Sports: Bartels’ Tour de Force Falls Short As Reading Takes League Title, 1-0

Photo: Cole Bartels on the mound. 

Paraphrasing Tolstoy, all wins are alike; each defeat is lost in its own way.

For Belmont High School’s senior ace Cole Bartels, Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Reading Memorial High – securing the Middlesex Liberty Division championship to the Rockets – will go down as a tour-de-force performance spoiled by the flukes of the game that can make baseball such a cruel mistress to play.

“Déjà vu all over again,” said Marauder Head Coach Jim Brown, recalling a similar one-run heartbreaker to Reading for the league championship in 2007. 

“Bartels pitched great. He did his job. We just could not get the timely hit,” said Brown. “We got hits; we got men on base. Someone just has to step up and get the hit at the right time.”

Pitching one of his best performance of the season, the Penn State-commit dominated the league leaders, striking out 11 while giving up only a pair of singles. After a few early inning “butterflies,” last year’s Middlesex League all-star got down to business, and in the process, threw one of the best two innings plus stretches from a starter in recent league memory. 

After a leadoff walk to the number nine hitter in the bottom of the third, Bartels struck out the first two batters in the lineup on 1-2 counts with catcher Cal Christofori’s rocket throw to cut down the runner attempting to swipe second by a mile.

The fourth inning was a master class with Bartels’ fastball hit the low outside corner schooled the heart of Rockets order as the 3, 4, and 5 hitters each took the third strike looking. To cap the effort. Bartels sat down the first batter in the fifth on a reverse K.

“When I came out in the third it was just rock and fire,” said Bartels

It wasn’t as if Belmont hitters were as they had six hits off Reading. It was if Belmont was too eager at the plate, attempting to belt junior Corey DiLoreto’s off-speed offerings, only to lift the ball into the outfield. 

The dark clouds crept over Belmont in the bottom of the sixth when Bartels had leadoff hitter Connor Mulligan down two strikes only to see three straight targeted pitches were deemed balls to the consternation of the Marauder coaching staff and bench, leading to a critical no out walk.

The games “big” hit traveled the least distance when right fielder Carl Gillies attempted to move Mulligan to second launched a bunt attempt in the air along the third base line. But rather then an easy  out, the ball looped over third base David Bailey who was charging the plate. 

“What do you do? Normally a pop-up bunt is a certain out,” said Brown.

Making matters more difficult, a passed ball by Bartels’ battery mate Christofori placed runners in scoring a position at second and third with one out. After a strike out, an intentional walk to load the bases for left fielder Tommy White to loft a fly ball deep enough into center field to score Mulligan. 

It was then up to DiLoreto to set down Belmont in order for the clinching victory. 

“I couldn’t ask much more from my team. They try as hard as they could with good effort. It just wasn’t our day,” said Bartels.

Bartels and Belmont will see the Rockets this weekend in the opening game of the annual Brendan Grant Tournament at 2 p.m., Friday, May 27. 

Belmont, whose pitching staff sports a 1.00 ERA, has the throwers to make a run in the playoffs but like last season, hitting and runs remain a bugaboo for the team.

“We have to put the right pieces of the puzzle together” which may require a lineup change,” said Brown. “It could be putting kids in different parts of the lineup and just getting a hit,” he said.

For Bartels, the playoffs can’t happen fast enough.

“I feel extremely good. We’re going to be a great team and accomplish special things this post season,” he said.

Banner Time! Belmont Boys’ Hoops Is Middlesex League Liberty Championship

Photo: The 2015-16 Middlesex League Liberty Division champions: Belmont High School

The lockers took a beating from Belmont High School’s Boys Basketball players as they added a celebratory beat to the joyful roar emanating from the visitors locker room at Reading Memorial High School as the Marauders raucously celebrated winning the Middlesex League Liberty Division championship after defeating Reading, 60-54, on Friday night, Feb. 12.

“We met with the juniors last year and talked about goals and a league title was always one of them,” Belmont’s long-time head coach Adam Pritchard told the Belmontonian after the game.

“I just thought it was something that they should expect and have to earn. I thought we had to the ability to do it,” he said.

Belmont now stands at 15-4 with four games remaining including a final league match with visiting Lexington at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18. The team will also take part in the Sharon Tournament where they will meet three teams – Braintree, Cathedral and Sharon – that have made the MIAA playoffs.

If winning the championship was a great accomplishment, the game in which they won it was not, as the game tapes are worthy of being burned. Midway through the first quarter, Belmont led 2-1 before going on an 8-0 run on threes from senior guard Cole Bartels and junior Paul Ramsey (9 points). At the end of the quarter, the two playoff-bound teams scored an anemic total of 21 points (12-9 Belmont).

The second quarter was slightly more productive as strong defense and less than stellar shooting sent Belmont into halftime with a five-point edge, 26-21, as co-sixth men guards Daron Hamparian (2 points) and Tomas Donoyan (3 points) came off the bench to up the defensive intensity 

“We went in at half time and I told them we have not shot a free throw, they have a two to one offensive rebounding advantage and we’re up by five, held them to 21 points in the first half and we haven’t played well on our end,” said Pritchard.

“If we can hold them defensively, our offense will win the game,” he said.

Bartels started the third quarter with a three pointer (one of three in the game for a team high 16 points) and a bucket and one in the first two minutes to give Belmont a nine point lead (36-27). Reading would keep it close behind its go-to senior guard Jared Thorpe-Johnson (three tough baskets in the third quarter, part of his game high 21 points) to cut the lead to six, 37-31. But Belmont would counter with a Steph Curry-like teardrop three from Matt Kerans (part of his 15 point night) to put the team up by nine (46-37) at the start of the fourth quarter. 

The Marauders was able to pull away early in the final quarter as senior forward Luke Peterson (4 points) – who is coming back from injury – was nearly credited with a dunk which was waved off for a foul (he hit the two foul shots) while Bartels drained a three to see Belmont up its lead by 13 with 4:47 left in the game. While Reading did make a late run to come with five points at 57-52, Bartels (16 points) drained a three to end any upset ideas from the hosts.

While not wanting to rate this squad to other league championship or good squads he’s coached in the past, Pritchard said “[t]hey are similar to a couple successful teams in that they are a nice, tight team. They go to dinners together, they are very supportive of each other and we have very good students and high character kids. They’re fun to be around.”

Pritchard is now looking forward to the post season with some practical advice to his team.

“A couple of players from the [Super Bowl winning Denver] Broncos that said their coach told them all you have to be is better than everyone else for the next month. I told the boys you have to be better then everybody every day.”

So, can this team win what will be a tough Division 2 North Sectionals? How about a state title? 

“Absolutely they can do it. They are a talented group, they have good leadership, they are smart basketball players. It is always a tough road ahead, but why not us?”

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Sports: Belmont Girls Hoops Wear Down Rockets, 53-41

Photo: Carly Christofori (left) and Sarah Stewart on defense for Belmont.

Friday night’s tussle with the one-win Reading High Rockets was just the type of game Belmont High will benefit from, said Marauders’ Head Coach Melissa Hart.

Sometimes your team just has to grind out a victory over an opponent that wouldn’t go away.

“That was a tough game that we had to play hard to stay in front,” said Hart of her team’s 53-41 victory over the Rockets, and upping the Marauders record to 5-2 in the Middlesex League Liberty Division. 

What looked like a potential blowout after the first four minutes in which Belmont raced to a 9-0 lead on sophomore Jenny Calls’ three-point and some slashing inside drives by point guard Carly Christofori.

But Reading would scrape back behind the three from Julia Sullivan (6 points) to tie the game at nine before sophomore Greta Propp and junior forward Reagan Haight dropped in shots to up the Marauder lead to four (13-9) after one-quarter. 

Belmont’s advantage would grow to seven (22-15) when Propp (8 points) scored two free throws with 1:11 left in the half although the Rockets would climb back to keep it close at the half, 22-18.

The third quarter was more a display of hope over skill as at point both teams had more fouls than points. Stepping up in the quarter were Call and Christofori as Call hit two from distance (part of her game-high 14 point night) and Christifori (13 points) went 4-6 from the line to go along with two baskets to keep Belmont out in front, 36-30, going into the final eight minutes.

Belmont put the game away with a 15-point fourth quarter as senior co-captain Irini Nikolaidis (11 points) scored nine going 5-7 from the charity stripe. 

Next up for Belmont is a 3 p.m. exam week contest Tuesday vs. a strong Burlington team. 

Sports: Starters Push Belmont Past Reading to Take League Lead

Photo: Belmont Joe Shaughnessy dunks the ball against Reading. 

Three starters scored 61 of Belmont High’s 76 points as the Marauders’ climbed to the top of the Middlesex League’s Liberty Division with a hard fought 76-71 victory over the visiting Reading Memorial High Rockets in a battle for first place Friday night, Jan. 15 at the Wenner.

Seniors Matt Kerans (21 points) and Joe Shaughnessy (20 points) joined junior Paul Ramsey (20 points) to power the Marauders offense as its five starters played the majority of the game.

“Sometimes that happens. I didn’t feel that anyone was in jeopardy of fouling out, our defense was pretty good and everyone was making good decisions and most of all, they were playing together,” said Belmont’s long time head coach Adam Pritchard whose team currently stands 8-3 overall and 6-1 in league play.

“It’s a great goal,” said Pritchard on leading the league nearing mid-season. “This is this group’s chance to set their mark and it’s something that we will be working for.” 

Belmont came fast out of the gate, jumping to a 14-5 lead as the Marauders took advantage of its height advantage to get inside and score from in close. Ramsey was able to make three baskets inside along with a free throw in the first.

“Everyone on this team knows what Paul has done for us. He’s just an incredible rebounder and takes the tough defensive assignments,” said Pritchard.

But before you could say “Jared Thorpe-Johnson,” the Rocket’s senior forward hit a bucket and a three-pointer with 9.5 seconds left in the period to finish off a 11-2 run and tie the score at 16 (with Thorpe-Johnson accounting for 12) after one-quarter. 

The second quarter saw the shoe on the other foot as Reading out hustled Belmont to a 23-19 lead. But in this game of momentum changes, the Marauders stepped up their defense and fast break to pull off a 9-0 run to lead 28-23 midway through the quarter.

Back came the Rockets and the lead see-sawed between the squads before being knotted up at 34 at the half.

The second half saw Belmont exploit the height advantage of having senior forwards Justin Wagner (7 points) and Shaughnessy down low.

“I think tonight [Shaughnessy] showed what he can do with his back to the basket. He is one of the best post-up players in the league,” said Pritchard. 

As Reading backed in to stop the pass inside, that left Kerans free to hit a three-pointer at the five-minute mark to give Belmont a 40-39 lead. On the next possession, Kerans found a wide open Shaughnessy to the right of the basket who proceeded to dunk the ball, bringing the Belmont fans to their feet.

Reading – who had four players in double figures for points – would not go away as they were able to convert several second chance opportunities, including three consecutive three-point baskets (a pair from guard Carl Gillies (10 points)) early in the fourth quarter, to cut the lead to 64-62 with 4:40 left in the game. 

But it was Belmont’s other big man who defused the Rockets as Wagner took a Shaughnessy (10 points on three baskets and 4-4 from the line in the 4th quarter) pass as he was cutting to the basket to make the two-point basket and head for the line for after being hacked underneath to give Belmont a five-point advantage. 

After a Thorpe-Johnson (a game-high 27 points) layup cut the lead to three (70-67), Wagner tipped in an offensive rebound as the 30-second clock expired to up the Marauders’ lead back to five points. Belmont would hit three of their four final free throws for the win.

 

Sports: Belmont Swimming Can’t Defuse Rockets at Home, Sets Sights on League Meet

Photo: Jessica Blake-West swimming the 100 butterfly against Reading.

“No tears,” said long-time Belmont High Head Coach Ev Crosscup as he talked to his girls’ swimming and diving team after falling to the visiting Reading Memorial High School in the final dual meet of the season, and clinching the regular season Middlesex League championships to the Rockets on Wednesday, Oct. 28. 

And like a good coach will also do, Crosscup took the blame for the 96-84 defeat at the Higgenbottom Pool. 

“I told [the girls] they should hold their heads up high. It was just some little things that, in hindsight, we could have done better, and I accepted the blame for that,” said Crosscup.

“They did nothing wrong. I should have had them just a little bit better prepared. But we can’t take anything away from Reading. They were the better team today,” he said.

In fact, the meet came down to the final relay, the 4×400-yard freestyle, in which Belmont needed to win and a second for a win, and a win and a third place finish for a tie. By the final leg, as Belmont’s senior captain Jessie Blake-West took off from the blocks, she was nearly 10 yards behind Reading’s sprint specialist senior captain Christina Tzianabos, who finished eighth in the 100-yard freestyle in last year’s state championships. But in one of the most impressive swims of the season, Blake-West cut seconds off the advantage, chasing down and nearly catching Tzinanbos, being inched out by less that a half a second as the standing-room-only crowd urged her on.

“She’s exceptional. [Blake-West] is a once-in-a-lifetime swimmer to coach,” said Crosscup.

While Reading, coached by Hall of Famer Lois Margeson – in her 28th season – threw down personal best times, the Marauders appeared less than sharp in the water.

The sense that something was amiss came in the first event, the 200-yard medley relay in which Belmont is the defending Div. 2 state champions. While Blake-West (in her favorite butterfly) and breaststroker Emily Quinn established a lead, it wasn’t enough of a buffer as Tzinanbos swam down Belmont’s Solvay Metelmann to out touch the senior by six-hundredth of a second (1:55.50 to 1:55.56).

And while Belmont won the same number of events as Reading (five to five with a tie), the Rockets came up big in what has been a Belmont bug-a-boo for the past two years, the sprint freestyles, (the 50 and 100 yards) taking home a total of 22 points to only 10 for the Marauders.

One bright spot in the frees was Belmont’s freshman Nicole Kalavantis, who dominated the distances, winning the 500 yard going under five-and-a-half minutes (5:28.91) and the 200 (2:04.59) where she pulled away from Reading’s freshman phenom and winner of the 100 yards free, Marie Letendre.

“Our freestylers did a wonderful job. [Reading] just has some real strong ones,” said Crosscup.

Blake-West dominated the two individual events in which she won at last year’s state championship, the 200 individual medley (2:14.62) and the 100 butterfly, in which she swam in 57.10. 

Belmont’s diving stalwart Cynthia Kelsey took home a comfortable 266.70 to 199.73 point decision over freshman Maddie Doyle in the 1 meter. 

In some surprising results, Belmont lost each of the relays (200, 400 and medley) and Quinn, who finished third in last year’s state championships, was caught and passed in the 100 breast by yet another Rocket freshman, Anna Roberts, 1:11.00 to 1:11.57. 

When Blake-West could not make a remarkable comeback in the final event and the handshakes given, the team sat before Crosscup, who was sitting on a starting block. Rather than speak about the meet, he congratulated swimmers who set times that qualified them for the coming sectional and state championships.

And Crosscup was already thinking about the league meet being held Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 4 and 5, at Bentley College. 

“We should be solid at the league meet. I think we could win that,” he said. “I’ve always felt that the League meet is the true test of who is the best.”

Before leaving the pool, the senior co-captains led the team in the team cheer, as they looked forward to the league meet and the state championships.

Sports: Belmont Field Hockey’s Banner Day at Reading [VIDEO]

Photo: The champions. 

The bus taking the Belmont High School Field Hockey team to Reading was late picking them up and was stuck in traffic last Friday, Oct. 23 for the final game of the 2015 regular season.

Finally arriving a half-hour late, the team was given ten minutes to warm up on the chilly late afternoon.

“Hurry up, hurry up,” said Belmont Head Coach Jessie Smith who arrived with 15 varsity players, the JV team and her three children. The team did a little hitting and running before they were called to go out and win their second Middlesex League Liberty Division championship in five years.

In their 16th game, the team was seeking its 14th victory and the chance to raise a banner on the wall of the Wenner Field House.

“We’ve played a lot this week,” said Smith, after guiding her team to victories over 10 win Lexington on Monday and 13 win Winchester Wednesday. While on paper the game against last year’s league champs should have been easier than the first two, “that’s why you play the game, you never can tell who shows up,” said the coach.

But the Marauders got out ahead quickly – scoring a goal on the first shot of the game after 45 seconds from junior midfielder AnneMarie Habelow and a second five minutes later from senior forward Kerri Lynch – and held the Rockets on their end of the field for large segments of the half.

When Reading put Belmont under pressure, this season’s defensive stalwarts of junior defensive sweeper Julia Chase and senior co-captain defender Molly Thayer were there to take the ball out of danger.

Co-captain senior midfielder Serena Nally scored at the end of the first and second halfs to finish off the scoring and with it, the victory and the championship.

“We’ve had some great teams but we’ve never finished a season with 14 wins,” said Smith, who praised the girls for exceeding all her expectations.

“Now they can show their grandchildren their banner,” said Smith.

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Sports: Belmont Football Falls to Reading as Rockets’ Ugly Tactics and Behavior Dominate

Photo: 

According to the mission statement of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body for high school sports, says “[t]he ideals of good sportsmanship, ethical behavior, and integrity should encompass all interscholastic athletics in our community.

“Our athletic fields should be the laboratories to produce good sports who reflect “fair play” in every area of life,” says the statement.

Under the Friday Night Lights in Belmont, the small number of fans who gutted out the torrid of rain witnessed a once proud program fail those ideals that high school sports are based on.

The Harris Field scoreboard indicated Reading Memorial scored 56 points and held host Belmont scoreless, Oct. 9. But at the end of the game, Reading Memorial football walked off the field defeated, having lost the respect of those who witnessed an utter lack of sportsmanship, discipline and accountability from the Reading coaching staff and many players. 

Rather than with class, Reading’s performance on Friday left veteran gridiron observers speechless with a display of crass behavior and ugliness. 

“Reading is a good football team, and we didn’t play our best as evident by the scoreboard,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Yann Kumin.

“But we kept our composure in a game that was … ” said Kumin, pausing to find the words. 

“I’ll just say I was proud of our guys for keeping their composure and keeping their head and continuing to work,” said Kumin.

Belmont (1-3) came into the match with 3-1 Reading (ranked #11 by the Boston Herald, #10 in the Boston Globe poll) knowing it was going to be a struggle to stay with a team seeking a trip to the Division 2 Super Bowl.

The level of superior play was evident quickly in the first three possessions as Reading’s Will Connery ran the opening kickoff 85-yards for a touchdown, Belmont offense went three-and-out after gaining two yards, before Reading quickly stormed down the field as the Rocket’s D’Aundray Burcy scampered 25-yards for Reading’s second touchdown in the first 7 minutes of the game.

The question requiring an answer is why a program holding aces against an opponent would resort to violent cheap shots and common vulgarity throughout the game?

It came from the constant cursing from Reading’s coaches (head coach John Fiore and his assistants) in the first half – heard across the field to the opposite grandstand and on the Belmont sideline – to apparent deliberate attempts at excessive physical infractions against key Belmont players including quarterback Cal Christofori, running back Mekhai Johnson and punter Lowell Haska (Reading was flagged throughout the game for misconduct) culminating in a spearing penalty by a Reading linebacker who launched himself head first into a prone and vulnerable Christofori. 

That final penalty, which is considered extremely dangerous, resulted in the immediate removal of offending player from the game. There was no reaction from the Reading coaches.

“Third time in 45 years,” said the referee of the call, as he shook his head.

While Belmont had a few memorial moments – three 15 yard plus runs by Johnson, Haska’s 50 yard punts and an apparent touchdown pass from Christofori to Joe Shaughnessy that was questionably ruled out of bounds – the game was never in doubt in the favor of Reading after going into the half 42-0.

Yet constant trash talking and late hits continued until the final minutes when both teams sent in their second squads.

Even in victory, Reading’s baseness came to the fore. During the traditional handshake between players at game’s end, Reading players cursed at their Belmont opponents, who were told by their coaches not to respond.

When approached by a Reading assistant coach after the players encounter, Kumin would only express his private disappointment how the game was conducted by the players and coaches.

Belmont Athletic Director James Davis, who attended the game on the Belmont sidelines, said he made a phone call after the game to his counterpart, Reading Athletic Director Tom Zaya, to discuss the spearing penalty and “the game.” 

While not willing to discuss the conversation, Davis said Belmont would continue to approach sports with a positive attitude.

“The culture that’s being established within not just our football but all our sports programs is such that we rise above those types of things. It’s something that we pride ourselves on, and I think it’s indicative why we’ve been recognized last year on the sportsmanship honor roll for not having a single player disqualified throughout the school year. That’s important to us,” said Davis.

With no natural rivalry between the teams in football, the question for the unwarranted hostility from a superior team appears rooted in Reading’s drive to a Super Bowl placement that requires them to defeat weaker opponents by ever greater scores. 

When asked the reason for Readings animosity toward Belmont, Kumin could not explain the myriad examples of abhorrent actions and behavior from Reading.

“We’re not concerned with their program, I’m more concerned with our program. That’s the message that we preach with our kids. I’m just happy that our guys continued to fight, continue to try and execute reps and showed class and pride in everything they did. That’s the Marauder Way, which we preach from start to finish,” he said. 

“I told the team, I’d rather be at the losing end of a 56-0 score with these guys then be over there,” said Kumin, nodding over to the Reading sideline. 

Will Snow Stop Long Enough For Belmont Girls’ Hoops to Qualify for Tournament?

Nine and three.

That sounds pretty good to Belmont High School Girls’ Basketball Head Coach Melissa Hart coming off the court after her squad used its trademark blanket defense to defeat Reading Memorial High, 67-32, Friday, Jan. 30 at Belmont’s Wenner Field House. 

Now if Hart’s players would be a little more … selfish.

“They are so humble and generous that they’re passing when they should take the shot,” said Hart, recalling one of her players dishing the ball to a covered teammate rather than taking an uncontested layup. 

Yet Hart’s sees a silver lining to the team’s “need” to share the rock. 

“That’s not a bad situation to have because they are always looking for the open player,” said Hart.

With nine wins in twelve games, this season’s Marauders are in the midst of the best run in more than a decade. The team is a single win away from automatically qualifying for the MIAA Div. 2 North Sectional tournament.

But will the weather finally cooperate? In the past 10 days, Belmont has seen three games cancelled due to dual snowstorms that settled over eastern Massachusetts including Tuesday’s game away at Arlington. Belmont will get their chance on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at Arlington in a rematch of an earlier game in which the Marauders came from nine-points down in the third quarter to defeat the SpyPonders, 62-54, on Jan. 6.

On Friday, both teams came out a little worst for wear after their storm-related layoffs, with Belmont taking a 5-4 lead after the first eight minutes. In the second quarter, sophomore Sara Stewart (4 points) got the Marauders going with a pair of buckets between a fast-break layup from freshman Jenny Call (9 points including another 3 point shot from the outside threat) put Belmont up by 7 (13-6).

At this point, Belmont’s spotlight defense took over as the Marauders created four consecutive steals, three by senior forward Elena Bragg, in 90 seconds leading to five points (four by Bragg) and Belmont was off and running. By the end of the quarter, Belmont outscored the Rockets, 24 to 10, to lead 28-14.

Friday was the third consecutive game Bragg has come up big on the offensive boards and on the score board, scoring 14 points against Reading.

“The team is working well, our energy level was been high so its so easy to take the lead and get those points,” said Bragg.

The Marauders’ defense limited Reading to 5 points in the third to seal the win. Hart started using many of her bench players in the third (“They are so valuable for this team because they practice our starters extremely hard,” she said) and they stepped up. Senior guard/forward Sara Lyons (6 points) stroke a pair of threes while junior point guard Ani Maroyan (4 points) hit a jumper and two from the charity stripe. Super junior sixth man Samari Winklaar pumped in 11 of her game high 15 points (along with 6 rebounds and 2 steals) in the second half as spark plug junior guard/forward Meghan Ferraro (3 points) threw in a three from downtown. Running the floor was senior Kayla Magno while fellow senior Lauren Noonan clamped down on the defensive end of the court. 

 

Belmont will be tested this week facing a tough Arlington team on Wednesday and host one-loss Woburn on Friday that defeated Belmont by three points last month.

After Statement Win, Belmont Boys’ Hoops Tumbles to Reading, 76-73

At the beginning of the 2014-15 season, Belmont High School Boys’ Basketball Head Coach Adam Pritchard said the Middlesex League was so competitive “any team, no matter their record, can win on any given night.”

Pritchard’s words were particularly prophetic on Friday, Jan. 30, as his tournament-bound Marauders were taken down by a  three-win Reading Memorial High School squad, 76-73, in Belmont’s Wenner Field House.

The loss came just six days after Belmont defeated one of eastern Massachusetts’ top-ten teams and 2013 State Champions, Boston’s Brighton High, 79-65, on Sunday, Jan. 25, at the Martin Luther King Invitational at Boston’s Wentworth Institute.

With big man senior Adam Kleckner (22 points) and junior sixth-man Cole Bartels (9 points) back in the squad, the Marauders’ blew the game open in the third quarter as Belmont behind speedy junior shooting guard Matt Kerans (26 points, 10 assists) rained five three point shots (three from senior forward Seth Altman who finished with 14 points) to outscore the Bengals, 28-15, while its smothering defense kept Brighton’s 6-foot, 6-inch senior center Jason Jones (23 points) to 4 points in the quarter.

So it was not unexpected Friday night that Belmont would rush out to a 24-13 lead (10 points from Kleckner) on a Bartels three-point shot with two minutes left in the first quarter. In their earlier encounter this year, Belmont increased its lead throughout the game and cruised to a 58-41 victory at Reading.

Then, as if the team was sent outside to play, the Marauders’ shooting fell into the deep freeze, just as Reading began hitting the first of five three-point buckets in the half. Led by junior guard Chris Merullo (14 points – who hit three of his four three pointers during the run) and junior strong forward Jared Thorpe-Johnson (8 of 18 points in the second quarter), the Rockets went on a 27-3 run to take a 40-27 lead with 3:47 remaining in the half.

A Kerans three pointer (16 points) started a mini comeback that cut the lead in half by half time, 44-37. Yet with the exception of Kleckner (24 points) who had eight points in the third (6-6 from the charity stripe), Belmont simply could not find the basket with many in-close shots rimming out. Bur at the same time, Reading’s hot-hand cooled off considerably – thanks to a tight, suffocating full-court press – and Belmont was able to cut the lead to one, 50-49, with a minute remaining in the third.

But on its next trip down the court, Reading’s senior captain Mike Algeri (20 points) came to life, hitting three free throws after being fouled attempting a three point shot. Kerans’ late drive and hoop cut the Reading lead to two points, 53-51, at the end of three.

Early in the fourth quarter, a pair of free-throws from Kleckner and two baskets from Kerans gave Belmont a one-point lead at 59-58 and it appeared the Marauders’ had final found a way to victory. Two in-close baskets by Thorpe-Johnson and a three-point shot from Algeri gave the Rockets a 64-61 lead until senior Ben Lazenby’s (10 points) three tied the score at 64.

The game then swung back and forth with a Kleckner hook shot getting Belmont within a single point, 69-68, with 2:24 left. Seconds later, senior guard Jaemar Paul stole the ball but three shots from under the basket failed.

It was another senior, Reading’s Algeri, who did come up big, hitting an three from NBA-distance with less than a minute to give the Rockets, 74-71. A Kerans driving two pointer and a defensive stop gave Belmont the ball with less than 30 seconds remaining. But a long-distance, three-point shot by Kerans hit the rim and Algeri made both free throws after he was fouled to put Reading up by three with 2 seconds left. All chances for a last ditch shot ended for Belmont when the inbound pass hit a Belmont player in the foot and it went out-of-bounds.

Belmont’s next opponent will be at league leading Arlington on Wednesday, Feb. 4.

Belmont Boys’ Basketball Ups Physical Play to Stall Rockets, 58-41

With the grind of league play upon them, the Belmont High School Boys’ Basketball team took to the court on Friday, Jan. 2 against hosts Reading Memorial High School with the objective to get a bit more physical out there.

After suffering its first defeat of the season to a good Billerica team on Monday, Dec. 29, the squad hoped to move bodies around the court to allow the Marauders’ scoring duo of senior center Adam Kletchner and senior point guard Ben Lazenby a bit more room to hit their shots and, consequently, making it harder for the Rockets – just off winning a holiday tournament – offensively.

It worked; as Belmont (4-1) handled the Rockets (2-4), 58-41, in which Lazenby shouldered the bulk of the scoring lost with junior scoring guard Matt Kerans (bandaged hand) and 6th man Cole Bartels sitting on the bench.

“I liked what I saw. They showed a more physical side” of their play, said Belmont Head Coach Adam Pritchard.

The key to the win was the duel role Lazenby took, not only leading the offense but also taking shots usually handled by his partner Kerans. Lazenby finished the game with 21 points which included hitting four three point shots but only going 3 for 10 from the charity stripe.

Pritchard noted that Lazenby was not only doing double duty on the offensive end, “he’s also guarding their best backcourt player. His work rate is very impressive.”

Following Lazenby on the scoring sheet was Kleckner (20 points) who was Mr. Steady, scoring four, six, six and four in each quarter while making it difficult for the Rockets down low.

“Kleckner is Kleckner; he’s getting the job done, especially now when he need him to step up,” said Pritchard.

While no other Belmont player hit more than a single basket, the team’s defense was a marked improvement from Monday’s loss, lead by seniors Jaemar Paul (3 points from the line) and Seth Altman (an important 3 pointer early in the game to put the Marauders’ in the lead) and junior big man Justin Wagner (2 points), each contributing to the defense on the night.