Photo: Danny Yardemian drives to the basket.
As Danny Yardemian was greeting fans and family after Belmont High Boys’ Basketball’s playoff opener against Charlestown High School, a fellow student looked at his classmate and said one word: “MVP.”
Anyone who witnessed his performance Tuesday night, Feb. 27, could hardly disagree with that sentiment. Playing near the top of his game, Yardemian showcased his talents by pouring in 35 points, handing out numerous assists and quarterbacking Belmont to a comprehensive drubbing of Charlestown, 72-47, in first round action in the Division 2 North sectional playoffs held at the Wenner Field House.
“I was just focused on the game,” said Yardemian, after the game. “I was just trying to be more aggressive as it’s the playoffs while trying to be more of a leader so my teammates can make more plays.”
“You’re fortunate to have a kid who works really hard, who’s skilled and can create shots out of the offense,” Belmont Head Coach Pritchard said of his junior point/shooting guard.
Belmont, at 16-7, will host Middlesex-rival Melrose High on Friday, March 2 at the Wenner, after the 12 seed Raiders (12-9) upset Masconomet Regional, 58-53, in overtime, on Monday. The Marauders defeated the Raiders, 78-63, back on Jan. 23. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
“They’re a scrappy team. They are like us in the sense that they’ll hustle for loose balls, they’ll play tough defense,” said Yardemian.
Charlestown came to the Wenner with a tall – three starters over 6’5″ with senior center Franklin Udeh north of six-and-a-half – and physical team that came out of the hard-as-nails Boston City League at 10-9. But where the Townies had the advantage of the tale of the tape, the Marauders proved the complete team on the night.
“We played a lot of teams this year, and I don’t know if we’ve played a tougher team … rebounding,” said Pritchard.
Yardemian quickly placed his imprint on the match, scoring seven of Belmont’s first 11 points; on a drive and jumper, a pretty backdoor play with sophomore guard Mac Annus and a three-pointer from college-distance. Benefiting from Belmont’s “push” offense was senior forward Tomas Donoyan who sliced through for six in the first quarter while junior forward Ben Sseruwagi (8 points) knocked down a pair of buckets. Belmont ended the first quarter with a floater by Yardemian and a critical block by senior center Jake Pollack (2 points) to hold a three-point lead, 19-16, after one.
In front 30-25 midway through the second, Yardemian took the game into his hands, starting with a mid-range step-back jumper as he threw in 11 in the quarter while leading the offense. Assisted by the Townies lack of success from the outside – they would only hit three threes – and some poor ball handling decisions, Belmont was able to break several times for relatively easy hoops. With Yardemian cutting thorough the Townies for an uncontested layup at the buzzer, the Marauders took a 40-31 point lead into the half, half of the points coming from the Middlesex League all-star.
At the start of the third, Yardemian began playing helper, finding Donoyan (who scored 8 of his 16 in half) and Pollack (with a behind the head pass) as the lead expanded towards 20.
“He’s done a much better job of seeking out his teammates, and you have to do that to be a floor leader, you can’t just to look to score every time,” said Pritchard.
A corner three from Annus (9 points, all from beyond the arc) and a power move to the hoop by Yardemian inflated the advantage to 18 (56-38) at the end of three quarters. Charlestown had no answer to the surge and the fourth quarter was Yardemian who hit Belmont’s only two free throws in the game on to his way to 10 points in the final eight minutes.
While deferring speaking about Yardemian – “I’ve heard enough of him!” he said with a laugh – Pritchard heaped praise on co-captain Pollack who was thrown into the lion’s den by being matched up with the Townies big men.
“One of the guys who’s key to us is Jake,” said Pritchard, noting that most games Pollack is outweighed and shorter than who he’s playing. “And he doesn’t leave anything left in the tank when he’s done. That, right there, makes him our MVP.”
As for Friday’s game vs. Melrose, Pritchard was philosophic.
“Hey, we’re still playing. I’m happy with that,” he said.