PROVIDENCE — North Smithfield’s dream season remains very much alive.
The latest chapter to the on-going hit series “March of the Undefeated” took place Sunday night with fifth-seeded North Smithfield fighting tooth and nail to secure a 58-50 win against No. 13 seed Prout in the R.I. open state tournament quarterfinals at Providence College’s Alumni Hall. Now 26-0, North Smithfield heads to URI’s Ryan Center Friday night for a semifinal-round contest against Classical, the top seed in the 16-team tournament.
After scoring just 13 points in the first half, North Smithfield rolled up 45 second-half points. It was all hands on deck down the stretch as big shots from Matt Walkow and Cody L’Heureux and turnovers forced by Dan Jordan, Walker Strick and Peter Keenan paved the way in what was a remarkable comeback.
“Every single guy in this locker room made a play down the stretch,” said North Smithfield head coach T.J. Ciolfi.
Walkow paced the victors with 22 points while Jordan added 10 points. Bruno Pena added 10 points off the bench. Prout received 20 points from Justin Bristol.
The game picked up during the final six minutes after both sides struggled to gain any sort of substantial traction over the first 26 minutes. Prout enjoyed a 36-31 lead with 8:22 remaining before North Smithfield went on to deliver a series of plays on both ends of the floor. The Northmen didn’t take their first lead until there was 3:48 remaining after Strick swished a pair at the free-throw line.
From there, North Smithfield never looked back. Keenan cleaned up a Walkow miss to make it 49-46 before Jordan added another point at the foul line. The dagger came with 44.5 seconds remaining when L’Heureux hit a 3-pointer that danced around the cylinder before dropping through.
Usually North Smithfield is the team dictating the pace with its fast-paced offense and a pressure defense that feasts on turning the opposition over. Instead, the Northmen were treated to a game of survival of the fittest. The Division III champs opened the game with as many missed shots (six) as turnovers (five), though Prout wasn’t exactly making North Smithfield pay as the Crusaders led 9-6 at the eight-minute mark.
Both sides continued to trade misses and watch key players land in foul trouble. Pena, the hero from North Smithfield’s “Round of 16” win against Shea, picked up his third foul at 7:27. On the flip side, Prout starter Eric Rameika – he of the 23-point performance in his team’s 61-57 open tourney win against Cumberland – was saddled with his third foul with 2:49 left before halftime.
North Smithfield wound up clanging 18 of 22 first-half shots and a result trailed 17-13 at recess. The opening 16 minutes also saw L’Heureux go scoreless while Walkow managed four points on zero field goals.
“We were all out of sorts, but we came into halftime and said, ‘If that’s the worst half we’ve played all year and we’re only down four, then we have to win,” said Ciolfi. “Never did they look like they were going to quit.”
Other quarterfinal winners from Sunday include North Kingstown (62-41 over Barrington), Hope (48-47 over Bishop Hendricken) and Classical (81-32 over Westerly). North Kingstown and Hope will meet in the 6 p.m. semifinal game on Friday night with Classical-North Smithfield taking place at 8.