Photo: Kings of the North, 2019 Belmont High School
Belmont High School senior guard and co-captain Danny Yardemian said at the beginning of the 2018-19 season he didn’t want to end his basketball career without bringing a title, make that any title, back to the school.
On Saturday, Yardemian and his fellow Marauders picked up that long-sought after silverware and will be placing a sectional crown into the school’s trophy case as number one seed Belmont captured the Division 2 North title beating defending champions North Andover, 64-51, on March 9 at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
“It’s mission accomplished,” said Yardemian, whose magical season continues having set new school marks for game scoring (46 points) and career points now somewhere close to 1,400.
“I’m so proud of my team mates, we as a team worked so hard for this. Words can’t describe it. It’s surreal,” he said.
The victory sends Belmont (23-2) to the Eastern Mass championships against the defending Division 2 state title holders, TechBoston Academy, on Wednesday, March 13 at 7:15 p.m. at the TD Garden. It will be a rematch from last month when TechBoston outlasted Belmont, 73-68, in the finals of the Comcast Classic in Woburn.
“It sounds good to me,” said Belmont Head Coach Adam Pritchard when asked his thoughts of playing for the second time on the Garden parquet floor this season – a loss to Algonquin Regional High School in January – now for the eastern Mass title.
The victory is the first sectional title since 2007 when Belmont, coincidentally, defeated North Andover before losing to Catholic Memorial in the Eastern finals.
The game was decided over the final four plus minutes of the third quarter when the Marauders outplayed an exhausted Scarlet Knights team to the tune of 17-1. The game also turned into a showcase for sophomore reserve forward Preston Jackson-Stephens who dominated the hardwood on both ends of the court coming off the bench, scoring 18 points (co-high scorer with Yardemian and North Andover’s Jake McElroy) and taking on North Andovers’ front line.
“It didn’t matter who was against me, it was the Eye on the Prize. The only person who can stop me is me, no other opponent [can],” said Jackson-Stephens.
“Preston came in and made some big moves and helped us out a great deal,” said Pritchard, in his 19th year at the helm of the Marauders.
The first half was a game of runs with Belmont stretching up to a lead only to see North Andover bounce back. After senior co-captain Ben Sseruwagi opened the scoring with a hoop and one – which was accompanied by a pose in front of the Scarlet Knights bench – Belmont fell behind 6-3 when Jackson-Stephens gave the crowd a preview of his night by driving to the basket for two than hitting a line drive 3 as part of a 7-0 Belmont run.
Behind by one, 11-10, enter the second, the Marauders took advantage of its speed and confidence with the ball. After Sseruwagi made two free throws, Jackson-Stephens had a monster block then drove the length of the court before being fouled and converting one of two from the charity stripe to put Belmont up 16-15 with 6 minutes to play. The Marauders would then run off a 12-2 spurt over the next four minutes highlighted by threes from sophomore Tim Minicozzi who ended with 9 for the game and senior co-captain center Daniel Seraderian (5 points) who played stellar defense against North Andovers’ big men.
After Yardemian hit one of two from the line to give Belmont a double digit lead, 29-19, with two minutes left, the Marauders appeared to be cruising to a big lead at the half. But North Andover would put on a furious comeback culminating with a pair of 3s from senior guard Jake McElroy and junior guard Kyle Moore (whose basket bounced three times before dropping) and cutting Belmont’s advantage to 30-29 at the break.
The Knights came out strong early in the second half, up 38-36 when Sseruwagi tied it up with a behind his back drive to the hoop at 4:30 in the quarter. And for the remainder of the half, it was all Belmont as they ran North Andover ragged, outscoring the Knights 17-1 in a display of both ends of the floor total basketball with Jackson-Stephens starting the push with a driving hoop followed by Yardemian’s two in the lane.
After Minicozzi nailed a jumped and one from distance to increase to lead to 10, 49-39, North Andover called a time out with 1:14 left in an attempt to stem the bleeding. But Belmont took the ball from the Knights resulting in another Jackson-Stephens basket who scored eight points in the quarter while Sseruwagi (12 points) threw down seven of his own in the run.
By its end of the third quarter, North Andover was looking up at a 16 point deficit with the final 8 minutes before them. There was no response to the onslaught as Belmont eased through the fourth, going up by 20, 62-42, midway through the quarter, to claim their prize.
For Belmont Head Coach Adam Pritchard, the victory was due to the “five good offensive weapons” on the court at any one time. And when the game was close at the half, “It was the players that talked about defense and rebounding.”
“The reality is that half time was all about Danny Yardemian, Ben Sseruwagi, [center] Jake Herlihy and [Seraderian] did all the talking,” said Pritchard. And that group returned to the court and proved they could walk the walk.