Boys basketball: Griffin Smiarowski’s layup lifts Smith Academy past Turners (PHOTOS)


Staff Writer 

Published: 01-11-2023 12:29 AM

HATFIELD – The energy in Sherry A. Webb Gymnasium was electric on Tuesday night, ping-ponging around the court faster than anyone could keep track of. 

After three quarters of physical, intense basketball, the Turners Falls boys basketball team looked like it might sneak away with its second win of the season against Smith Academy. Leading 35-30 going into the final frame, neither team’s offense could really get going; the Falcons scored the lone bucket in the first four minutes of the last period. 

But with just four minutes left in the game, chaos reigned. Suddenly, shots that hadn’t fallen all game were sinking left and right. Smith’s Ryan Belina pounded away in the paint, sinking contested layups to pull the Falcons back within reach, but Turners Alex Quezda wouldn’t quit, hitting shot after shot to keep the Thunder alive.

Down seven with barely any time on the clock, Smith Academy needed to act fast. Griffin Smiarowski sank a three, and the crowd erupted. Sophomore Garrett Willard hit another triple with 14.3 seconds and the gym erupted. 

But the home team was still down a point. Smith Academy still needed a hero.

Smiarowski was happy to oblige. 

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Smith Academy head coach Matt Zerneri called a timeout and drew up a play. With just seconds left on the clock, Turners Falls attempted to inbound the ball with a one-point lead, but Smith’s Gregory Stone forced a turnover right into the hands of Smiarowski. Without hesitating, Smiarowski threw the ball up in the paint and watched it bounce off the rim and in, bringing everyone in the gym to their feet.

Turners Falls threw up a desperate buzzer beater attempt that bounced off the rim and out, and Smiarowski’s layup stood as the game winner in a dramatic 49-48 victory. 

“Fortunately (Stone) knocked the ball away and I was able to get the layup,” Smiarowski said. “It was just pure joy. I was so happy when I saw it go in, because I knew that could be the game right there.” 

The entire game was physical, but it was an especially rough and foul-heavy first half between the two teams. Turners Falls committed six fouls, including a technical in the first quarter, and Smith Academy took seven fouls in the second quarter. Both teams traded buckets back and forth, but it was the Thunder that held a slim 10-9 lead after the first. 

The Falcons played catchup through much of the second. They retook the lead for the first time since the first period with 1:40 remaining in the second, but Turners outscored Smith 6-2 to finish out the half and take a 24-21 lead. The teams closed out the second frame with seven consecutive trips to the free throw line between them; 13 of the total 26 points scored in the second quarter came from the charity stripe.

“I thought we were in slow motion (the first half). Instead of dictating the pace of the game and how we wanted to play, we let Turners do it, and not til the fourth quarter did we try to change that,” Zerneri said. “We’ve got to do a better job of setting the tempo ourselves.” 

Turners started to pull away in the third quarter, taking the lead by as much as seven points. The Thunder finished with a 35-30 lead over the Falcons heading into the final frame. 

The Falcons needed clutch plays in the final frame, and they got them from Smiarowski. The senior hit two clutch shots, including the layup to give the Falcons a one-point lead with 7.5 seconds left. A late buzzer-beater attempt from the Thunder rolled off the rim, and that was all the Falcons needed to start the celebration. 

While Tuesday’s win was nice, Smith Academy is still looking at the big picture. The win against Turners improved the team’s record to 6-2, 3-1 in Hampshire League North play. The Falcons are hoping to win their league this season, and the win against the Thunder kept them in second place, tied with Mount Greylock and Athol with three league wins each (Mount Greylock is 3-0, Athol and Smith are both 3-1). 

The Falcons hope that Tuesday’s win can serve as proof that no matter what, they’re never out of a contest. 

“I think it boosts our confidence. It shows we can play from behind and still be able to win a game,” Smiarowski said. “It’s just a big confidence booster to know we can play from behind and close out a win.”