 16 points, eight blocks and seven boards. Junior Joneilly Alicea chipped in 12 points, nine rebounds and five steals; sophomore Tiana DaSilva eight points and six thefts; lone senior Jackie Sequin four points, eight rebounds and five steals; and junior Jasmine Ayala six points.
Freshman Lorenza O'Donnell paced the Northmen (10-2 in III-North) with 15 points, 10 over the final 16 minutes, while senior co-captain Alexa Scalzo registered 10, fellow captain Angela Medeiros five and classmate Angela Barber four.
“With our 3-2 zone, our guards led the team in rebounding because the weak side was dropping, and we ended up getting all the missed shots down on the baseline,” Handy said. “We had relentless pressure up and down the floor, and that forced them into a lot of turnovers.”
Incredible as it may seem, the soon-to-be III-North champions never held a lead in this one, and it earned just one deadlock, that at 2-2 after Scalzo canned a 12-foot baseline jumper just 1:37 into the initial stanza.
With 12:58 remaining, DaSilva drained a 16-footer, and that gave Davies a lead it wouldn't relinquish. Over the next 4:24, Alicea netted a trey, Sequin did the same off the glass), Miranda hit a putback and DaSilva dropped a blind, back-to-the-basket flip before Ayala came up with a rebound/bucket herself.
With 8:34 left before the break, the Pats had recorded a 14-0 cushion and led 16-2.
O'Donnell landed a baseline 17-footer 52 seconds later to slice the deficit to 16-4 (that happened to be the visitors' first basket in 7:03), but Davies again assembled a surge, this one of the 9-3 variety, to take a 27-7 advantage into intermission.
At halftime of this “Senior Night,” Handy and assistants Scott Cooper and Kaitlin Flynn shook hands with the six Northmen soon-to-be grads at the brief ceremony, then acknowledged their lone senior Sequin; they presented her (and her mom) with a bouquet of flowers, a basketball signed by every teammate and a plaque that read, in part, “Believe in yourself, and never say 'I quit.'”
Sequin seemed genuinely moved by the gesture.
The Patriots picked up where they left off in the first minute of the final session. Just 10 ticks into it, they forced a turnover, and Miranda converted a layup to make it 29-7 16 seconds later. That ignited a 12-0 run in a 2:19 span, with Miranda notching six points and Alicea a conventional three-point play to lift Davies to a 39-7 lead.
The hosts actually held the Northmen scoreless through the first 4:24 of the second half before Barber nailed an eight-foot jumper, but they kept hustling. After Alicea canned a baby hook, they were in front, 43-11, with 8:28 remaining.
Less than a minute later, NS began a roll of its own. In fact, following O'Donnell's 10-footer with 2:20 left, it knifed the deficit to 47-28. By the time she tickled the twine with a 15-footer with 34.7 on the clock, it trailed only 47-36.
In the end, DaSilva landed two free throws with 17.5 remaining to squelch any possible comeback. The Northmen closed with an uncharacteristic 34 turnovers, the Pats 20 (though most came in the final eight minutes).
“My girls put it all together; I'm not surprised,” Handy stated. “The girls have been working really hard in practice. I won't say it's the best defensive effort we've had all season, but it's right up there. Now we have to go right back to work to prepare for Rocky Hill. We don't want to take anything for granted.”