PROVIDENCE — As most people expected, No. 1 seeded Middletown and defending champion Juanita Sanchez won their Division III semifinal-round games on Monday night at Rhode Island College.
But they didn’t leave the Tripp Athletic Center without getting tough battles from Davies and North Smithfield, which despite coming up short in their respective bids to reach Sunday’s title game at URI’s Ryan Center, turned in admirable performances.
Middletown used a game-ending 9-0 run in the final 1:29 of play to hold off Davies, 43-34, in the opening contest of the twinbill, while Juanita Sanchez made some key shots during the final minutes to survive a 46-41 battle with the Northmen in the nightcap.
The Islanders, who will make their third straight trip to the Division II finals, relied on a few timely defensive plays in the last 89 seconds to produce their game-ending run and put away the Patriots.
Chelsea Dowler, who scored a game-high 15 points, broke the tie by hitting the back end of two free throws with 1:29 to play, and 23 seconds later, she picked off a pass by the Patriots and took off on a fast-break layup.
The Patriots tried to answer back with a short shot in the paint, but that was blocked by Middletown center Quanisha Hilson and went right to teammate Alisa Benson, who went coast-to-coast for a layup to give the winners a 39-34 lead with 41 seconds on the clock.
Hilson added another block 10 seconds later, and the Islanders eventually iced the game by sinking four of their eight free-throw attempts in the final 28.5 seconds.
“I’m very proud of my team,” added Davies coach Joe Handy, whose fourth-seeded Patriots conclude their season with a 12-4 mark. “They exceeded my expectations. We’re playing the No. 1 seed, (Middletown) was 14-1, and we came close.
“Like I’ve said before, we wanted to be the team that you didn’t want to play in the playoffs. We’re going to test you, and tonight, we tested them up until the last 90 seconds. I couldn’t ask for more.”
The Islanders, who won the two teams’ lone regular-season game by 20 (56-36) back on Dec. 11, tried to put some distance between themselves and the Patriots with a nine-point run in the first half that gave them a 18-7 lead with 4:41 on the clock, but Davies soon responded.
After both squads traded baskets, the Patriots finished the half with the final half dozen points to make it a five-point game (20-15), and when the second half started, they picked up where they left off and scored 11 straight points to take their largest lead of the night (26-20) with 11:31 to play.
Middletown then answered back with the next six points to tie the score, and after the Patriots came right back with a layup by Waleska Kelly, both teams went back-and-forth with the lead until the Patriots tied the score at 34-34 on a short jumper by Kelly.
“It speaks volumes,” said Handy. “The girls have been doing this the whole season. They’ve been not giving up, playing right until the end. And we had them for a while. I’m very proud of the girls, I knew they were going to claw and hang in there until the end and play hard.”
Rosaliz Torres, who swished a pair of three-pointers during the Patriots’ 11-point run, and Kaitlin Flynn, who led Davies with six assists, each tossed in nine points for the Pats. Jackie Sequen added eight points, and Kelly led the way on the boards with 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
The Northmen’s duel with the second-seeded Cavaliers (15-1) was a seesaw battle with several lead changes and some big performances by both sides, none bigger than Cavaliers’ standout sophomore, D’Asia Allen, who ended up with a game-high 26 points.
The Cavaliers took a 22-17 lead at the break by scoring the first half’s final seven points in the final 1:13 of play, but the Northmen came out firing on all cylinders in the second half and quickly took their lead back by scoring four quick layups in the first 91 seconds.
Both teams were knotted at 35-35 with 7:03 to play, but went cold from the floor over the next few minutes. Allen soon broke the tie with a pullup three-pointer with 5:15 on the clock, and the Cavaliers never trailed after that.
N.S. came back with a layup by Jaime LaFazia with 3:23 left, and after both teams then swapped short jumpers and Jaleah Robinson’s layup with 1:12 to play gave the Cavs a 42-39 lead, the Northmen had a chance to tie the score with :53.5 to play when Samantha Kent was fouled tossing in a layup.
But that turned out to be N.S.’s final points of the night. She missed the free throw, and 11 seconds later, Allen nailed another jumper to make it a three-point game.
The Northmen did their best to get back on the board, but they never got off a clean shot in the remaining time, and with 0.9 seconds to play, freshman Elfreda Hoff (11 points) sealed the verdict by hitting two free throws.
“I’m very proud of my players,” added N.S. coach David Ruff, whose team was blasted by the Cavaliers in their Dec. 11 season opener, 67-29. “They wanted to go to the championship game. Every time out, they were saying to each other, ‘We got this, we got this.’ They fought right to the end, which is all I asked them to do, and they never gave up.”
LaFazia led the third-seeded Northmen (12-4) with 18 points, and Kent had seven points and 11 rebounds.