Friday, February 07, 2014
HATFIELD — Keith Natale was a Smith Academy freshman when he assisted on Anthony Afflitto’s 1,000th career point for the boys basketball team.
As a sophomore, Natale stood in the stands as Alyssa Klepacki hit the milestone for the girls squad. A few weeks later, he was there when teammate Mat Sulda celebrated his moment.
It was Natale’s turn on Thursday. Needing 10 points against Greenfield to reach a grand, the senior scored underneath off a pass from Derek McMahon with 2 minutes, 24 seconds left in the second quarter to hit the mark.
Natale celebrated with his teammates, coaches, cheerleaders and family before returning to help the Falcons hold off the Green Wave, 63-58.
“It’s an honor,” Natale said. “It’s a tradition at Smith Academy and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Natale finished with 22 points and became the 22nd member of the Falcon 1,000-point club. McMahon pushed the ball up the left side then drove to the basket. He zipped a pass past two defenders to Natale, who was open on the weak side for the uncontested layup and 1,000th point.
“It was running through my head,” Natale said of reaching the milestone. “I just tried to stay calm and let it come.”
It was McMahon’s second link to a 1,000-point scorer. The senior point guard delivered the inbound pass to Sulda for his milestone-hitting 3-pointer in 2012.
“I’m not really a scorer myself, but to show that I helped two players get to 1,000 points really means more to me than myself scoring 1,000 points,” McMahon said. “As a point guard, that’s really what I do. I like to pass the ball.”
Natale sank a 3 in the first quarter as Smith (11-3, 8-2 Hampshire) jumped out to a 16-8 lead. He added seven points, including the milestone basket, in the second quarter as the Falcons led 37-26 at halftime.
“It was good that it was an easy shot to get it,” Smith coach Matt Zerneri said. “Right before halftime helped out too and we were able to go into halftime with a lead. We talked about how that moment was done and congratulated him and now it’s over and let’s take care of business in the second half.”
The lead grew to as much as 17 in the third. Greenfield pulled within 37-31 when Natale shook off a defender and drilled a 3 to start an 11-3 run. Longstreeth hit a 3, McMahon found Natale with a backdoor pass, Longstreeth scored inside off an Austin Rogers offensive rebound, McMahon scored on a break, then found Rogers, who poked away a steal to McMahon, on a break.
“We came out from the get-go and started playing,” Natale said. “We just have to start playing 32 minutes and we’ll be all set.”
Trailing 51-34 with 3:41 left in the third, Greenfield (9-7, 8-4) called a timeout then started its comeback. Robin Marchese (29 points) scored 12 points during a 24-10 run that pulled the Green Wave within 61-58 with 1:52 left in the game.
“I have to give Greenfield a lot of credit,” Zerneri said. “They fought, came hard and they outworked us in the fourth. We thought the game was in the bag. Our intensity level went down just a tad. ... For me it’s a great coaching and teaching experience where I can always refer back to it.”
Greenfield missed four potential game-tying 3-pointers during a 40-second possession in the final minute. Will Halloran sank two free throws with 2.8 seconds left to seal the win.
Longstreeth had 11 points, while McMahon added nine for Smith.
Connor Eckstrom had 11 points for Greenfield.
Mike Moran can be reached at email@example.com.