Belmont Girls’ Basketball Push Unbeaten Woburn to Limit, 59-56

Photo: Belmont High School junior (#15) Irini Nikolaidis heading for the basket defended by Woburn High School senior Taylor Kane at a game in Woburn on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015.

There are no good losses.

But for Belmont High School Girls’ Basketball Head Coach Melissa Hart, the team’s 59-56 loss to undefeated Woburn High School on Friday, Jan. 9, did have a lot of positives her squad can build on.

“We’ll learn from [the game],” Hart said. “This is hardly a loss we’ll look back and shake our heads.”

After falling behind by 10 points at the start of the game and being down by as much as 16 points midway through the third quarter, Belmont (4-2 overall and in the Middlesex League) would outscore the high scoring Tanners 38-21 with a combination of a up-tempo offense and its trademark high-power defense that visibly tired the hosts.

Only the play by Tanner all-star senior Sam D’Angelo who put in 8 of her 18 points in the final eight minutes allowed Woburn (8-0, 6-0 in the league) to escape with the win in its most challenging game of the season.

Not that Belmont started the game looking like a team to challenge the table toppers. The Marauders was tentative facing an aggressive opponent, finally scoring with a strong move by senior center Linda Herlihy at the 3:37 in the first quarter to make the score 10-3.

“This reminded me of the Watertown game (an opening loss of the season); [the team] was so unselfish because they didn’t want to make a mistake,” said Hart.

But the damage was done as Belmont’s vaunted defense was being beaten by long outlet passes before either hitting open players driving to the basket or waiting to take outside shots.

“Our press was not the best but you have to give a lot of credit to Woburn. That’s a very good team,” said Hart.

Down 19-6 after the first quarter and 29-17 at the half, Belmont’s sloppy work on the offense side of the ball allowed the Tanners to run off to the 38-21 lead.

But for the final 11 minutes of the game, Belmont began its comeback, starting with two steals that led to a pair of foul shots from freshman point guard Carly Christofori (4 points) and a three-pointer from fellow frosh Jenny Call (10 points including a pair of threes) to brought the score to 45-34 at the start of the fourth quarter.

As in past games, the Marauders followed the lead of senior point guard Sophia Eschenbach-Smith (7 points and three assists), Herlihy (8 of her 18 tough inside-the-paint points in the fourth to go along with 5 rebounds) and junior shooting guard Irini Nikolaidis (12 points) to cut into the Tanner lead.

On defense, senior Samari Winklaar (5 points) began pushing around the exhausted Woburn players into mistakes. The 11-point margin quickly fell to six, 49-43, with 5 minutes remaining on Herlihy’s turnaround, bank shot.

“Sometimes you have to forget the score and play,” said Herlihy. “We just ran the floor and tired them out.”

A pair from Call including a long three kept Belmont close at 55-48 midway through the quarter before a Nikolaidis layup from a court long pass from Christofori, a pair of free throws from Herlihy and Nikolaidis and a pretty step-back three from Eschenbach-Smith reduced the lead to five before Christofori hit two from the charity stripe to whittle the Tanner’s lead down to a single possession.

But Belmont’s charge was a little too late in the game as time ran out.

“We need to stay close for the entire game with good teams. We seemed to be battling from 10 to 12 points behind for most of the game. But they never gave up. They know they are capable of coming back,” said Hart.

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