Marauder Hockey: After ‘Skip’ Finale, Belmont High Boys’ To Host Playoff Opener While Girls’ Will Likely Cruise To The Vineyard

Photo: Skip Viglirolo (right) with Belmont High Assistant Coach Bob Shea at the final league match at the namesake rink

In the final regular season matches ever to be held at the “Skip” – that would be the Skip Viglirolo Skating Rink on Concord Avenue – on Saturday, Feb. 18, the Belmont High Boys’ and Girls’ did the double with the boys’ winning in a workmanlike effort, 4-1 over Woburn High, while the girls’ recent lack of a needed finishing touch left their all-star goalie stuck with a 2-1 loss to the Tanners.

Even though the games honored the team’s seniors and the doubleheader ended more than half a century of high school games played in the rink – the girls’ team began playing there a little more than 30 years ago – supporters barely filled the stands, likely due to the start of February school vacation the day before. The day’s highlight was the presence of the rink’s namesake. Skip Viglirolo, his family and friends took in the boys’ game knowing it was likely the last time they would have a chance to see the old arena.

The Belmont Select Board recently declared it would not authorize the approximate $200,000 needed to repair critical infrastructure into the dilapidated structure. Town voters will have to opportunity to approve a $29 million debt exclusion to construct a new 40,313 sq-ft rink at the annual town election in April. Residents voted down a $35 million exclusion on an earlier rink design in November 2022.

The Boys’ were looking to right the ship Saturday – having gone 1-4-2 in the run-up to the game – with a victory as it prepared for two non-league post-season games in Springfield against juggernauts Pope Francis and Central Catholic [Update: Belmont would lose, 8-3, to Francis on Tuesday, Feb. 21, and defeat CC, 3-2 with senior co-captain Cam Fici earning the brace and senior co-captain Peter Grace putting in the third] to prep for the playoffs.

The game started with little urgency, as both teams were sparing to probe where they could take advantage of their opponent. However, by the second period, Belmont would strike three times, including a spectacular short-handed goal from – who else? – Fici, who deked and put the puck between the defender’s legs before rounding the goalie to put Belmont up, 3-1, at the end of two. Senior forward co-captain Shay Donahue would finish the scoring with a brace, and Fici picked up his third assist.

“It’s great to see what the seniors accomplished over four years including the shortened Covid season,” said Belmont Head Coach Tim Foley before the game.

In the finale, the Belmont girls came out and dominated the first two periods against a Tanner team playing for pride after missing the playoffs. But despite a flurry of chances, only first-year standout Mackenzie Clarke could send the puck into the netting with a second-period tally, while Belmont senior captain Bridget Gray was solid between the pipes throughout the opening two stanzas.

But the Tanners took advantage of Belmont’s propensity of finding the penalty box in the second and third to reverse the momentum and twice find the back of the net. The first came off a deflection when a Marauder defender attempted to knock down a shot that skipped by Gray, followed by a Woburn breakaway that Gray appeared to cover only to see it breakthrough. Belmont could not muster a challenge for the final 10 minutes to leave the ice empty-handed for the last time.

“I wouldn’t call that lack of scoring a problem this year,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Ken Murphy who noted that most of the team’s wins were in low scoring games as Gray and the back line led by junior Alex Townsend were the keystones of the defense.

“At the end of the season we didn’t have that one person who could score, and I don’t want to have that players, to be honest. I like three or four on the ice that work together to set up a good shot,” said Murphy, who has a good feeling about the upcoming playoffs.

“Coming from one of the strongest leagues out there, I feel good about anyone we go to see, that we’ll have a good chance because we are a solid team. We are three lines deep and a lot of teams can’t say that. We are solid with [Gray] so we are looking to make a mark in the playoffs,” said Murphy.

In the next to last MIAA power ranking of the season, while both teams are comfortable in the post-season, each just missed out of more favorable schedules. There are slim chances that due to other teams not releasing updated scores or late recalculations the rankings could change by the time the playoff pairings are announced this weekend.

Currently, 9th in Division 1, the boys (13-6-3) are one spot out of securing a pair of home games at the “Skip” which will close its doors one last time in early March. With the current standings, Belmont will host 24th-ranked Chelmsford (10-6-3) next week.

After missing the postseason last year with a 6-10-2 mark in 47th place, the girls were on the right side of the 16th seed, guaranteeing a home fixture in the first round. But a late-season falloff in scoring saw the Marauders limp in at 0-4-2 down the home stretch to finish the season at 8-8-3 in 18th in the Division 2 power rankings.

Last week, Belmont appeared that they would be driving and taking a ferry 100 miles and three hours (one way!) to Oak Bluffs to take on Martha’s Vineyard Regional. And as if it by destiny, as Belmont dropped a spot in the past week, the Vineyarders (12-6-2) rose one place to 15th, clinching a home game against the Marauders next week to be played at the YMCA Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena in Oak Bluffs.

Second-Half Explosion Propel Belmont Girls’ Hoops Past Danvers in Playoff Opener

A newspaper sports columnist predicted that the best opening round girl’s basketball playoff game would be between Belmont High and visiting Danvers.

And the journalist’s forecast was right on … for the first half.

Leading Danvers, 26-24, after the first 18 minutes, Belmont’s vaunted defense and the scoring prowess of one of its youngest players allowed the Marauders to outscore the Falcon’s 24-4 in the third quarter and 45-19 in the half to cruise to a 71-43 home victory to start their post-season campaign in the Div. 2 North sectionals.

“This was a good one to have. We struggled early but we showed again we can come off a bad stretch,” said Belmont High Coach Melissa Hart.

Next for fifth-seeded Belmont (15-6) is a rematch on Thursday, Feb. 26, at fourth-ranked Bedford High (14-6) which came down Route 2 as a team to see the contest Tuesday, Feb. 24, at Wenner Field House.

“I hope they saw something while they were here,” said Hart.

Despite defeating Bedford last week in a winter recess tournament, 61-49, and having identical records, Belmont was given the lower seed after losing a coin flip administered by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which sanctions the playoffs.

Belmont was led both on the ball and scoring by 9th-grader Carly Christofori, who scored 17 points including going three for four from 3-point range. Belmont hit a season-high eight treys Tuesday.

“We just wanted to win the game for the seniors so it wouldn’t be their last game especially at home with so many fans, finally,” said the freshman, noting the Wenner was filled for the first time this year for a girls’ game.

While Belmont finished strong, the Marauders wasn’t impressing anyone, including themselves, in the first half. After going up 19-12 on Christofori’s second three of the half just after the 6 minute mark in the second quarter, the team went into the freezer, giving up open shots and becoming flustered by a young athletic Danver’s team playing good defense.

When Danver’s junior Hannah Llewellyn hit a three point shot with two and a half minutes to play in the half, the Falcons outscored the Marauders 10-0 to take a 22-19 lead.

“I think the girls were, and they actually said it, that they were nervous right before the game,” said Hart. “Our defensive intensity was not at it best for a quarter but [Danvers] earned the lead.”

Then senior center Linda Herlihy took control; in the last 90 seconds of the half putting in an offensive rebound, hitting one of two from the charity stripe after being fouled and banking a hook shot with four seconds before the buzzer to give Belmont the 26-24 halftime lead.

“At half time it was really close and we knew we should be beating this team and we took over,” said Christofori, who started the half with a pair of free throws (9 points in the third) followed by offensive rebounding by Herlihy (five of her nine rebounds were under the Belmont basket) and senior Elena Bragg to set up Christofori for yet another downtown 3 pointer to up the lead to 33-24.

And a smothering press defense – including blocks by Herlihy and forced turnovers against the Falcons – led to fast break chances which Belmont began scoring. Stepping up were junior Sarah Stewart (throwing up a three from another ZIP code) and Bragg, who scored her six points for the night in the third. By the end of the quarter, the game was effectively done.

By the end of the fourth, every Belmont player got onto the court with 10 Marauders scoring, with the team cheering as junior Meghan Ferraro put in a layup with an assist from senior Lauren Noonan and for senior Kayla Magno when she drained a three.

“Having such a strong second half gives us a ton of confidence going into the next game and that’s really important,” said Herlihy.

Belmont High Baseball Makes Playoffs Behind Shea’s Arm, Bat

Belmont High School Baseball’s Brendan Shea is best known for this pitching – he is heading to UMass-Lowell to join Head Coach Ken Harring’s River Hawks – but on Tuesday, May 20, the southpaw showed he can wield a bat in a game against Salem (NH) High School.

The senior sent a 0-1 pitch over the fence for a three-run home run to put Belmont High into the Division 2 North Sectional playoffs with a 7-4 victory over the visiting Blue Devils at Brendan Grant Field.

Shea once again showed his prowess on the mound as he struck out 10 batters and gave up one bloop hit over five innings while giving up four unearned runs. Kevin Arria relieved Shea with two scoreless innings to earn the save and end a three-game losing streak where Belmont left 34 players on base over that stretch. 

Making the post-season for the 12th season in a row turned out to be tougher than Belmont Head Coach Jim Brown had anticipated.

“Finally. It was a battle making [the playoffs] this time,” said Brown. “We finally got timely hitting today.”

The big blow came in the bottom of the fifth when Shea cranked the dinger out of the park bringing in outfielder Matt Rocha (hit by a pitch) and shortstop Cole Bartels (double) to give Belmont a 5-4 lead.

Belmont played small ball in the first when Rocha reached first on a single, stole second and came in on freshman catcher Cal Christofori’s single. 

Belmont will next play on Friday, May 22, at 4 p.m. at Grant Field against Reading High during the annual Brendan Grant Tournament.