Photo: Belmont Joe Shaughnessy dunks the ball against Reading.
Three starters scored 61 of Belmont High’s 76 points as the Marauders’ climbed to the top of the Middlesex League’s Liberty Division with a hard fought 76-71 victory over the visiting Reading Memorial High Rockets in a battle for first place Friday night, Jan. 15 at the Wenner.
Seniors Matt Kerans (21 points) and Joe Shaughnessy (20 points) joined junior Paul Ramsey (20 points) to power the Marauders offense as its five starters played the majority of the game.
“Sometimes that happens. I didn’t feel that anyone was in jeopardy of fouling out, our defense was pretty good and everyone was making good decisions and most of all, they were playing together,” said Belmont’s long time head coach Adam Pritchard whose team currently stands 8-3 overall and 6-1 in league play.
“It’s a great goal,” said Pritchard on leading the league nearing mid-season. “This is this group’s chance to set their mark and it’s something that we will be working for.”
Belmont came fast out of the gate, jumping to a 14-5 lead as the Marauders took advantage of its height advantage to get inside and score from in close. Ramsey was able to make three baskets inside along with a free throw in the first.
“Everyone on this team knows what Paul has done for us. He’s just an incredible rebounder and takes the tough defensive assignments,” said Pritchard.
But before you could say “Jared Thorpe-Johnson,” the Rocket’s senior forward hit a bucket and a three-pointer with 9.5 seconds left in the period to finish off a 11-2 run and tie the score at 16 (with Thorpe-Johnson accounting for 12) after one-quarter.
The second quarter saw the shoe on the other foot as Reading out hustled Belmont to a 23-19 lead. But in this game of momentum changes, the Marauders stepped up their defense and fast break to pull off a 9-0 run to lead 28-23 midway through the quarter.
Back came the Rockets and the lead see-sawed between the squads before being knotted up at 34 at the half.
The second half saw Belmont exploit the height advantage of having senior forwards Justin Wagner (7 points) and Shaughnessy down low.
“I think tonight [Shaughnessy] showed what he can do with his back to the basket. He is one of the best post-up players in the league,” said Pritchard.
As Reading backed in to stop the pass inside, that left Kerans free to hit a three-pointer at the five-minute mark to give Belmont a 40-39 lead. On the next possession, Kerans found a wide open Shaughnessy to the right of the basket who proceeded to dunk the ball, bringing the Belmont fans to their feet.
Reading – who had four players in double figures for points – would not go away as they were able to convert several second chance opportunities, including three consecutive three-point baskets (a pair from guard Carl Gillies (10 points)) early in the fourth quarter, to cut the lead to 64-62 with 4:40 left in the game.
But it was Belmont’s other big man who defused the Rockets as Wagner took a Shaughnessy (10 points on three baskets and 4-4 from the line in the 4th quarter) pass as he was cutting to the basket to make the two-point basket and head for the line for after being hacked underneath to give Belmont a five-point advantage.
After a Thorpe-Johnson (a game-high 27 points) layup cut the lead to three (70-67), Wagner tipped in an offensive rebound as the 30-second clock expired to up the Marauders’ lead back to five points. Belmont would hit three of their four final free throws for the win.