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.