Photo: Danny Yardemain driving to the hoop against Winchester.
When Belmont High Basketball Head Coach Adam Pritchard heard his team threw in 13 three-pointers in its 79-73 home victory Friday, Feb. 9 against 13-win Winchester High, the long-time leader of the Marauders responded: “That few?”
“I’m not kidding when I think we can score more from [three-point range],” said Pritchard.
Not that the long ball has been the only reason Belmont has been on an impressive four-game winning streak defeating two playoff-bound teams (including a no-contest 85-57 beatdown of Woburn on the Tanners court) and clinching a spot in the postseason with its win over Lexington on Tuesday, at the Wenner.
Included with the three-pointers has been combining a sneaky quick fast break, a better than most threat in the offensive end (i.e., they hit more than just threes) and a bend-but-not-break defense that can make a game more interesting than Pritchard would like as what occurred against the Sachems Friday.
Belmont used its break in the first half to build an eight-point lead (22-14) led by the senior forward Tomas Donoyan. The Marauders defense was holding Winchester in check with the glaring exception of the Sachems’ Mario DiBenedetto who came in as Winchester’s third-leading scorer. While the guard is averaging 13 points a game, he matched that number midway through the second quarter rattling in 19 points by halftime, keeping his team close to Belmont, 41-34.
With Yardemian yet again garnering the attention of the other team – having senior guard Liam Fitzgerald on him like a cheap suit – Belmont relied on the dual deep threats of sophomore shooting guards Mac Annus and junior Ben Sseruwagi and veteran senior forward Will Ellet who took up the scoring load.
Belmont built up its lead to double digits, 54-43, on three free throws by Sseruwagi with 3:22 left in the quarter, only to see DiBenedetto once again cut the lead to seven and reaching 27 points. At 54-47, and as he was heading to the hoop, DiBenedetto stepped on a shoe and went down. He would return from the locker room on crutches. With its leading scorer on the bench, Belmont quickly built an 11 point lead.
But the Sachems would not go away, cutting the lead to 62-61 before an Ellet three, a Donoyan block and Ellet’s second three in the fourth quarter gave Belmont nine-point lead with 3:05 left. But on three consecutive trips down the court, Fitzgerald drained a three, and suddenly the comfortable Belmont margin evaporated with the game tied at 70.
But a Yardemian driving layup and an Ellet three gave the Marauders lead of five, 75-70. While Winchester’s Joe McCarron’s basket and one cut the lead to two with 65 seconds remaining, Belmont would seal the deal when Ellet faked a three and completed a behind the back pass to Annus to cooly knocked the corner three to effectively end the contest.
On Tuesday, Belmont did what they couldn’t a week earlier when they visited the Minuteman, hit the open shots. Revenging that loss, the Marauders took a workmanlike approach to the game, grabbing offensive rebounds while putting down 11 threes for the game to win going away, 86-75.
Despite having a defender in his face for most of the game, Yardemian led Belmont with 20 points followed by Ellet who drained four of the teams seven threes and Annus who both scored 19 points. Sseruwagi ended with a career-high 14 including 10 in the first half.
Close early, 15-13 at the end of the first quarter, Belmont put up 23 in the second to lead at the half, 38-29. Belmont would keep the margin in the 12 to 8 point range for the remainder of the game.
The win gave Belmont its 10th victory of the season and securing a place in the sectional playoffs.
“Every year getting into the playoffs is our goal for the season,” said Assistant Head Coach Tim Stratford. “This is a team that works hard and the past few games they really distributed the ball really well. When your leading scorer [Yardemian] leads the team with assists, that when things are working well.”
Belmont at 11-6 and ranked 21st in the Boston Herald’s Top 25 poll will be away against Reading on Tuesday as it prepares for Thursday’s big-time encounter with Middlesex League-leading Arlington (15-2) on Seniors Night. The SpyPonders, ranked 18th by the Boston Globe, have a Watertown Field Hockey-like 31 game league winning streak going back three years.
Girls Back On Track
After the gut punch by Woburn last week, the 58-55 loss on a three-point shot with eight seconds left in the game, Belmont got back to its winning ways defeating Lexington at home, 55-31, on Tuesday and Winchester away, 67-18, on Friday.
“The girls responded well. It was nice they were able to come back with that kind of intensity,” said Head Coach Melissa Hart after the Lexington game. The Marauders are 14-2, and 13-1 in Middlesex League play and ranked 5th in the Boston Herald and 12th in the Boston Globe polls.
Unlike the game a week previous where the Minutemen were able to keep the contest close for most of the game at Lexington, Belmont expanded on an early lead and steadily increased the margin, outscoring the Minutemen 18-6 and 17-7 in the first two quarters to lead 35-13 at the half. Juniors center Jess Giorgio and guard Meghan Tan each tallied 10 points with senior Jenny Call hitting a pair of treys to extend her Belmont career three-point scoring record.
Against Winchester, Hart was able to use her bench for most of the game with something of a record 12 Marauders scoring against the undermanned Sachems. Hart pointed to junior Ella Gagnon who hit for a career-high six points and grabbing seven rebounds. Senior co-captain Greta Propp had 11 points to lead the team while Kylie Rhone (7 points), Alex Keefe (downtown for 3 points), Breah Healey (2 points) and Audrey Christo (4 points) contributed to the victory.
Tuesday, Feb. 13, the Girls’ host Reading on Seniors Night. After playing Arlington on Thursday, Belmont heads directly to the Comcast Tournament on Saturday where they meet South Shore powerhouse, Bishop Feehan.
“With the postseason coming next week, it’s good to realize what we need to do to be successful. The captains spoke to the players that they need to up the intensity. The loss rejuvenated their desire.” said Hart