A pair of forwards stepped up to lead Belmont High School Girls’ Basketball to consecutive away game wins this past week as the Marauders continue on the programs best start, 8-3, in more than a decade.
Junior Sarah Stewart had 12 points and 9 rebounds as Belmont defeated Wilmington, 60-43, on Tuesday, Jan. 20 while senior Elena Bragg connected for 11 points (while being near perfect from the free throw line) and 8 rebounds in the Marauders’ 53-43 victory over a good Burlington High (6-5) squad as it snapped the Red Devils’ four game winning streak on Friday, Jan. 23.
While Belmont rushed to a 20-3 lead against Wilmington to won convincingly, the Marauders faced a team similar to itself on Friday as the hosts prided itself on playing an aggressive defense style.
But Belmont came out gunning from the start as freshman guard Carly Christofori (10 points) hit the first of two first quarter three point shots for the first basket of the game fallowed by jumper by Bragg as Belmont caused the Red Devils to turn over the ball three times in the first two minutes.
When Burlington attempted a use a full-court press – when the defensive team pressures their opponents for the entire length of the court by putting two players on the person with the ball – Belmont’s backcourt of Christofori and Sophia Eschenbach-Smith (5 points) attacked it with long passes that resulted in easy layups for Bragg and Irini Nikolaidis (6 points and 7 rebounds).
“Our defense was amazing in the first quarter,” said Eschenbach-Smith, who Head Coach Melissa Hart called “stone cold” leading the team.
“We were playing so well because we were communicating and that helped a lot when they were pressing us,” she said.
Forced out of their preferred defense, Burlington allowed Belmont to dictate the game which saw the Marauders take advantage by picking up offensive rebounds and force the Red Devils to foul Belmont players. When Christofoi hit her second three pointer, Belmont saw its lead grow to 15-2 with two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
But Burlington started playing a tough man-to-man defense and reduced the margin to 3 points (18-16) behind senior guard Arianna Rivera (6 points in the quarter) before junior all-around player Samari Winklaar (6 points) hit a long three pointer to stop the bleeding mid-way through the second quarter. A bucket and foul shot by Christofori and a power move by Stewart (6 points) saw the lead go back to 10 by the half, 29-19.
The second half saw Belmont nurse its lead for the final 16 minutes, during which Burlington could only crawl within five points (34-29). Yet the Red Devils could never get a scoring run against the Marauders’ suffocating defense that included senior center Linda Herlihy (4 points), Bragg and Stewart successfully boxing out a collection of tall Burlington forwards.
“Eight and three. We’re on our way,” said Hart, saying she saw a great deal of composure from the team to preserve the margin of it lead through the game.
Hart also acknowledged the bench players “who come to practice each day and works so hard to make everyone a better player. They’re the reason we are the team nearing the playoffs. They are our unsung heroes.”