Photo: All photos by David Flanagan.
The Belmont High Girls’ Basketball team conducted a masterclass in winning as a team as the Marauders’ used a smothering defense and “step up” offense to defeat a strong and talented Andover High squad, 51-44, in the MIAA Division 1 North semifinals,
“That was a big time team victory,” said Melissa Hart, Belmont’s head coach now in her 9th year at the helm of the program.
The Marauders have now punched its ticket for a return trip to the Sectional finals for a rematch with last year’s opponent, Central Catholic, at the Tsongas Center in Lowell. The finals will be held on Saturday, March 9, at 6 p.m.
The team win was to Jess Giorgio, the team’s senior leader, the columination of a season worth of hard work.
“I’m really proud of this team. It was a lot of fun tonight,” said the four-year starter who along with her fellow captain, Megan Tan, have committed to Bowdoin next year.
Head coach Melissa Hart said when Andover – which won 18 games this season – would have a spurt in the second half, the Marauders did not loss its nerve. “The seniors are fired up and focused. They’ve been good leaders and dedicated.”
The Belmont win was accomplished by each player stepping up when out on the court, which Hart noted, was sometimes just for a few minutes or after they had made a miscue.
For sophomore center Emma McDevitt, it was burying two free throws after being slammed to the court seconds after being shoved to the floor for the first time, senior Ella Gagnon loomed large under the boards, and freshman reserve guard Bridgette Martin hit a pair of 3s and scored a critical eight points in the second quarter to allow Belmont to extend its lead at the half, 29-21.
“People gave me the ball knowing I can score,” said Martin.
Trailing only once in the game, at 0-2, Belmont was able to out hustle the Golden Eagles early to take an 8-2 lead only to see a duo of threes cut margain to 2 at the end of the first, 10-8. After seeing the score tied at 10-10, Belmont would go on a 7-0 run on Martin’s 3 and a 2 followed by give and go when Tan passed to an open Maiya Bergdorf. Belmont kept rolling with Martian’s second 3 followed by a midrange bucket by senior forward Jane Mahon and a “why not” 3 from sophomore point guard Kiki Christofori to give Belmont an 8 point lead, 29-21, at the break.
Despite stepping up its defense and opening up on offense, Andover could not throw off the smothering zone defense Belmont has been known for all season. A Giorgio 2 inside and a Mahon bucket increased the lead to 33-23 midway through the third. Andover closed the game to 6 at 38-32 with a minute to play in the third but McDevitt’s clutch free throws after being mauled and Giorgio’s putback off a miss reupped the score to give the Marauders a 10 point lead, 42-32, at the beginning of the fourth.
Andover crept back into the game at 45-39 with 3:35 remaining in the game. But a critical block by Mahon, who finished co-high scorer with Martin with 8 points, who scored on a backdoor pass on the other end of the court followed by Gagnon’s own backdoor hoop, to make it 49-39, all but sealed the victory. Sophomore Nina Minicozzi iced the win with a pair of free throws to make it a three possession game with 18.4 seconds to play.