Photo: After the game.
With less than two minutes remaining in its electric semifinal slugfest against Arlington Catholic, the Belmont High Girls’ Basketball squad was facing a 10-point deficit, 45-35, that had been building since the start of the final quarter.
Arlington Catholic’s tight, man-to-man defense stymied Belmont’s offense for most of the quarter leaving the Marauders in a hole that appeared was too deep to climb out. Usually, at this point, a team will concede to its fate, that defeat is inevitable. Throw in the towel. Put on a good face. Surrender.
But Belmont came out and did what was brave; and fought.
In front of a large and noisy student section that made the neutral-site Wilmington High School gym feel like a home game, the Marauders’ began its comeback on the back of junior point guard Carly Christofori (a team-high 19 points) who drilled a 3 point shot with 1:50 remaining to nudge Belmont closer at 45-38.
Down on the other end of the court, sophomore center Jess Giorgio grabbed one of her dozen rebounds (a playoff double-double with 13 points) and rushed down to be fouled by AC’s center Lena Perez (a game-high 21 points) at 1:34. One of two free throws cut the lead to six, 45-39.
The Cougars couldn’t extend the lead as Christofori stole the ball and raced to the basket. Despite contact on her way up by Dolan, no foul was called, and Giorgio’ toes step out of bounds after wrestling the ball from Perez with 66 seconds remaining.
But Belmont got the ball right back as junior Jenny Call (7 points) tied up senior Alexandra Ball (5 points) for a jump ball with the arrow pointing in Belmont’s direction. Then sophomore guard Meghan Tan (5 points) rammed home a 3 from the corner as the student section erupted with the game was down to a single possession, 45-42, with 50 seconds left.
It appeared Belmont had stopped the Cougars with a missed shot, but a foul was blown (with Tan fouling out), and Dolan (15 points including 9 in the final stanza) made two shots to put the lead up to five, 47-42, with 47 seconds left on the clock. Down on the other end, Call was fouled going through the lane but missed the front end of a one and one with 40 seconds left.
Needing to foul, Gorgio received her fifth (and fouling out), and Donlan made one of two from the charity stripe to up the advantage to six with 21 seconds to go. But AC’s lead was cut in half, 47-45, after Christofori nailed her fifth 3 in the game with 10.6 seconds left.
And it was here that a mysterious time out took the ball from Belmont’s hands.
After a score, a player has five seconds to put the ball into play, or it’s a turnover. And Belmont pulled out all the stops to find a way to retake possession, employing a press across the court with Call in front AC’s Ball attempting the inbounds pass. With the ball in Ball’s hands, the officials began counting up: one, two, three – Call jumping up and down giving Ball nothing to aim at as Marauders took away any option to get the ball to a teammate.
Four … and five. The official along the baseline raised his arm to signal the violation and pointed in Belmont’s direction as the student section exploded. This was the break that would allow the Marauders’ at least a final chance to take a three-point shot to tie the game.
At the other end of the court came the chief official of the three-member crew. While it did not appear a time out was official signaled anywhere on the court, it appeared something had occurred 80 feet away. The two officials huddled for 10 seconds. The verdict: a time out no one saw or heard. Arlington Catholic’s ball under the basket as Belmont’s players, coaches but not their fans were left speechless.
Given a second opportunity, Ball passed to Donlan who was fouled with 9 seconds left. She would make one of two to give AC a four-point lead. And for the sixth time, Christofori dropped in a 3, a 3 point bucket which could have, would have tied the game, if …
But it only drew Belmont within a single point of the Cougars as the final buzzer sounded.
For Melissa Hart, Belmont’s head coach, there wasn’t much she wanted to say about the controversial play other than she disagreed with the mystery call.
But she did want to talk about her team, which ended the season at 17-5, the same record as the 2008 team.
“They really fought hard; they gave everything they got. Things just didn’t go our way,” she said, noting that for one of the few times in the season its free throw shooting was lacking, going 7 for 16 and missing 3 of 4 in the critical fourth quarter.
‘You’ve got to make your free throws to move on at this stage,” she said.
“Give it to [Arlington Catholic] they make the shots down the stretch. It was a one-point game,” said Hart as AC hit 8 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter.
It was a game in which Belmont’s zone defense stood in mark contrast to AC’s man, as both teams struggled to find an offense early in the contest.
After knotted at 5, AC began working the give and go with its centers to gouge out a 13-9 lead after one quarter with Giorgio scoring six points.
With the inside clogged for Belmont, Christofori used what she was given, scoring consecutive 3s at the start of the second to give Belmont the lead at 15-13. Despite some trouble with poor shot selection, AC would go on a 7-0 run just past the midway mark only to see Christofori make her third 3 to come closer and then a fourth 3 to bring Belmont within one, 23-22, as the half ended.
While Christofori excited the crowd with her shooting performance, Hart said it was troubling that Call’s single free throw was the only other Marauder point in the quarter.
“Carly and Jenny are great players but you can’t just rely on them or just one player making all your baskets. Everyone has to start scoring,” she said.
The third saw Belmont final lead of the game as Call scored from a distance, 25-23. Arlington Catholics would twice move ahead by five (the last being 32-27 only for Giorgio to power home with two baskets to cut the Cougars’ lead to one, 32-31 in AC’s favor at the end of three quarters.
The fourth quarter was the first time AC would not struggle with their shots, going up 41-35 at the four minute mark and finally by the 10 point margin with only 120 seconds left.
As AC, the number 5 seed, meets Hamilton-Wenham, the 6th seed, in the north sectional championship on Saturday, Belmont goes out with the knowledge that next season it will return its entire starting lineup and most of its bench on a team that won 17 games. It will also face the challenge of moving up to Division 1 – due to increased student enrollment – in which Belmont will be placed against a slew of large suburban and city schools.
Next season is only eight months away.