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.

Belmont Girls’ Basketball Puts on Defensive Clinic Blanking Reading

Photo: The scoreboard is correct as Belmont shutout defending Middlesex League champions, Reading, 15-0, in the first quarter to win going away, 50-19. 

The scoreboard clock in the gym at Reading Memorial High School showed two minutes remaining in the second quarter after the Belmont High School Girls’ Basketball team racing to a 23-point lead.

The score: Belmont 23, Reading 0.

The game wasn’t even that close.

In a masterclass of shutdown basketball, the Marauders’ smothered the four-time Middlesex League champions, 50-19, on Friday, Jan 2.

Only a deep three-point shot from Reading guard Michelle Downey (her only basket of the game) with less than two minutes in the half prevented the shutout.

“I think I can remember when we were shut out for a quarter but I have never seen a team nearly keep another team scoreless for a half,” said Belmont Head Coach Melissa Hart who appeared a bit surprised by the level of intensity from a team that features 9th graders and seniors on the court.

Hart pointed out other factors hampering the defending champions: it is an inexperienced team, their point guard – the equivalent of the quarterback – was on crotches while the refs pocketed their whistles to allow for a bit more physical contact during the game.

But it was the Marauders who dictated how the game would be played and its foundation was a relentless defense.

Throughout the game, Belmont (3-1) used its athleticism and tight covering of their opponents to suffocated the Rockets (1-5) offense, reducing it to outside shots as the 30-second shot clock ran down. The Marauders – particularly freshman Carly Christofori (5 points), senior Sophia Eschenbach-Smith (2 points), Irini Nikolaidis (4 points) and junior Samari Winklaar (2 points)– were dogged in running down opponents, diving for balls, reaching in to disrupt Reading’s dribbles and stepping into passing lanes.

When Reading missed shots, Belmont’s veteran low-post players, junior forward Sarah Steward (2 points) and seniors Elena Bragg (8 points) and Linda Herlihy boxed out the opponents to take down the rebound.

Even after half time, the team stepped up their game, scoring the first four times they touched the ball in the third quarter while preventing Reading from scoring for the first four-and-a-half minutes of the second half, leading at the time, 37-3.

Emblematic of that defensive mindset, despite leading by more than 30 points in the final minutes of the game, Steward was sent heavily to the floor after stepped in front of a Reading player driving to the basket to create a charging foul against the Rockets.

The resulting pressure produced opportunities on the other end of the court. Several times, Christofori and Eschenbach-Smith drove near the basket before dishing off the ball to Herlihy to put in a season’s high 16 points to go with three blocks and numerous rebounds.

In addition to winning the battle down low, Belmont upped its total from mid-range baskets, hitting a number of jumpers (Bragg opened the game’s scoring from outside) including a three-point shot from Christofori. The game allowed several bench players to play some significant minutes including senior guard Kayla Magno and junior Ani Maroyan (1 point each), junior point guard Meghan Ferraro (a nice 2 point basket) and sophomore guard Mary Kate Egan, who scored a career high 5 points in the fourth quarter to lead all scorers in the final eight minutes.

“This was a real team win,” said Herlihy, giving credit to the intensity the team brought to the floor.

“It’s great that we are coming together as a team. It makes scoring easy,” said Herlihy.

Belmont will need to show the same defensive skills on Tuesday, Jan. 6 as they take on one-loss Arlington at Wenner Field House at 7 p.m.