NORTH SMITHFIELD — Shea High veteran head coach John Lickert indicated before the contest he didn’t know how his squad would fare against Division III-North host North Smithfield on Monday night.
He had a variety of reasons, as his Raiders had to battle the Northmen without the services of sophomore swing Carol Rodriguez and junior forward Najah Goncalves. Rodriguez, his leading scorer and rebounder, had suffered a possible concussion in a loss to Davies Tech on Friday, and Goncalves – another stellar starter – had sustained a laceration to her head in the same tilt.
To compound matters, junior guard Anariba Lourdes evidently tweaked her ankle during warm-ups, and he didn’t know for sure about her availability.
In the end, North Smithfield woman-handled the youthful Raiders, as senior Jaime LaFazia manufactured 18 points (16 in the first half alone) and eight steals in an elementary 53-20 victory at the Lovett Memorial Gymnasium.
Senior guard Keila Strick chipped in 10 points and classmates Pam Denomme seven and Tara Larson six, respectively, as the Northmen improved to 3-5 overall and 2-3 in league action.
That frontcourt duet of LaFazia and Strick also caused most of Shea’s 32 turnovers, 18 of those in the initial session The Northmen only erred 13 times.
“They definitely were crisp; we played hard, but we just didn’t execute,” Lickert noted after his club fell to 3-6 overall and 3-4 in III-North. “They took us out of our game. When you’re missing your best player, you’re losing 15 points or more and 10 rebounds or more, not to mention the physicality (Rodriguez) brings. And Carol’s one of our playmakers, too.
“Still, there’s no excuse for getting beaten by 35,” he added. “When it comes to girls’ basketball, you’ve got to make shots, and we didn’t … They’re a good team, without doubt. They were 1-3 coming in, but they lost to three of the division’s best teams (in Juanita Sanchez, Middletown and Davies). They’re going to go to places.”
Northmen mentor David Ruff seemed rather pleased following the triumph.
“I think we played much better (Monday) than in the past,” he offered. “We played well against Pilgrim, and we had what I thought was a pretty good game against (Division I opponent) North Providence in the Smithfield Boosters Holiday Tournament (after Christmas).
“The difference here was they were more focused,” he continued. “They came out playing with intensity from the get-go. At Saturday’s practice, I told the girls that I was worried about Shea because we’ve been really flat playing on Monday, but they responded.”
The good news is this: LaFazia canned a 15-footer just 16 ticks into the contest, then dropped a driving baseline layup not quite a minute later to give North Smithfield a 4-0 cushion. She, however, committed her second foul a mere nine seconds later, and Ruff quickly replaced her.
Denomme sank a putback only 2:45 into the stanza for the 6-0 advantage, but McGahee netted a short jumper (though failed to drop the freebie for the conventional three-point play), and freshman Katrina Horne knocked down a 16-footer to slice the deficit to 6-5 with 12:48 left.
While Shea had committed its third turnover 92 seconds into the game, the Northmen suffered its fifth personal foul 15 ticks after that.
Following Horne’s jumper, however, LaFazia managed a layup off a steal, Larson delivered an eight-foot jumper and Strick a pair of free throws in the span of 1:26. Over the next 5:49, Ruff’s bunch outscored the Raiders, 14-2, to cushion its lead to 26-7, that courtesy of a Strick three-bomb with 5:33 remaining.
McGahee hit a long jumper 15 seconds later, ending a 7:30 span without a single point, and Lourdes converted a foul shot at the 3:38 mark to cut the lead to 26-10. LaFazia, though, sank a 36-foot desperation toss at the buzzer as the Northmen cruised into intermission with a 31-13 cushion.
“That was a great lift for the team,” Ruff laughed later. “We had a little fun with that. All the girls on the bench were yelling ‘Shoot! Shoot!’ When it went in, we were, like, ‘Wow!’”
The Raiders exhibited better ball control in the second half, as they only committed 10 turnovers. Still, freshman Samantha Kent canned a 16-footer a mere eight seconds into the last half and LaFazia a layin off a theft to spark the Northmen to a 12-4 flurry – and a 43-17 lead – in the initial 7:56.
“We started out with too many fouls in the beginning, but once we stopped reaching for the ball, we stopped fouling and got into a rhythm,” Ruff stated. “I was pleased by that. I wanted for us to go on a run so I could get some of the subs in to gain some experience. We played well (Monday) night. Now, hopefully, we get on a roll.”