The latest edition of the Belmont vs Woburn girls basketball rivalry was less a grudge match – both teams winning at home during league play – than a straight up beat down as the Marauders thoroughly outplayed the number 1 seeded Tanners in the Division 1 North semifinals to walk off the court with a 58-47 victory on Thursday, March 8 at Burlington High School.
Belmont (19-3) will meet number 2 seed Central Catholic High School of Lawrence (21-2) in the North Sectional finals at 6 p.m. at Lowell’s Tsongas Arena after the Raiders defeated Lowell, 56-43, on Friday.
Against Woburn, senior point guard Carly Christofori was her own highlight reel, barely missing a triple-double scoring 18 points (including four threes) to go along with 11 rebounds and 9 assists to quarterback the Marauders’ offense with the finesse of a veteran Middlesex League All-Star.
“We played Woburn twice this year … and we end up [Middlesex League Liberty] co-champs. So when we heard we were playing them in the tournament, we were really excited for this game and pumped up because we knew we could compete against a bigger town and a big team like Woburn,” said the four-year starter who reaches her second North final on Saturday.
“Carly was immense, what can you say?” said Belmont Head Coach Melissa Hart. “Her shooting was so great, especially the threes. I don’t think she missed any tonight.”
While Belmont was impressive on the offensive side of the ball, it was the team’s half-court defensive scheme which was the game’s difference maker. After coming off an 83 point performance against Beverly, the Tanners found the Marauders’ match-up zone defense suffocating, allowing Woburn only single digits (5 in the first and 7 in the second) in the first two quarters.
“The kids were talking, moving and rebounding all night. Woburn didn’t have as good a shooting night as they sometimes have,” said Hart. “It was that our girls were right there all the time.”
Junior center Jess Giorgio gave Belmont a spark in the first quarter with four points in the paint, a pair of assists and a block in the first eight minutes.
“Before the game, the whole team was so excited to meet Woburn because we said the whole year that the real game was going to happen at the tournament,” said Giorgio.
Belmont blew the doors off the game in the second quarter. In the final 4:48, the Marauders outplayed the Tanners to the tune of a 16-2 run highlighted by a barrage of consecutive threes starting with senior Kylie Rhone, and followed by Christofori with the final two treys from junior guard Megan Tan (13 points to go with her 27 against Andover) the final bomb coming with 8 seconds remaining to give Belmont a 31-12 lead at the half.
If there is a bugaboo for Belmont teams in the past three playoff seasons, it’s been a tendency to come out flat in the third quarter and see a lead evaporate. But on Thursday, Belmont came out firing with Greta Propp powering for a layup for the first points in the half to push the lead up to 21, 33-12. For every Tanner basket, the Marauders had a response; Jenny Call hitting a three and Jane Mahon popping a mid-range jumper to keep the lead at 21, 38-17, midway through the quarter. A Christofori killer three off the dribble with 58.1 seconds remaining built Belmont’s lead to its largest margin of the game, 23 points (45-22) effectively putting the game in the Belmont win column.
The fourth quarter had a sense of inevitability of the outcome. Woburn would cut the lead to 13 – with the help of less than stellar free throw shooting by the Marauders which shot 6 for 20 from the charity stripe – and had a chance to bring it to 10 with 1:20 to go but missed free throws ended the mini-surge well short of troubling Hart or her team. When the buzzer sounded, Belmont took to the floor to celebrate.
“We knew we could win and this just proves we belong in Division 1 with any team,” said Christofori.