NORTH SMITHFIELD – In a very-competitive Division III this season, North Smithfield and Shea are among a crowded bunch that will be fighting for the four playoff spots.
Even though the postseason is still more than a month away, there was a playoff-type atmosphere taking place on Wednesday night when the two teams collided at Lovett Gymnasium.
After losing in its first meeting back on Dec. 13, North Smithfield returned the favor last night with a thrilling 41-39 double-overtime victory. The Northmen had a slight edge in their defensive intensity and hit just enough clutch baskets in regulation and the two OT periods to escape with the win.
North Smithfield improved to 7-5 and sixth place in the division. After a rough patch of three straight losses, the victory is the second straight for the Northmen.
“They needed this to kind of get up as a team,” said N.S. coach Alisha Bannon, whose squad defeated Rocky Hill, 33-21, last Thursday. “Once they start doing that, they’ll be unstoppable. They have to start playing together as a team. It was almost like before it was everybody for themselves. They were having a hard time communicating on the floor. They were having bad spatial awareness. The last game that we played against Rocky Hill, they did a great job getting together as a team and starting to play as a team. That’s something they started doing in the second half and that’s what they need to do (this season).”
Neither team looked particularly sharp on the offensive end in the opening half. But after holding a slim 9-8 lead without about three minutes remaining until the break, Shea gave itself a seven-point cushion (16-9) going into the locker room by scoring eight unanswered points.
It didn’t take the Northmen long to get back into the game as they held the Raiders scoreless for nearly the first seven minutes of the second half while scoring 10 straight points to take a 19-11 lead. North Smithfield stayed in front until there was less than a minute left in regulation.
After taking a 26-24 advantage on a basket underneath from junior Jamie LaFazia, the Raiders scored two quick buckets from senior Junissa Urraca (seven points) and senior Kayla Davis. La Fazia sent the game into the OT period by nailing a 10-footer with just five seconds remaining.
La Fazia sparked the Northmen’s second-half surge. She scored her team’s last 13 points and finished with a game-high 17.
“Jamie is my sixth man,” Bannon said. “She comes off the bench and she knows her role is to score. She is very fast. I like to have her as an offensive threat. I like to have her fast break. She is not like the best shooter on the team from the outside, but she can take the short jumpers and layups and that’s what I need. She knows that’s her role. She has been picking it up a lot for us.”
The Raiders erased a four-point deficit in the closing minute of overtime with senior Anoinette Kou (six points) nailing a layup with 39.8 seconds remaining and Davis hitting a pair of free throws with 14.3 ticks left. Davis was clearly the most aggressive player on the court. She finished with a team-best 14 points.
In double OT, North Smithfield took a 37-36 lead with two minutes to go when La Fazia managed to catch a pass thrown by teammate Pamela Denomme that bounced off the finger tips of a Raider player and then converted on a layup. The Northmen increased their advantage to 39-36 on a pair of free throws by junior Keila Strick (nine points). After a free throw from Urraca, senior Amanada Guilmette (eight points) scored what proved to be the winning basket with 25 seconds left on a 10-footer.
The loss was the third straight for the Raiders, but all their setbacks have been to quality teams, including first-place Juantia Sanchez and second-place Middletown.
Shea is currently 7-4 and fourth place in the league.
“We played Sanchez, and they are (9-0) and we played Middletown and their (10-2). North Smithfield’s a good team, too,” said Shea coach John Lickert. “The next five games are all like that so you got to come to play every night or you are not going to win any games. This is like playoff basketball right here. Sanchez, Middletown, Davies, Central and Bishop Keough all fighting for the (four) slots. Every game counts. It was a good one to win, but it’s tough to come here and beat them on their home court. We beat them on our court and they beat us here. You want to split with the good teams. It’s hard to take two.”
“Both teams have problems scoring, but North Smithfield plays great defense and we play great defense. It doesn’t matter who gets the runs and scores the points. They had a few extra baskets in the overtimes and that’s what it came down to,” he continued. “We got to give them credit and you have to give us credit. They all played their hearts out. You hate to see anybody lose.”