Photo: Belmont’s Alexia Sabatino (Center #5) on defense against Watertown.
Since her freshman season when she took over the role of on-court leader, Carly Christofori has had to walk away five times on the losing end of a game against archrivals Watertown.
In each of the previous two seasons, great playoff runs by the Marauders ended bitterly against Watertown including in a tightly fought Division 2 North Sectional finals last year.
So when the junior all-star point guard walked into the Watertown High School gym Saturday afternoon to play a rescheduled game against her all-too-familiar opponent – she knows many Watertown players through AAU club games – Christofori’s focus was primarily on redressing past disappointments.
“For me, it was mostly about revenge,” said Christofori.”Getting knocked out of the tournament by them two years in a row kinda stinks. So [the team] wanted to show them what we are really made of.”
And did they ever. In what was a clinic on shut-down defense, Belmont (12-3) put Watertown through 32 minutes of hell, frustrating the team ranked 19th in the Boston Globe poll with pressure up and down the court that limited Watertown (12-3) to 12 points in the first three-quarters, swamping the archrivals, 40-22.
“Credit it to the hard work every single one of them did. They were kind of relentless everywhere. Just really good team defense,” said Belmont Head Coach Melissa Hart.
Throughout the game, Belmont prevented Watertown from running its half-court offense as the Marauders’ defense – which used ten players rotating throughout the match – was too quick and tall for Watertown’s four-guard offense to break.
Senior center Shannon Murphy, Watertown’s go-to offensive player, was kept in check by Belmont’s sophomore center Jess Giorgio, who was the Holy Cross commit’s equal under the basket in rebounds and points.
“Our goal was not to for (Murphy) to get the ball … and that is why we had so much success this time,” said Giorgio.
While Giorgio and teammates sophomores Jane Mahon (3 points) and Ella Gagnon kept Murphy off the boards, Christofori (a quiet 4 points) – partnered with sophomore Megan Tan and junior Alexa Sabatino (4 points) – made life miserable for Watertown’s point guards seniors Jenna McMahon and Alexis Catsoulis, bird-dogging the pair away from setting up Watertown’s offense.
After Murphy had scored the first basket of the game, Belmont took a 3-2 lead on junior forward Jenny Call’s 3, part of her 7 point night. Junior forward Greta Propp and Mahon (3 points) each made baskets and free throws to build a 10-7 lead after the first quarter. Propp and Call contributed to the defensive cause by sacrificing themselves to hard charges
Watertown was down by three, 12-9, on senior Alexis Catsoulis’ basket two minutes into the second, but that was a close as the hosts would come to Belmont. Over the next nearly 16 minutes – half of the game – Watertown would score a total of 3 points as the Marauders’ defense kicked into gear.
“We really worked as a team, and …tried to keep up the intensity, just be in their face,” said Sabatino, who hit a 3 to up Belmont’s lead to 15-9. A Giorgio drive by Murphy for two gave Belmont a 20-10 halftime lead, just part of the Marauders’ center’s six consecutive points run that bled into the second half.
Despite a series of adjustments by Watertown to generate shots from the outside, Belmont’s defense allowed just a pair of Murphy free throws over the eight minutes of the third quarter. The Marauders’ went six for six from the charity stripe and hitting four hoops, two from senior Regan Haight (4 points) to give Belmont a 22 point lead (34-12) at the end of the third.
Watertown is the second team in the Boston Globe Top 20 Belmont has held to two points in a quarter, following Wakefield which the Marauders ran away, 24-2, in the first quarter.
There was no coming back for Watertown as Propp, (who the Boston Globe identified as “Grata Tropp” in a game review), with a game-high 10 points, sealed the deal.
While the Watertown head coach stated in press accounts that Belmont’s overwhelming victory was made bigger than it really was by the players and their fans – and laying down a marker that the actual “biggest” game will be in the tournament – Christofori said it doesn’t depend on who the team meets in the playoffs, including a rematch with Watertown, the emphasis will be on the defensive side of ball “because it translates to our offense.”
“It’s an awesome feeling knowing that [our defense can] keep a team so good and so talented who scores in the 50s to keep them down so low,” she said.