Photo: Senior co-captain Samari Winklaar going in for a lay up vs. Melrose.
Belmont High Girls’ Basketball is a young, energetic team filled with talented underclassmen led by a sophomore point guard, Carly Christofori, who can seemingly pull a rabbit out of the hat when needed to spark the team.
But when the squad found itself floundering against a scrappy Melrose team on opening night, it was a trio of seniors – each co-captains – who pushed the Marauders across the finish line as Belmont won its 2015-6 season opener, 61-54, over the Lady Raiders on Tuesday, Dec. 15.
For the aforementioned Sarah Stewart (11 points), Irini Nikolaidis (6 points) and Samari Winklaar (5 points), it was a bit of a “did that, done that,” approach from the veterans of last year’s deep playoff run as they worked with Christofori to grab the victory that only six minutes previous looked in doubt.
“A win’s a win especially now since [games are] never pretty early in the year,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Melissa Hart.
Belmont opened the game on the front foot with Stewart anchoring the defense as the sophomore backcourt duo of Christofori and Jenny Call (10 points including a pair of 3s in the first half) managed the offense, feeding Stewart (11 points) and her replacement junior Reagan Haight (first 2 varsity points) who had a height advantage over Melrose’s forwards. Fellow sophomore forward Greta Propp (9 points) converted a steal and a jumper while Nikolaidis and Winklaar were playing both ends of the court. The result, a 6 point lead at the end of the first eight minutes.
The second quarter was a bit ragged for both sets of players – missed free throws for Melrose, fouls on Belmont – with a Call three giving the Marauders its biggest lead at 13 (29-16) with three minutes in the half before leaving the court with a nine point (31-22) half-time advantage.
But all the hard work nearly went for naught as Belmont was hit by a regenerated Red Raider squad – depleated to eight players after an injury – which used its physicality and an aggressive press to throw the Marauders completely off its stride and complete a 10-1 run to tie the score at 32 with three and a half minutes remaining in the third.
The score see-sawed into the fourth quarter until Melrose’s star guard and captain Sarah Foote hit a three with exactly six minutes to go in the game to give the Raiders its biggest margin of the night, 41-38.
“Melrose is good, they are going to do OK because they have some great shooters,” said Hart.
In came the seniors which helped cool Melrose momentum as Stewart’s height advantage stopped the Raiders getting more than one shot at the basket while Winklaar threw in an offensive rebound and hit the resulting foul shot to give Belmont a five point lead at 48-43.
On the defensive side, the seniors were joined by freshman Megan Tan whose outstanding speed and positioning gives some thought of her being a future designated “stopper,” placed in the face to the opponant’s best player.
Nikolaidis downed one of two free throws (all six of her points came from the charity stripe) after a Christofori (who finished the game with a team high 17 points) driving hoop to up the lead to a comfortable nine, 53-44, with 2:47 left.
“It was good to have this one out of the way. A lot of nerves when we were pressed. Friday is the next challenge,” said Hart, as Belmont prepares for Stoneham away on Friday. The first home game is Monday at 7 p.m. at the Wenner vs. Wilmington.