CORRECTION: Belmont High Principal Richards Leaving

Photo: Dan Richards.

Editor’s note: While Mr. Richards is leaving Belmont High School, he is not leaving to become principal of Newburyport High School as previously noted in the headline and in the first paragraph of the original story. The Belmontonian regrets the error in content.

Long-time Belmont educator Dan Richards will be stepping down after five-and-a-half years at the helm of Belmont High School as its principal.

Richards, who made the announcement in a short email announcement to the Belmont community on Monday, Feb. 5, said it was “with mixed emotions” that he decided to look outside of Belmont to “peruse other leadership opportunities.” 

For nearly a decade and a half, Richards career has been centered at Belmont High, spending seven years from 2004 to 2011 as assistant principal for instruction before being named principal at Melrose High School in 2011. Richards made a surprising return to Belmont High in 2012 after then-principal Dr. Michael Harvey left to become superintendent of the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District. He previously worked at Peabody High and Newton South High.

He said moving to a North Shore community a few years ago had him looking for the right set of circumstances in the area that would all0w him to spend more time with his family. 

“The past 12 years in Belmont have been very rewarding for me. I have enjoyed the privilege of working with an amazing faculty, staff, community, and most of all, the students,” Richards said.

“Belmont High School will always remain a special place in my heart. Thank you for the privilege and honor to be part of such a wonderful community,” he said.

Richards replacement will be selected by Belmont Superintendent John Phelan. It is unknown if the next principal will be in place by the beginning of the school year in eight months.

Sports: Belmont Girls Hoops Defense Upends #2 Newburyport, Semis vs A/C

Photo: Senior co-captain Irini Nikolaidis shooting the winning free throw as Belmont upsets Newburyport on Sunday.

Clutch free throws from senior co-captain Irini Nikolaidis and a critical steal by sophomore guard Carly Christofori in the final minute propelled Belmont High School Girls’ Basketball to the upset victory over host and second seed Newburyport High Clippers, 49-47, in the Saturday after quarterfinals of the MIAA Division 2 North sectionals, March 5.

The victory sends the 10th seed Marauders to the Division 2 North semifinals for the third time in four years, to take on 3rd-seed Arlington Catholic which defeated Melrose 55-43 Sunday. The game will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday night, March 8, at Billerica High School. 

Nikolaidis coolly knocked down a pair of free throws – the final of five consecutive successful free throws – after being fouled driving to the basket with one minute remaining in the game to give Belmont a one-point lead, 48-47. Then it was left up to Belmont’s defense to stop Newburyport and its star Emily Pettigrew, who scored her 1,000 career point while collecting a game-high 22 points.

“I missed my first two (free throws) of the game so I just had to block out their fans … and focus on making them,” said Nikolaidis.

Closing off the passing lane to Pettigrew, a drive by freshman guard Anna Hickman was blocked by freshman center Jess Giorgio (2 points) with 43 seconds but remained the Clippers’ ball. Then Christofori, who quarterbacked the offensive for all but a few minutes of the game, stepped in front of an outlet pass and sent sophomore Jenny Call into the forecourt.

“I was just thinking, ‘We needed the ball, we need the ball now’,” said Christofori.

After a timeout, Belmont hung onto the ball until the collision at midcourt in which senior co-captain Samri Winklaar ended up at the bottom of a Clippers pile, resulting in a 30-second violation. 

With less than 12 seconds remaining, the Clippers again went to Hickman whose shot with 8.3 seconds was missed with Giorgio’s wingspan altering the attempt. In the resulting scrum for possession, Call dived onto the floor to tie up a Newburyport player for a jump ball with the all-important arrow pointing towards Belmont’s bench with 3.9 seconds remaining. 

On the critical inbounds pass, Christofori found Giorgio, who quickly pass the ball to guard Meghan Tan in the forecourt where she was fouled with 0.2 seconds. Tan made the second of two foul shots, a full court shot fell much too short and the celebration began. 

For senior captain Sarah Stewart, who fouled out after defending the taller and bigger Pettigrew,  the playoffs have been an emotional ride, literally.

“I was crying on the way here because you’ll never have such a great community come out and all the fans that came here just made us win. That spirit just coming to Newburyport (a 50 mile journey from Belmont) that’s how we won tonight.” 

Belmont’s Head Coach Melissa Hart said her team “is stepping up when they are being challenged.”

“They’re good, it’s a good group that shows its resilency with each playoff game,” she said.

The biggest assist for Belmont Saturday came from the Clippers themselves which collectively went a woeful 17 for 40 from the free-throw line, missing 23 times from the charity stripe, including going 5 for 19 in the second quarter. 

Belmont was somewhat better from the line, making 17 for 32. 

“I’m more surprised that they went to the free throw line 40 times,” said Hart, who said she got a headache after watching too many Belmont frees not fall through. 

Unlike its previous playoff game against Marblehead, which they fell behind 12-0 in the opening period, Belmont started the game on the front foot as Call hit a pair of threes while Nikolaidis started the game with a breakaway layup to give Belmont a quick 8-1 lead. The host Clippers quickly got back in the game, mostly from driving against Belmont’s zone defense to go on a 6-1 run to end the first, down 9-7.

Belmont once again started fast, with baskets from sophomore guard Alexa Sabatino and Nikolaidis to see Belmont jump to a 13-8 edge and then 16-12 with a Christofori three-pointer midway through the second. The Marauders would lead going into the half, 21-18, after the Clippers missed six consecutive free throws in the final minute of the half. 

The last 16 minutes turned into a rough-and-tumble affair – several times many girls would find themselves looking up from the court’s floor – with Pettigrew using her considerable stature (6 foot to her team’s benefit, keeping the Clippers close as Belmont used a three from Christofori, a floater by Call and a strong move by Winklaar for two increased its lead to 32-28 entering the final quarter.

But that advantage was gone after Hickman scored twice (a three and a two) and two free throws from Pettigrew gave the hosts a 35-32 lead at the 5:40 mark. It would be Belmont senior co-captain Sarah Stewart who led the way back with a bank shot for a basket before standing her ground against a full-speed Pettigrew to draw the charge.

Down by three, 37-34, with 4:40 left, Belmont made its stand; first Nikolaidis put in an offensive rebound while being fouled to complete the three-point play and tie the score then Tan knocked down a three-pointer (her only hoop in a six-point afternoon) to give Belmont the lead at 40-39.

The Clippers would go up by three once more before Call hit her two free throws at 3:22 to get Belmont within one, 43-42, before Winklaar went one for two to tie the score at 43.

Later down by one, Nikolaidis grabbed another offensive rebound and hit her second and third free throws at 2:10 to put Belmont up by one, 46-45. After Pettigrew had hit two free throws with a little more than a minute remaining to give Newburyport its final lead at 47-46, it was time for Nikolaidis, Christofori, and the defense to take the game from the Clippers.

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Sports: Belmont Girls Hoops Upsets Marblehead, Heads to Newburyport Saturday [VIDEO]

Photo: Belmont Girls’ Basketball team celebrates its victory at Marblehead.

The great American philosopher and pugilist Mike Tyson says that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

And for most of the opening quarter of its playoff game at 7th-seed Marblehead Thursday, March 3, Belmont High Girls’ Basketball took a good one on the chin as it was looking at a double-digit deficit and having yet to score a single point.

But a critical change in its game plan and contributions from nearly every player on the Marauders’ long bench – 18 players ready to play – turned the game on its head in Belmont’s favor as the visitors’ suffocating defense totally shut down the number  host Magicians for a convincing 43-28 victory in the MIAA Division 2 North sectional playoffs.

“Everyone stepped up tonight, they really did. If they were on the floor, they contributed something good for us,” said a happy Belmont Head Coach Melissa Hart told the Belmontonian.

“We made mistakes, it wasn’t a perfect game. But the players came back from their mistakes which was a good step for us. We didn’t just get down and let it spiral down,” she said. 

And the game could have gotten out of hand as there could not have had an uglier start to a basketball game then Belmont’s first four minutes. From the tipoff, the Magicians were off and running, winning rebounds, forcing Belmont to take long range shots and finding lots of room against Belmont’s zone defense to make baskets seemingly at will.

By the time Hart called a timeout, Belmont was looking up at a 10-0 scoreboard. But there was no panic from the players or Hart on the sideline. 

“We have lots of time left in this game,” said Hart, as she told her starters to abandoned the zone they started the game in and revert to its time-tested man-to-man defense that has been the team’s bread and butter for the past two years.

“They came out and stunned us. We were a little nervous but Marblehead was ready to go and they took it to us,” said Hart. 

While the Magicians would score on a quick break to take a 12 point lead at the five-minute mark, Belmont’s “in your face” defense appeared to unnerve the Magicians as it committed a pair of turnovers including a 30-second violation.

Belmont found the scoreboard from sophomore guard Jenny Call (7 points) who bagged a couple of threes to help cut Marblehead’s lead to six, 14-8, entering the second quarter.

The second eight minutes was one of the best of the season from the Marauders as it outscored the Magicians 17-4 as a pair of freshmen made their mark in the game.

Guard Megan Tan had her statement game of the season, making life a misery for her counterpart, Nicole Freedo (8 points, all in the first quarter) while complementing All-Star sophomore point guard Carly Christofori on offense. Tan (a team-high 8 points) also brought her shooting game with her, scoring on the break before hitting a three at the five-minute mark to give the Marauders’ its first lead of the game, 15-14.

After Marblehead had retaken the lead, Christofori (7 points) drained her own trey to provide the Marauders a lead (18-16) they would not surrender until the final buzzer.

Coming in for senior starter Sarah Stewart who picked up two quick fouls, ninth grader center Jess Giorgio held her own against Marblehead’s big girl duo of juniors Lindsay Walker (3 points) and Abby Settlemeyer (4 points) , grabbing 9 rebounds, hitting 2 of 4 free throws and unofficially blocking five shots in a standout performance. 

Senior forward and co-captain Samri Winklaar (7 points) took advantage of the open space by hitting a pair of runners in the paint, the final hoop finishing off a 17-4 quarter to leave the court up 25-18 at the half.

Both teams came out of the break with an eye on playing defense with Belmont holding the edge with the return of Stewart. The senior would dominate under the glass, picking up phenomenal 14 rebounds, nearly all in the second half, to go with 6 points, most of those put backs from critical offensive rebounds.

The rebounding by [Giorgio] and Sarah Stewart was phenomenal. That was probably the biggest difference was the rebounding changed a lot and we were able to shot and miss and get something which wasn’t happening [early in the game],” said Hart. 

Marblehead would come within six points, 29-23, when Tan wrestled the ball away from the point guard and stuck the easy layup. A turnaround jumper from sophomore Greta Propp and a free throw from Call put Belmont up by nine, 34-25, with eight minutes to play,

By the final quarter, Marblehead had no answer for the relentless Marauder defense, scoring just a three-point basket for their only points in the quarter. By the final minute, Belmont’s reserve players were on the court, with seniors Sophia Cellucci draining a buzzer-beating three pointer and Meghan Ferraro putting in a driving shot and draining the free throw after being fouled. 

Next up for Belmont, 12-9, is a trip to Newburyport (which many of the players had no idea where it is located) on Saturday, March 5 to play the second-seed Newburyport High Clippers (17-3), with tipoff at 4 p.m. 

The Clippers, which has not played a regular game in two weeks, is led by its only senior player, Emily Pettigrew, who is supported by younger players such as sophomore Krysta Padellaro, freshmen Katie Hadden and Anna Hickman and junior Olivia Olson.

But on Thursday, the underdogs took their time leaving the court, wishing to celebrate the upset before making the one hour drive home. 

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