Photo: Belmont could not stop Shyan Mwai (#5) in the fourth quarter.
For the first 25 minutes of its Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 28, game with Lowell High School, Belmont High girls’ basketball was cruising to a huge (YUGE!) early season “statement” win.
Fast breaks, sharp passing, team defense, three pointers, free throws; it was all going the Marauders’ way as the team took an 11 point lead, 48-37, over the visiting Red Raiders, a Divison 1 powerhouse which last season took an 18-2 record to the number one seed in the tough North Sectionals.
“We did look good. Everything was clicking,” said Head Coach Melissa Hart, as her team outscored Lowell in each for the first three-quarters.
But in high school basketball, a game consists of 32 minutes, and for Belmont, Wednesday’s final seven turned into a reality check. Lead by star junior point guard Shyan Mwai – who is considered one of the top ten female non-prep players in the state – Lowell simply ran over their hosts, outscoring Belmont 27-10 in the final seven minutes to finish with an emphatic 62-58 come-from-behind victory.
It didn’t help matters that Mawi scored her 1,000 career point (still a junior, mind you) from the free throw line – the game was halted for a presentation and celebration – in the middle of Lowell’s 9-0 run to erase the Marauders’ hard-earned advantage in just 90 seconds.
The loss is Belmont’s first of the season while Lowell matches the Marauders with a 4-1 record.
“I think we got tentative and a little scared and [Lowell] is too good of a team to let up on,” said Hart.
For the Marauders, the loss swept aside some of the best basketball from a Belmont team since last season’s wild four-game postseason run when Belmont defeated the two, three and four seeds in the Division 2 North Sectional tournament.
Quarterbacked by all-star junior point guard Carly Christofori (18 point, 6 steals), Belmont saw seven players score in the first quarter led by junior forward Jenny Call (10 points including two 3s) and sophomore guard Megan Tan (9 points and 5 steals) with five points each.
Coming into the game with a height advantage, the Marauders’ big players contributed on both ends of the court with senior forwards Margaux d’Arbeloff and Riley Haight (4 points each) scoring a pair of baskets off offensive rebounds in the first half and sophomore center Jess Giorgio (7 points, 6 rebounds) grabbing misses under the Marauder basket.
With Giorgio, fellow sophomore Ella Gagnon and starter Riley Haight making life difficult for Lowell’s forwards, the Raiders were forced to rely on Mwai who kept Lowell within striking distance scoring 16 of her team’s 28 first half points as Belmont lead by seven, 35-28, at the midpoint.
The third quarter turned into a one-on-one battle between the two junior point guards as Christofori defensively matched up on Mwai as each attempted to maneuver around the other for open shots.
With Mwai shut down for the moment (3 points in the third), Belmont grew its advantage. A Giorgio free throw, a Tan steal and basket followed by a Christofori driving bucket then a big three from the top of the key gave Belmont its first double-digit lead at 44-33. Junior forward Greta Propp’s uncontested shot with less than a minute in the quarter upped the Marauders lead to a dozen, 46-34.
And when junior guard Alexa Sabatino (4 points) hit a pretty mid-range jumper in the first minute of the final quarter to increase the lead to 48-37, it appeared the Marauders were on their way to a big time victory.
But Sabatino’s hoop was the last basket Belmont would make Wednesday (scoring on eight free throws) as Lowell showed why it returns to be a force in the top division. Lowell began to double and at times triple team the ball in the forecourt just as Belmont players started passing up shots to move the ball around the perimeter.
As the Marauders’ cooled off, Lowell turned up the heat to “high” as junior forward Yodelis Paulino scored 8 of her 15 points in final quarter joining Brittany Mota (two big baskets during the 9-0 run) who stepped up.
But it was Mwai who dominated Belmont. Moving smartly from teammate picks which threw off Christofori, Mwai used her quickness to hit layups or be fouled, ending the quarter with 15 points and a game-high 34.
The Marauders didn’t help themselves when they could not get a shot off on four consecutive trips down the court just as Lowell tied the score at 52 on a Mwai runner with 2:20 remaining.
Two free throws from Paulino and a quick steal, bucket and foul on junior guard Princess Emenogo with just 1:49 to go found Belmont looking up at a four-point deficit, 56-52. A pair of free throws by Mwai to increase the lead to 58-52 with less than 90 seconds remaining effectively ended the afternoon for the Marauders.
“We need to play against good competition. All the credit to them, they had great energy in the fourth quarter. We just lacked a certain confidence and energy down the stretch,” said Hart.