NORTH SMITHFIELD — With several players returning from last year’s playoff team, North Smithfield is considered to be among one of the top teams in Division III.
After a slow 0-2 start to begin the season, the Northmen are now starting to play like one.
North Smithfield earned its fourth straight league win (and sixth overall) on Wednesday night, defeating a much-improved Davies Tech outfit, 43-35, inside the Lovett Gymnasium.
During their current hot streak, the Northmen also snared a victory in the finals of the Catuogno Division of the Smithfield Boosters Club’s Holiday Classic on Dec. 28.
“The girls are playing well,” said N.S. coach Alisha Bannon, whose squad improved to 4-2 in the division (6-2 overall). “We won the Christmas tournament last week. Things are coming along. I think we have a good shot at winning this year. As long as we keep doing what we are doing, we should be all right.”
North Smithfield had another strong game from junior Keila Strick, who led all scorers with 22 points. Strick came through with some clutch buckets near the midway point of the second half.
With the Northmen holding a slim 25-24 lead, Strick scored eight of her team’s points during a quick 10-4 streak to hike their advantage to seven points (35-28). The Patriots were able to cut the deficit to two on a shot from senior Christina DePina (six points) and a 3-pointer from junior Kaitlin Flynn (team-best 14 points), but couldn’t recover after another key three by senior Emily Dodd with 4:29 left.
Strick finished with four baskets behind the arc and a number more by driving to the hoop.
“She is finally learning to not rush her shots,” Bannon said. “She is releasing higher. I have been trying to have her drive so that she can draw the fouls…Her shots are finally falling. She is taking her time. She’s got more patients. She is not rushing her shots and they are starting to fall for her from the outside.”
Davies dropped their third league game to fall to 2-3 in the league, but this one was one of its most competitive. In their last two games, the Patriots lost to Juanita Sanchez by a 57-27 margin and Middletown, 44-34, back on Dec. 22.
“Our condition is better. Our stamina is there,” said first-year Davies coach Joe Handy. “We are running with these teams now. It’s just we have to start taking care of the ball a little better. We tried several different combinations. We had several ball-handlers out there at one time. It’s starting to fall into place. I believe this game was a lot closer than the score, but turnovers down the stretch hurt us.”
Spurred by seven points from Flynn, Davies took a 9-6 early in the game. But the Northmen soon turned the game in their favor. North Smithfield adjusted their defense and out-scored the Patriots, 14-2, during a five-minute span.
Bannon indicated her primary goal was to prevent Flynn from taking over the game.
“She is a good three-point shooter so I switched defenses from a two-three to a box-and-one to shut her down and we held her,” she said. “We held her to no points for a while as soon as I did that.”
“We got cold,” Handy admitted. “We had some good shots. They just weren’t dropping.”
North Smithfield built its lead to 10 points, at 23-13, on a 3-pointer from Dodd. But the Patriots would go into the locker trailing, 23-16, after a trey by sophomore Waleska Kelly at the buzzer.
With an 8-2 run to begin the second half, including a long-ranger from junior Rosaliz Torres, Davies managed to close the gap to a point (25-24). But the Northmen, particularly Strick, were able to come up with the big shots down the stretch to earn the ‘W’.
Turnovers proved costly for the Patriots during the crucial minutes of the second half, but Handy felt that overall his team played better the final 16 minutes.
“It was good to see them play with one of the better teams in the division,” he said. “Obviously, we gave them a little scare in the second half. I think that’s what we are going to do. I think we will challenge some of these better teams. I think we will be one of those middle-of-the-road teams. There have been some improvements. Stamina is one of my biggest things and taking care of the ball. We are still working on it.”
Both teams return to action on Friday. North Smithfield plays host to Our Lady of Fatima and Davies welcomes Rocky Hill to its gymnasium.