PAWTUCKET — With a solid effort on the defensive boards and the typical pinpoint field-goal accuracy from senior guards Jaime LaFazia and Keila Strick, North Smithfield High posted a workmanlike 53-41 Division III victory over Bishop Keough at St. Raphael Academy's Alumni Hall early Saturday afternoon.
LaFazia – call her the No. 2 – drained 13 of her 18 points in the opening half, and also contributed five steals, five assists and six rebounds for the Northmen, who improved to 9-5 overall and 8-3 in league play.
Strick, the point guard, chipped in with a pair of treys and 10 total points, while freshman Sam Kent delivered eight points and senior Megan Brodeur six.
The contest would've been a blowout if not the late heroics of senior tri-captain Suigly Mendoza, who recorded 22 of her game-high 30 points in the latter session. Fellow tri-captain Ashley Correa closed with 11 for the Koalas, who fell to 6-6 overall and 4-6 in D-III.
Keough had taken advantage of Mendoza's running one-hander in the lane just 3:01 into the tilt to slice the deficit to 4-2, but LaFazia's baseline three-pointer 42 seconds later ignited for North Smithfield an amazing 18-1 run over the next 6:17.
Highlights of that flurry included senior Lexi Schmidt's fast-break layup off a turnover, then her feed to Strick for another layin off a steal, a Strick trey, a Kent baby hook and another Strick easy bucket off another miscue.
Most of those came off of Keough's “one-heave-and-done” shooting, not to mention gritty board play from LaFazia, Strick, O'Donnell and Kent.
When LaFazia canned a baseline seven-footer with six minutes left prior to the break, and Northmen had built a 22-3 advantage.
“I just think we forced them into some turnovers, and we got a lot of easy buckets on transition,” stated head coach David Ruff afterward. “We were beating their defense down the floor.”
After two quick timeouts, however, that surge ended, and the Koalas fought back with a 7-0 run of their own. Correa drained a pretty hook shot, Mendoza drained a three-point bomb and Correa landed a pair of free throws to cut it to 22-10 with 4:32 remaining.
The two foes battled the rest of the way, as North Smithfield entered the break trailing, 29-14.
Keough suffered 14 turnovers over the first 16 minutes, and the Northmen 12, but it was the host squad that exhibited its mettle early in the final stanza. After Correa bobbed and weaved her way to an outstanding off-balance, one-hand fallaway and was fouled in the process, she calmly converted the conventional three-point play. That sliced the North Smithfield lead to 31-20 with 12:58 left.
Thrice over the next five-plus minutes, the Koalas inched their way back to knife the visitors' advantage to nine – first on a pair of Mendoza foul shots at 8:30 (36-27), the second on Mendoza's 17-footer at 7:49 and the third when Mendoza hit her first from the charity stripe at 7:02 (39-30). Had she dropped the second, Keough would've come back to slice it to eight.
Ruff's bunch, though, rattled off nine unanswered points – courtesy of LaFazia's 13-footer, senior Pam Denomme's short bucket and a Strick “three-bomb” – in the following 2:50 to give the Northmen a 48-30 lead.
Two straight Mendoza treys, the last one with 1:32 left in regulation, knifed the deficit to 51-41, but Tara Larson's eight-foot jumper withh 21.8 remaining sealed it for North Smithfield.
“I told them we had to rebound better on the offensive glass; it just took us too long to realize if you miss, you've got to hustle back on defense,” stated Keough mentor John Roque. “They had the run because of a lot of fast-break layups.
“At halftime, I didn't go over X's and O's as much as I did reminding them how we only have three or four girls consistently at practice, and that with that kind of effort, you will go out and have that kind of first half.
“Down the stretch, Suigly battled, but she's always doing that; she's done that since her freshman year,” he added. “She hit some big three-pointers, but she also missed some shots that she shouldn't have taken. Like I told you before, we needed to do a better job of distributing the ball and finding the open girl. We didn't do a very good job of that today.”
All told, the Northmen closed with 24 turnovers, while Keough compiled one more. Still, the good news for the Koalas: They'll travel to Hope on Monday at 4 p.m., but then will take on host Davies, the league's top team, on Wednesday at 4. Three days later, on Saturday, they'll face the Patriots again at Alumni Hall at the same time.