Photo: The bench and players on the court cheer what would be the game-winning basket from Greta Propp.
When Reading High’s sophomore guard Isabella Zagami hit an off-balance 3 pointer to tie its game with Belmont at 51 with less than 40 seconds in the game, it could have been a knife to the heart to the host Marauders.
But rather than dwell on what just occurred, Belmont immediately took the ball inbounds and grabbed the game by the throat and a championship into their hands.
Taking the ball from half court, sophomore forward Jane Mahon turned and headed directly to the basket. With a pair of Reading players stepping up to cut off her path to the hoop, Mahon lifted a soft, floating pass to a wide open junior forward Greta Propp who hit the easy bucket while being fouled.
“I said, ‘please, Greta, grab the ball,” said Mahon after Belmont (14-3) defeated the red hot (a nine-game winning streak snapped) Reading Rocket team, 57-51, to secure a share of the Middlesex League Liberty title with Woburn on Seniors Night, Thursday, Feb. 16.
In a game close from the second quarter on, the chemistry between the players on the court gave Belmont the victory.
“Our starters and those coming off the bench just have a great feel for the game and especially here,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Melissa Hart. She particularly praised sophomore off guard Meghan Tan for her standup defense and timely hoops.
“The hands that she got on the ball and the rebounds, she just made a lot of stuff happen.”
As her policy, Hart started all her seniors – the Haight twins, Reagan and Riley, Mary Kate Egan and the injured Margaux d’Arbeloff who came off after the tip – along with captain point guard Carly Christofori and junior Jenny Call. While Belmont fell behind early, 11-5 midway through the first, Hart noted it had less to do with the skills of the seniors rather the unfamiliarity of whom they were playing.
Reading entered the second up by a surprising 11, 18-5, led by its young trio of underclassmen, sophomore forward Alyssa Pryputniewicz, junior Kathryn Nestor and the Rockets’ stellar sophomore Haley Lightbody who is making her mark with her quickness and shooting ability.
Belmont soon cut the margin within two minutes with an eight-point run from 3s from Tan and Call along with a pair of free throws from Christofori “who is such a stabilizing force,” said Hart. Belmont’s 17-8 quarter – highlighted by Mahon’s pair of jumpers – allowed the slow starting Marauders to trail the Rockets by two, 26-24, at the half.
The second act was much as the first, with a paper-thin margin between the squads with Belmont’s sophomore center Jess Giorgio (4 points in the third) and Propp (7 third quarter points of her team-high 13 points) led the Marauders while Lightbody kept the Rockets in the game despite of Belmont defensive press.
The game’s big breakout came as the teams prepared for the final stanza tied at 36 as Belmont went the Stephen Curry route as Christofori and Call hit 3s from distance to take a six-point lead into the final quarter.
Belmont would keep the lead at half-a-dozen for six of the eight minutes with a basket Tan – who earlier in the quarter scored on a 3 and made two critical assists – giving the Marauders a five-point lead at the two-minute-to-go point, 51-46.
But Zagami made Belmont pay for a lazy pass with a steal with Lightbody making the hoop with 1:35 left, now 51-48. The Marauders were nearly a victim of a second steal, but Reading fumbled the ball out-of-bounds. But a Call layup on a quick pass break was stuffed by (that person) Lightbody which soon turn into Zagami’s fleeting highlight moment.
After Propp’s hoop and free throw, Reading took a timeout to map out a sure thing play, but a momentary bobble by a Reading guard was pounced on by Tan who secured the ball to Christofori who would sink three of four from the charity stripe to secure the game.
“This team has a real confidence, we don’t get down when we are behind,” said junior guard Alexa Sabatino.
Next up for Belmont is a tough stretch of post-season matchups beginning with two games at the 2017 Spartan Classic starting Sunday against an excellent Pentucket squad with the second game on Monday. Finally, a rematch against Lowell, the only team to defeat Belmont other than Woburn.
“We want to play tough games because that will prepare us for the playoffs,” said Hart.