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.