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.