Photo: Senior co-captains (from left) Carly Christofori, Jenny Call and Greta Propp leaving the court after falling to Central Catholic, 43-35, in the Division 1 North Sectional finals.
When the buzzer sounded at the Tsongas Arena Saturday night, March 10, it was fitting that Belmont High Girls’ Basketball co-captains where standing united for a final time on a basketball court. But it wasn’t to celebrate a first-ever finals victory but to be joined in heartache as the three senior leaders – Jenny Call, Carly Christofori, and Greta Propp – headed off after Belmont (19-4) fell to an undermanned Central Catholic High School (21-2) squad, 43-35, in the Division 1 North Sectional finals held in Lowell.
The teammates, who first played together in the MIAA North semifinals as freshmen three years ago, attempted to put a brave face on the loss but tears began as their teammates attempted to comfort them after the trio came close once again – reaching the sectional finals as sophomores and semifinals as freshmen and juniors – to holding up a championship trophy.
For Christofori, the team she led from the point guard position showed what it was made of despite trailing throughout the 32 minutes.
“It’s really sad but knowing we put everything into it this whole season and we played to the end of the game, that showed something about our team,” said Christofori after the game. “If we lost, we lost together and we worked hard for the entire game.”
In a game that highlighted team defense, Central Catholic – which was missing two starters including its team leader injured the night before in its semifinals against Lowell High – targeted the heart of Belmont’s offense as its avenue to victory. In fact, sophomore Nadeshka Bridgewater (5 points), the Central Catholic player who had the greatest impact on the finals outcome, likely would not have been on the court if it wasn’t for starter Ava Bradley being on crutches.
Central Catholic’s Head Coach Casey Grange started the quick 5’2″ guard to do one thing; pester Christofori. And Bridgewater did just that, playing a tight man-to-man defense on Belmont’s senior point guard who found it difficult to execute the Marauders’ offense or to get off a shot either from distance or on the drive. The tactic accomplished its mission in spades; where Belmont was hitting an average of eight threes in the playoffs, Central Catholic held Belmont to just three from beyond the arc. And when Belmont came inside, Central Catholic would swarm inside the paint taking away Belmont’s drives from the outside.
“[Bridgewater] definitely made the difference in the game,” said Head Coach Melissa Hart.
“They knew they had to shut down Carly and they worked really hard to take her out of the game,” said Belmont’s Assistant Head Coach Steve Conley. “She’s the guts of the team.”
In front of a pro-Raiders’ arena, the Raiders raced out to a 7-1 lead midway through the first quarter when Belmont responded, first with a three from junior Megan Tan (a Marauder high 9 points) then a tough two from Propp (6 points) to cut the lead to 7-6. A three from freshman Adrianna Niles (who scored 10 of her 11 points in the first) upped the Raiders’ lead to 12-8 before Belmont’s center Jess Giorgio (7 points to go along with 6 rebounds) hit a pair from the paint to tie the contest at 12 after one.
Central Catholic would use its physical defense to cause Belmont turnover problems and hold Belmont to two baskets (a mid-range jumper by sixth-man Jane Mahon (2 points) and a Tan drive) and open up the court as the Raiders’ Kaylee Thomas hit two from distance (six of her game-high 17 points) to build an eight-point lead, 24-16, at the half.
There was a glimmer of hope in the third when Call hit her trademark three-pointer – she ends her four years as the team’s career leader in threes – at the 7:00 mark followed by a pair by Propp from the free throw line and a spinning layup by Giorgio to keep the game close at 26-23 at 5:35. But a basket and a three from Thomas upped the Raiders’ lead to 31-23 midway through the quarter. But a Tan fast-break layup and a transition three by Christofori (her only points of the game) would see Belmont chopped the lead to five (33-28) entering the final eight minutes.
The final quarter turned out to be a march to the free throw line as Belmont committed its seventh foul early. After making two of four from the line, Central Catholic got the lead to six when the Marauders went on its final run of the game. Call drove and scored while being fouled to cut the lead to three, 34-31, then Propp was hit going up and made her free throws to cut Belmont’s deficit to one, 34-33, with five minutes to play.
But after that spurt, Belmont would be forced see the Raiders head to the free throw line on four consecutive trips down the court as the Raiders’ went 6 for 8 to increase the lead to 40-33 with a minute and a half remaining. A foul on Call resulted in Belmont cutting the lead to five, 40-35, but it came with 49.6 left. Needing the ball, Belmont fouled and while senior Maura Smith (2 points) missed a pair, Belmont could not capitalize on two trips down the court.
In the final quarter, Central Catholic scored all its 11 points from the line on 20 attempts, compared to the Marauders going to the charity stripe six times making five.
“They definitely earned it. They made up turn the ball over and got us out of our game,” said Hart. “And then, they made more baskets then we did.”
And while the past four years – which the Marauders have gone 66-26 in league and playoff play – has been a testament to the growth in the program, Hart lamented the five seniors – including Ally Shapazian and Kylie Rhone – couldn’t make an appointment to play for the Eastern Mass championship at the TD Boston Garden.
“Those seniors worked so hard all four years. It’s a shame it had to end here,” said Hart.