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Falcons ‘D’ gets it done

  • Seaver Rickert of Smith Academy, right, snags a rebound against Ryan Sullivan of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Seaver Rickert of Smith Academy, right, snags a rebound against Ryan Sullivan of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.
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  • Derek McMahon of Smith Academy, right, moves the ball against Travis Bassett of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Derek McMahon of Smith Academy, right, moves the ball against Travis Bassett of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Keith Natale of Smith Academy, right, shoots after getting past Ryan Sullivan of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Keith Natale of Smith Academy, right, shoots after getting past Ryan Sullivan of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Smith Academy fans cheer during their team's win against Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Smith Academy fans cheer during their team's win against Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Smith Academy players Mat Sulda, left, and Will Halloran celebrate their win against Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Smith Academy players Mat Sulda, left, and Will Halloran celebrate their win against Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, center, splits Littleton defenders Ryan Sullivan, left, and Alex McLaughlin Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, center, splits Littleton defenders Ryan Sullivan, left, and Alex McLaughlin Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Keith Natale of Smith Academy, center, shoots against Littleton defenders Ryan Sullivan and Alex McLaughlin Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Keith Natale of Smith Academy, center, shoots against Littleton defenders Ryan Sullivan and Alex McLaughlin Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Seaver Rickert of Smith Academy, right, draws a foul from Danny Johnson of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Seaver Rickert of Smith Academy, right, draws a foul from Danny Johnson of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, left, shoots against Ryan Sullivan of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.JERREY ROBERTS

    Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, left, shoots against Ryan Sullivan of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • David Longstreeth of Smith Academy, center, splits Littleton defenders Danny Johnson, left, and Travis Bassett Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    David Longstreeth of Smith Academy, center, splits Littleton defenders Danny Johnson, left, and Travis Bassett Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Seaver Rickert of Smith Academy, right, snags a rebound against Ryan Sullivan of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Derek McMahon of Smith Academy, right, moves the ball against Travis Bassett of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Keith Natale of Smith Academy, right, shoots after getting past Ryan Sullivan of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Smith Academy fans cheer during their team's win against Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Smith Academy players Mat Sulda, left, and Will Halloran celebrate their win against Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, center, splits Littleton defenders Ryan Sullivan, left, and Alex McLaughlin Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Keith Natale of Smith Academy, center, shoots against Littleton defenders Ryan Sullivan and Alex McLaughlin Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Seaver Rickert of Smith Academy, right, draws a foul from Danny Johnson of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, left, shoots against Ryan Sullivan of Littleton Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.JERREY ROBERTS
  • David Longstreeth of Smith Academy, center, splits Littleton defenders Danny Johnson, left, and Travis Bassett Tuesday at DCU Center in Worcester.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

With a trip to the state Division 3 championship on the line, the Falcons shut down Littleton and pulled away for a 72-56 victory in the semifinal round at the DCU Center.

“Incredible. I thought the western Mass. championship felt good but this feels even better knowing that we’re going to the state finals,” Smith Academy senior Mat Sulda said. “It’s awesome.”

Smith Academy (22-3) will face Danvers (23-2) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the DCU Center. Smith is seeking its first state title since 1992.

“It feels great,” Smith coach Matt Zerneri said. “It’s not done but it feels great.”

Danvers beat Martha’s Vineyard 50-47 in the other semifinal Tuesday at the TD BankNorth Garden in Boston.

“I can’t wait for the next game,” Smith junior Keith Natale said. “It can’t come any sooner.”

Tuesday’s game was close until Littleton (24-2) jumped out quickly to a 37-30 lead in the opening minute off the third quarter. Zerneri called timeout and the Falcons responded.

“We told them to keep their composure and protect the ball,” Zerneri said. “We had to value possessions and we had to work and when it’s open we had to run. We felt we were wearing Littleton down.”

Smith held the Tigers to two field goals in the final six minutes of the third quarter. That carried over into the fourth quarter, when Littleton was held to five field goals.

“We had to work for everything we got,” Littleton coach Mike Lombard said. “We didn’t get to the free-throw line and always having to go against that half-court defense made it tough.”

Smith’s 2-3 zone was the difference. It forced Chris Murray (18 points) into difficult shots and it closed off the inside as Ryan Sullivan (15 points) had to work for everything.

Conversely, it triggered the Falcons transition game in the second half.

Smith led 53-49 with five minutes left when, against a press, Will Halloran threw a deep pass off an inbounds play to Natale, who fed Seaver Rickert for a layup. The duo hooked up again on the next possession as a fast-break layup by Rickert gave Smith a 57-49 lead.

Littleton called timeout but the onslaught had begun.

Coming out of the timeout, Derek McMahon drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to push the Falcons’ lead to 11.

“He loves the big moment and the great thing is there’s a bunch of guys on the team that love it,” Zerneri said. “Nobody’s afraid of it.”

The Tigers answered inside, but Smith closed the final two minutes on a 12-2 run. The first basket and the final two came off turnovers.

David Longstreeth stole the ball and went coast to coast for the layup to start the run.

At the end of the run, Sulda stole the ball and missed on the break, but McMahon was there to clean up with a basket. McMahon then stole the ball and went in on the break to give the Falcons a 72-53 lead.

A meaningless 3-pointer by Murray ended the game.

“We had gas left in the tank where Littleton, I don’t think they did,” Sulda said. “They seemed dead, and we held them on the defensive end. I wouldn’t put it on that they were tired, but (on) our defense and how hard we work.”

Natale led Smith with 20 points, and McMahon added 18. Sulda had 15 points and passed Zerneri on the program’s all-time scoring list. He enters Saturday’s title game with 1,622 career points.

Longstreeth added nine and Rickert chipped in with seven.

“The fourth quarter was all about heart,” Natale said. “We knew that they were outboarding us the first three quarters so we came out and boxed out and that was the center of why our fourth quarter was so great.”

Division 3 state semfinals

Smith Academy 72, Littleton 56

Falcons (22-3)

Smiarowski 0-0-0, McMahon 6-3-18, Rickert 3-1-7, Molloy 0-0-0, Longstreeth 4-0-9, Natale 6-7-20, Sulda 5-2-15, Rogers 0-0-0, Halloran 1-1-3, Liebenow 0-0-0. Totals: 25-14-72

Tigers (24-2)

Murray 7-0-18, Sullivan 7-1-15, Bassett 1-0-2, Gonnella 3-0-6, Johnson 3-0-8, McLaughlin 2-0-4, Fontanella 1-1-3. Totals: 24-2-56

Smith 12 16 16 28—72

Littleton 15 15 13 13—56

3-pointers: Smith Academy 8 (McMahon 3, Sulda 3, Longstreeth 1, Natale 1); Litttleton 6 (Murray 4, Johnson 2)

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