PROVIDENCE - When North Smithfield and Central played each other during the league season, the two Division III squads split their two games with both teams winning on their home court by single digits.
Head coach David Ruff didn't anticipate anything but an all-out battle when his second-seeded Northmen matched against the No. 3 Knights in Monday's semifinal matchup at Rhode Island College.
Ruff got exactly what he expected, but his only wish was that the numbers on the scoreboard were a little different.
Adrianna Stephens netted a game-high 24 points, including some key free throws in the last 25 seconds of overtime as Central outlasted North Smithfield, 43-39. The loss puts a close to a strong season by the Northmen and sends the Knights to the finals this Saturday (11 a.m.) at the Ryan Center
“It's kind of what I expected,” Ruff said. “Both teams are equally (talented). They just ended up having the luck of the draw at the end with foul shots. It' was a great game. That's all I can say...We just couldn't put them away at the end.”
That was something the Northmen had prime opportunity to do in the closing minutes of regulation. With 10 straight points, including a shot underneath from sophomore Tara Larson, back-to-back 3-pointers from junior Emily Dodd , another trey from sophomore Pam Denomme and a running shot in the paint from senior Anissa Robitaille, North Smithfield turned a five-point deficit into a 33-27 lead with 1:47 remaining.
But the Knights managed to sent the contest into the OT period, thanks in part to Stephens, who scored five of her team's final seven points, and a big lay-up from senior Antoinette Grant (13 points) with less than 25 seconds remaining.
Robitaille,who finished with a team-best 11 points, came up with a few crucial plays in the last 1:30 with a blocked shot, a steal and a free throw with 13.5 seconds left to give North Smithfield a 34-31 advantage
Stephens knotted the score by hitting the second of her two free throws with 4.8 second left.
After their strong run during the late stages, Ruff felt his Northmen could hang on for the 'W' and their second straight appearance at the Ryan Center. Unfortunately, the Knights had different plans.
“I thought if we got through that we could come out ahead,” Ruff said. “We were telling them in the timeouts not to foul. We tried to hold them off. When they tied the game, we only had four seconds and decided to take the game into overtime to see if we could win it that way.”
North Smithfield didn't quite get the start it needed in the first half. The Northmen struggled with their offense and racked up their share of penalties. With 3:15 remaining until the break, Ruff and his squad had more fouls than points. Those glaring numbers showed 10 fouls and a 15-7 deficit.
Stephens netted eight points during that stretch. The Knights scored nearly half their points courtesy of some sloppy play by N.S,, scoring seven of their points from the charity stripe.
But the Northmen got it together in the closing minutes, beginning with a bucket from sophomore Jamie LaFazia. LaFazia shot spurred a 9-2 run by N.S. to finish up the half and give the local squad an 18-16 advantage going into the locker room. A 3-pointer by Dodd with 12 seconds left capped off the streak.
“This team always starts off slow, “Ruff said. “We ended up starting to get our offense going. I think the biggest reason was I was telling the girls to rebound and I was telling the girls to take the ball to the hoop because they were in foul trouble. I said work the sideline, come back to the sideline and we were sending Anissa in the middle and she was wide open. We just had to get her the ball.”
After winning it all last year, North Smithfield concludes this season with a very respectable 17-7 overall mark and 15-3 league record.
“I am not disappointed with the girls at all,” Ruff said. “They worked hard all year. They wanted to get back to the final game. They worked hard in practice. They were a great bunch of girls we just didn't get it done.”
NORTH SMITHFIELD (39) – Emily Dodd 3 0-0 9, Jamie LaFazia 2 0-1 4, Keila Strick 1 0-0 3, Tara Larson 1 3-4 5, Anissa Robitaille 5 1-2 11, Pam Denomme 3 0-0 7. Totals – 15 4-7 39
CENTRAL (43) - Daphney Pierre 2 2-6 6, Adrianna Stephens 5 14-21 24, Kijiah Hackney 0 0-2 0, Georgia Karweh 0 0-0 0, Anoinette Grant 6 1-2 13. Totals – 13 16-30 43
Halftime – NS, 18-16. Regulation – 34-34. 3-point goals – NS (5) – Dodd 3, Strick, Denomme.