Photo: Belmont Girls’ Basketball team celebrates its victory at Marblehead.
The great American philosopher and pugilist Mike Tyson says that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
And for most of the opening quarter of its playoff game at 7th-seed Marblehead Thursday, March 3, Belmont High Girls’ Basketball took a good one on the chin as it was looking at a double-digit deficit and having yet to score a single point.
But a critical change in its game plan and contributions from nearly every player on the Marauders’ long bench – 18 players ready to play – turned the game on its head in Belmont’s favor as the visitors’ suffocating defense totally shut down the number host Magicians for a convincing 43-28 victory in the MIAA Division 2 North sectional playoffs.
“Everyone stepped up tonight, they really did. If they were on the floor, they contributed something good for us,” said a happy Belmont Head Coach Melissa Hart told the Belmontonian.
“We made mistakes, it wasn’t a perfect game. But the players came back from their mistakes which was a good step for us. We didn’t just get down and let it spiral down,” she said.
And the game could have gotten out of hand as there could not have had an uglier start to a basketball game then Belmont’s first four minutes. From the tipoff, the Magicians were off and running, winning rebounds, forcing Belmont to take long range shots and finding lots of room against Belmont’s zone defense to make baskets seemingly at will.
By the time Hart called a timeout, Belmont was looking up at a 10-0 scoreboard. But there was no panic from the players or Hart on the sideline.
“We have lots of time left in this game,” said Hart, as she told her starters to abandoned the zone they started the game in and revert to its time-tested man-to-man defense that has been the team’s bread and butter for the past two years.
“They came out and stunned us. We were a little nervous but Marblehead was ready to go and they took it to us,” said Hart.
While the Magicians would score on a quick break to take a 12 point lead at the five-minute mark, Belmont’s “in your face” defense appeared to unnerve the Magicians as it committed a pair of turnovers including a 30-second violation.
Belmont found the scoreboard from sophomore guard Jenny Call (7 points) who bagged a couple of threes to help cut Marblehead’s lead to six, 14-8, entering the second quarter.
The second eight minutes was one of the best of the season from the Marauders as it outscored the Magicians 17-4 as a pair of freshmen made their mark in the game.
Guard Megan Tan had her statement game of the season, making life a misery for her counterpart, Nicole Freedo (8 points, all in the first quarter) while complementing All-Star sophomore point guard Carly Christofori on offense. Tan (a team-high 8 points) also brought her shooting game with her, scoring on the break before hitting a three at the five-minute mark to give the Marauders’ its first lead of the game, 15-14.
After Marblehead had retaken the lead, Christofori (7 points) drained her own trey to provide the Marauders a lead (18-16) they would not surrender until the final buzzer.
Coming in for senior starter Sarah Stewart who picked up two quick fouls, ninth grader center Jess Giorgio held her own against Marblehead’s big girl duo of juniors Lindsay Walker (3 points) and Abby Settlemeyer (4 points) , grabbing 9 rebounds, hitting 2 of 4 free throws and unofficially blocking five shots in a standout performance.
Senior forward and co-captain Samri Winklaar (7 points) took advantage of the open space by hitting a pair of runners in the paint, the final hoop finishing off a 17-4 quarter to leave the court up 25-18 at the half.
Both teams came out of the break with an eye on playing defense with Belmont holding the edge with the return of Stewart. The senior would dominate under the glass, picking up phenomenal 14 rebounds, nearly all in the second half, to go with 6 points, most of those put backs from critical offensive rebounds.
The rebounding by [Giorgio] and Sarah Stewart was phenomenal. That was probably the biggest difference was the rebounding changed a lot and we were able to shot and miss and get something which wasn’t happening [early in the game],” said Hart.
Marblehead would come within six points, 29-23, when Tan wrestled the ball away from the point guard and stuck the easy layup. A turnaround jumper from sophomore Greta Propp and a free throw from Call put Belmont up by nine, 34-25, with eight minutes to play,
By the final quarter, Marblehead had no answer for the relentless Marauder defense, scoring just a three-point basket for their only points in the quarter. By the final minute, Belmont’s reserve players were on the court, with seniors Sophia Cellucci draining a buzzer-beating three pointer and Meghan Ferraro putting in a driving shot and draining the free throw after being fouled.
Next up for Belmont, 12-9, is a trip to Newburyport (which many of the players had no idea where it is located) on Saturday, March 5 to play the second-seed Newburyport High Clippers (17-3), with tipoff at 4 p.m.
The Clippers, which has not played a regular game in two weeks, is led by its only senior player, Emily Pettigrew, who is supported by younger players such as sophomore Krysta Padellaro, freshmen Katie Hadden and Anna Hickman and junior Olivia Olson.
But on Thursday, the underdogs took their time leaving the court, wishing to celebrate the upset before making the one hour drive home.