Photo: Maiya Bergdorf scored 7 of her 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Since the beginning of the season, Belmont High Girls’ Basketball Head Coach Melissa Hart had been waiting for her team to face a “tough” contest.
“I want to see just how good we really are,” she said.
Hart got her wish granted on Friday, Jan. 3 when the undefeated Marauders found itself down by eight, 20-12, after the first quarter against an energized one-loss Reading Memorial High squad playing before its fans.
“Reading’s a good team,” said Hart. “They work hard, they’re really tenaciously defensively and that makes them tough. They made us pay for mistakes, that’s for sure.”
Belmont remains unbeaten (7-0, 5-0 in the league) and is ranked in the top ten by both the Boston Globe (5th) and Boston Herald (3rd). On Tuesday, Jan. 8, the Marauders will host a strong Melrose team sporting a 6-1 record, only losing a close one to Tewksbury. Tip off is 6 p.m.
After going back and forth with the Rockets for three quarters, Belmont mounted a 10-0 run midway through the fourth, as the Marauders’ strength, height (out rebounding the Rockets by more than two-to-one) and ability to contest Reading’s shots proved the difference as Belmont came away with a ten point victory, 55-45.
“We just weren’t near the basket in the first half and we wanted to get close to take advantage of things,” said Hart.
Spearheading Belmont’s win were sophomore Maiya Bergdorf and senior Jane Mahon who stepped up during the game. Mahon, who finished with a team-high 14 points, hit first of her first six shots, each mid-range jumpers, then went four for four from the charity stripe in the fourth.
“Sure in the beginning, we lost the tempo because we’ve been playing teams that haven’t challenged us as much as Reading and we’re playing at their pace,” said Mahon. “In the second half, we said let’s play like Belmont.”
It took Bergdorf a while to get on track, before dominating the fourth quarter by taking the ball straight to the hoop, scoring seven of her 11 points in the final stanza.
“I was getting frustrated because my shot wasn’t falling. But they didn’t have much height so if I hustled into the paint, I’d have a scoring opportunity. And if I missed I’d have rebounds,” said Bergdorf.
“She stepped up. She’s a player and doesn’t like to lose,” said Hart of her sophomore scorer.
It was also an advantageous time for Belmont that Reading’s league MVP-candidate Haley Lightbody had her first below par game on offense this season. While a threat on defense and one of two Rockets who battled Belmont under the boards, Lightbody struggled in the forecourt, making two baskets – both 3s – and going a dreadful 3 for 15 from the free-throw line (0 for 5 in the critical fourth quarter) for nine points, more than half of her season average.
After Belmont opened the game leading 6-1 (including two blocks), it was bombs away for Reading as they hit five three-pointers, a pair each by junior guard Celia Capone and freshman guard Jacqueline Malley, to take a 20-12 lead into the second.
Belmont came out in the second quarter and pressed the ball away from the basket more aggressively as the Rockets – whose tallest player is 5’8″ – could not solve the issue of Belmont’s ability to place four players near or greater than six-feet on the floor.
“We started our zone press and that helped and we stopped turning the ball over,” said Hart.
After Reading built their largest lead of the game, 27-18, midway through the quarter, Belmont began its comeback with a three from freshman Bridgette Martin (3 points). Mahon continued her hot hand, knocking down two baskets while freshman guard Nina Minicozzi (11 points) and senior Megan Tan (10 points) were able to drive and score with Tan scoring a hoop at the buzzer to cut the deficit to two, 27-25, at the half.
Belmont came out blazing in the third, a free throw by senior center captain Jess Giorgio, a layup by Tan and a three from Minicozzi gave Belmont the lead at 31-27 two minutes into the third. But the hosts came back highlighted by its quick defense and a three from Capone to lead 37-35 with a minute to play. But an inside basket by Giorgio and Bergdorf’s putback of a rebound with five seconds remaining gave Belmont a tenuous two-point lead, 39-37.
Hart started the fourth with her freshmen guard pairing of Minicozzi and Martin to run the show with Bergdorf wanting the ball. She was promptly fouled and hit 1 of 2 as did Minicozzi before Bergdorf was fouled as she hit a power drive and made the foul shot for an old-school three giving Belmont at 43-37 after two and half minutes. Another drive by the defense by the sophomore forward/guard, the first two of Mahon’s made free throws followed by Minicozzi baseline layup built the Marauders’ lead to ten, 49-39, midway in the fourth with the Rockets sensing the contest was over. Reading cut the lead to six with just under a minute remaining but it was a little too late for a comeback.
For Mahon, the team’s success last year – a trip to the Division 1 North sectional finals – and the perfect start so far has placed a target on the team for other squads to take aim at.
“We came into the year with this expectation for us to fulfill what the past seniors left behind. People will be out for us so we have to remember to keep pushing ourselves every day,” said Mahon.
Belmont Boys Rocket Past Reading Early, Than … Meh
The Belmont High Boys team ran away and hid from host Reading – they were up 19-4 after the first quarter and 42-18 at the half – in the second game of the girls/boys doubleheader at Reading on Friday, Jan. 4.
But it soon became apparent that both teams would play the second half with the focus and intensity of a Sunday morning suburban dads league match. It could have been the knowledge that Belmont was cruising to another win (7-0 and ranked 8th by the Boston Globe), that it was already past 8 p.m. on a Friday night or that New Year’s was earlier in the week; for whatever the reason, the play deteriorated into lots of one-on-one match ups and sloppy play. Even the fans appeared ready to head home early.
Belmont’s sophomore guard Tim Minicozzi lead the Marauders with 14 points, several driving through traffic to the hoop while back court mate senior captain Danny Yardemian hit for 13 points with several Rockets following his every move as the teams got to the finish with Belmont ahead, 62-45.