Photo: Defense has been the key to the Belmont High Girls’ league championship.
Everything was in place: a packed Wenner Field House, a celebration naming the high school’s main court after legendary boys’ head coach Paul Lyons and the opportunity Friday night for both of Belmont High School basketball teams to clinch league titles.
Girls’ Unbeaten Run Continues As Marauders Secure Crown
On Friday night, the Belmont High Girls’ Basketball team played like a number 1 team.
In its first game since being selected the top squad in the Boston Globe Top 20 girls’ basketball poll, the 16-0 Marauders showed its dominance against its toughest league opponent, Reading Memorial, beating the Rockets, 51-39, to win the Middlesex League, Liberty Divison title.
“It feels amazing,” said senior center Ella Gagnon on achieve the championship at home.
“[It’s] great [to wind the title] especially on this special night for Paul Lyons,” said Belmont Head Coach Melissa Hart after the victory. “It feels good instead of having our back against the wall. We didn’t want to be in a position where we’re crawling at the end of the season trying to keep up with what we’ve done.
But Hart doesn’t want her to team to ease up between the victory and the start of the MIAA tournament in two weeks.
“We still have two tough leagues left [against Arlington and Woburn] and we want to learn a lot a try to be better over the next week as we have Cathedral next week,” Hart said.
The clash with defending Div. 4 state champions Cathedral High School of Boston in the Comcast Dvinci Energy Basketball Tournament on Saturday, Feb. 16 in Woburn is starting to look like a match between the top two ranked teams in the Globe’s poll.
On Friday’s tussle, Belmont came out firing from downtown as its league MVP candidate Megan Tan 14 points), frosh phenom Nina Minicozzi (8 points) and sophomore Maiya Bergdorf hit from beyond the three-point arc to give the Marauders a 9-6 lead. Senior center Jess Giorgio (8 points) put back the second of two offense rebounds followed by Bergdorf’s second 3 and a steal by leading to a spinning layup by Giorgio saw Belmont end the opening quarter up 19-8.
“They definitely generate a lot of offense,” said Hart. “For [Tan], a lot of it comes from her defense.”
While the offense was hitting on all cylinders, it was the Marauders pressing defense is the fuel that runs the show. Despite averaging 57 points a game, Reading could not find its comfort zone with Belmont’s stifling 2-3 half court zone that had height in the middle – six players at 5’10” or taller topped off with Giorgio at 6’2″ – and a dogged crew of guards with fast hands looking for the steal or interception. For all of the Rockets power, Reading was held to miser-like six points in the second quarter as Belmont’s lead grew to 25-14.
While attempting just one shot in the game, Gagnon was a force under the basket, hauling in approximately 17 rebounds, each grabbed in heavy traffic. During a series under the Rockets’ hoop in the second quarter, Gagnon snagged four consecutive offensive rebounds in a matter of seconds.
“I just have fun with it. Defense is my thing. I just think like ‘I’m going to get this, this is mine and I go right for it’,” said Gagnon who will be playing soccer at Middlebury College next year.
“Amazing effort. Amazing, amazing. She was like a one-girl show,” said Hart of her first-off-the-bench forward.
“We do emphaize the importance of offensive rebounds because you get more chances, it’s as simple as that,” said Hart.
In the third quarter Belmont got four points each from Tan, Giorgio, Minicozzi and Bergdorf, leading to a final quarter which Bergdorf, who ended the night with 18 points, burying two open 3s.
“I just thought to myself, I don’t have to prove myself, I just have to play my game,” said Bergdorf, who was high scorer against Reading in both games.
“It’s a team game so I’m not going to be selfish, but, of course, if I have a shot, I’m going to take it.”
Marauders’ gets pushed late but sprints to the league title
With less than two minutes to play in the first half, already up 35-21, Belmont Boys’ Basketball put on a run over 15 seconds that all but put its game against Reading on ice, Friday on the newly named Coach Lyons Court at Belmont High.
With the Rockets seeking to cut the advantage to under 10 before the half, senior center Danny Seraderian (16 points) came crusing to the basket and hit a cutting layup to bump the score up to 37-21. Racing down court, Seraderian outjumped two Reading forwards to drag down the rebound and swing it to sophomore Preston Jackson-Stephens (with a string of stellar games off the bench, with 11) on the go. Just to the left of the key, Jackson-Stephens feinted to the left, than powered to the basket leaving his defender hoping he didn’t break his ankles as the forward cruised in for the two. Time out Reading.
Give credit to Reading for putting up, behind a barrage of 3s, a spirited third and fourth quarters cutting a 20-plus lead to only 10, 61-51, with 4:30 remaining in the game.
But the comeback faded on Belmont’s next three possessions as Belmont’s other Danny, a Boston Globe All-Scholastic Division 1 player of the year candidate Danny Yardemian (30 points to lead all scorers) took control, hitting one of two from the line, scoring two with his reliable drive to the hoop before Seraderian stole the ball and drove all the way for a layup to lead Belmont on a 10-2 run to seal the 71-53 win.
The win saw the Marauders’ record now at 17-1, and ranked 8th in the Boston Globe’s Top 20 poll.