After Dominating Wins, Belmont Boys’, Girls’ Hoops Meet Woburn In Semis Doubleheader

Photo: Jake Pollack under the basket vs. Melrose.

The Belmont High Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball teams are off to their North Sectional semifinals against Middlesex League rivals Woburn High on Thursday, March 8 after the both Marauder squads dominated their quarterfinals over the past weekend.

The doubleheader – the girls’ play at 5:30 p.m. and the boys’ at 7:30 p.m. at Burlington High School – was pushed back a day due to Wednesday’s pending Nor’easter. 

Tan’s career night leads Girls over last year’s champs Andover Saturday.

Just a little bit of self-confidence went a long way for Marauders’ junior guard Megan Tan on Saturday, March 3, against defending Division 1 North titleholders Andover High as Tan scored a career-high 27 points including three from beyond the arc as Belmont eased past the Golden Eagles, 68-46, in the Division 1 North sectional quarterfinals played in Belmont.

One would think that a three-year starter and mainstay of Belmont’s smothering defense would be at ease on the court. But Tan said this season she’s been struggling with mostly her shot selection.

“Throughout the year I’ve kinda struggled with my confidence. [Belmont Head] Coach (Melissa) Hart and I talked about it a lot. So today I had my head in the game,” said Tan after the game.

“I was playing like I wanted to play tonight and it worked out,” said Tan, who also contributed two assists and three steals for baskets resulting in six points.

But from Hart’s view, the victory was achieved by more than just giving the ball to Tan and watching her score.

“Everyone played really well. It wasn’t one of those one player games. It was a team win,” said Hart

Tan (a layup and the first of her threes) and Belmont got off to a quick start, up 7-0. Andover came back behind junior guard Gia Bramanti (6 in the quarter, 12 for the game), who at 6 feet towers over Tan who was covering her on defense, with the first quarter ending with the Marauders up two, 15-13 with Tan collecting 9 points in the stanza.

Up 18-16 early in the second, Belmont began grinding the game out, play by play, starting off with a trey from senior Jenny Call (6 points), the team’s career leader in threes. Junior Jane Mahon (6 points), Belmont’s sixth man, hit her trademark short jumper followed by workhorse senior forward Greta Propp’s layup (2 of her 10 points), Mahon again scoring in close with senior point guard Carly Christofori (6 points and a team-leading 6 rebounds) spinning in for two of her six points and suddenly Belmont was up 1o, 29-19, with 2:40 left in the half.

On the other end of the court, junior center Jess Giorgio (9 points) blocked a Bramanti runner while the team’s pressing pressure caused a traveling call on Andover on the next possession.

“Our defense frustrated them, and that was the real difference,” said Hart. Tan’s second three would give her 15 while the defense held the Golden Eagles to six in the quarter as the Marauders led at the break 34-19.

Belmont continued pressing its advantage in the second half as it steadily opened up an ever-increasing lead. The final quarter resembled a rec league game as the defense took a seat on the sidelines. 

As for meeting co-Middlesex League champs Woburn (19-2) for the third time this season – each team winning at home – “it will be a game of wills,” said Hart.

“It’s kind of nice to play them again because one of us can put this debate to rest. Hopefully, it’s us,” said Hart.

Slow start, fast finish as Boys’ dismantle Melrose

Trailing 11-0 to Middlesex League-rivals Melrose High after the first three minutes was not how Belmont High’s Head Coach Adam Pritchard was expecting from his team which just dismantled Charlestown High, 72-47, on Feb. 27. 

The Raiders arrived at the Wenner Field House looking for its second big playoff win after upsetting five-seed Masconomet earlier in the week and came out against the Marauders’ going right at the basket while deploying a 2-3 zone that cramped Belmont’s offense. 

But for Pritchard, the optimum word during the Raiders’ early run wasn’t “panic” but “patience.” 

“It was scary. They were really prepared to play, and we had to change things defensively to get it going. We took some chances, and it worked out,” said the longtime coach as his team proved their standing as the fourth seed by dispatching Melrose, 72-52, on Sunday night before the Academy Awards. 

A driving hoop by junior all-star Danny Yardemian put Belmont onto the scoreboard and senior forward Will Ellet first of five threes cut the lead to 11-5. 

While Yardemian and Ellet (each finishing with 17 points) were taking their game outside, the dirty work under the basket was assigned to senior center Jake Pollack that once again was looking up to a taller opposite center. Pollack’s presence came with a pair of offensive rebounds and a putback basket to tie the score at 13 with less than a minute remaining in the first. The quarter ended with Yardemian acting as a teacher, schooling the Melrose defender with a step back jumper to give Belmont its first lead of the game, 15-13. 

“We were resilient in the first quarter. A lot of teams can go down and get it into their heads. But we kept on going. We wouldn’t let the score take us from our game,” said Pritchard.

The second quarter was a back and forth affair knotted up at 20 with 4 minutes remaining as Belmont freshman Tim Minicozzi scored 5 of his 7 game points subbing for Yardemian who picked up his second foul early. Melrose took its final lead at 22-20 at 3:24 but it would be the Raiders’ highwater mark as Belmont’s pressure defense created a 10-second half court violation followed by yet another Ellet trey. As an explanation point, Ellet hustled down court to administer a monster block on an attempted layup which resulted in a 30-second violation.

With two minutes left in the quarter, Ellet’s fourth three of the half preceded Yardemian’s own three before the point guard spotted Pollack under the basket for a pair. Junior Ben Sseruwagi’s up and in (2 of his 8 points) and a Pollack block and rebound preserved a Marauders lead at the half, 33-26.

The third quarter is where the cream rose to the top as Belmont’s team defense and talent blew the game open as the Marauders outscored the Raiders’ 31-8 with Pollack battling for five of this 10 points before leaving the game due to a “turned ankle,” according to Pritchard.

“I had to hustle on both sides of the ball, get a defensive rebound than sprint down court and get an offensive rebound and put back. Every time, just outwork the other big guys,” said Pollack. 

By the fourth, both teams gave their reserves an opportunity to grab a few playoff minutes with Belmont using every one they could find on the bench.

For the second game running, Pritchard praised Pollack’s battling nature on the boards.

“We play a smaller lineup, and we have a kid who is going after rebounds, blocking shots and pressuring full court. He’s a special athlete. That motor is something,” Pritchard said.

Woburn (15-7) is a familiar opponent for Belmont (17-5) having beaten the Tanners both times they faced them this season. 

“I love [the Woburn coaching staff],” said Pritchard. “The coach is a good friend of mine, and the kids on both teams are very familiar with each other so it should be a heck of a game. It should be fun.” 

Watertown/Belmont Girls’ Hockey Slides By Andover, 2-1; Austin Prep Next on Wednesday

Photo: Watertown/Belmont’s Erin McLaughlin redirects the puck past Andover goalie Meaghan Johnson for the Mauraiders’ first goal.

Goals by senior captain Erin McLaughlin and sophomore Aurora Fidler provided the margin of victory as the Watertown/Belmont combined high schools girls’ ice hockey team skated by a resilient Andover High School (19-3-1) squad in a first round match in the Division 1 state championship tournament at Watertown’s Ryan Rink Saturday, Feb. 28.

“It was a very exciting game. Maybe too exciting. But we got one under our belts,” said Watertown/Belmont Head Coach Steve Russo to the Belmontonian as his 4th-ranked team advances to the quarterfinals where it will meet fifth-seed Austin Prep of Reading.

The game is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, March 4 at 6 p.m. in Woburn. 

In a match which Watertown/Belmont (19-3-1) dominated large portions of the first and second periods, it was Andover’s defense – led by senior goaltender Meaghan Johnson and standout junior defender Jillian Hughes – which kept Watertown/Belmont’s top line, which includes all-star senior forward Emily Loprete, in check.

“We were inches away several times, hitting a post once, but we just couldn’t score that early goal,” said Russo.

While the Maraiders were in control for long stretches, the Golden Eagles found gaps in the Watertown/Belmont back line which resulted in a number of odd man rushes at veteran freshman goaltender Jonna Kennedy – she started last year as an eighth grader. But nearly all the partial breaks were broken down before reaching the net by the speedy defenders, led by senior co-captain Suzanne Noone and junior Serena Nally

“We have people that work hard to get back when a mistake is made and as you saw, they had several opportunities to score when our defense and forwards made the play to deny,” said Russo. 

It took a pair of penalties early in the second and third periods to open space on the ice for the Maraiders to take advantage.

After an interference penalty on Andover, a shot from the point by junior defender Kelly McCusker-Brown found McLaughlin in slot where the senior redirected the puck just past Johnson’s left pad into the net second minute into the middle stanza.

Watertown/Belmont’s second goal was a moment of being in the right place for Fidler who knocked in a loose puck in the crease to double the lead also two minutes into the final period, assisted by McLaughlin and Nally. 

Soon after the second goal, Andover began to exploit a tiring Watertown/Belmont squad.

“That happens in playoff games,” said Russo. “You get the jitters, the adrenaline wears off, it happens.” 

Soon, Andover drew a penalty just before midway through the period and scored on a wrist shot in close from senior captain Jessica Leone with assists from fellow senior captain Caroline Hughes and Jillian Hughes. 

“Andover kept coming. They played with some desperation and they’re a really good team,” said Russo. 

The Golden Eagles nearly knotted up the contest with five-and-a-half minutes left with a shot from a swarm in the slot hit Kennedy at the last second. While a penalty against Watertown/Belmont with 30 seconds remaining allowed Andover to pull their goalie and have six skaters against the Maraiders’ four, two final shots from the point didn’t reach Kennedy as they were blocked out front. 

For Russo, Saturday’s victory belonged to the team rather than a couple of individual players who performed well. 

“All three [offensive] lines did their job today. Everybody did what was asked of them,” said Russo. 


Sports: Belmont Field Hockey Season Ends in Extra Time and Tears

Belmont High Field Hockey senior co-captains Olivia Castagno and Suzanne Noone had tears in their eyes minutes after a world-class goal ended the team’s successful season in a 1-0 overtime defeat at the hands of second-seed Andover High School in the quarterfinals of the MIAA Div. 2 North sectional finals.

On a blustery, cold Sunday night, Nov. 2, the pair said the tears were not just in losing a game in which the 10th seed Marauders (12-5-2) were the equals to the pitch with the one-loss Golden Eagles (18-1-1) who’ve been ranked for the entire season in the top five teams in the Boston Globe’s Top 20 ranking.

The tears were also that the pair, who have played on the varsity for the past three years, along with ten fellow seniors would never play together again.

“This was a really great team. We like each other a lot. We had so much fun, and we have a great attitude all the time. It’s just a good group,” said Noone.

“We’re all such good friends and get along so well and we’re sad to see its over,” said Castagno.

“I love this team,” said head coach Jessica Smith who didn’t try to wipe away her emotions.

“Coming to practice each day was fun. I mean, there’re 12 seniors, so just that makes it a joy. I never cancelled practice which they were sometimes made at me for but I love being there with them,” said Smith “They became just as close as my family because my family’s there (Smith has her three small children at games and practices). So it’s really, really sad.”

Belmont’s accomplishment Sunday is especially striking since the team comes from a school district with the least number of students, 1,183, of the eight teams in the Div. 1 North quarterfinals.

Andover High with 1,799 students in 2013-14, has 616 more pupils or about 300 additional female students to recruit to the team. That advantage is the equivalent of Belmont’s entire graduating class in 2016. If Belmont had made the finals, it would have likely meet Acton-Boxborough Regional, the number 1 seed, a school with 1,960 students.

“It’s so ridiculous,” said Smith on being placed in Division 1, which occurred four days before last year’s playoffs.

In a game which Belmont found outstanding first-half goalkeeping from senior Kate Saylor and the exceptional end line-to-end line work by sophomore AnnMarie Habelow, the Marauders weather a first half storm to outplay the champions of the perennial Merrimack Valley champions for the majority of the second half, garnering a slew of shots and penalty corners during a 15 minute stretch.

Saylor “saved our asses in the first half. We were flat and played a little scared,” said Smith “You’re here in Andover with a top seed, you know it and it’s scary.”

Saylor made numerous pad, and kick saves and took away a pair of great goal scoring opportunities midway in the first half by diving for balls on Andover sticks within the scoring circle. She also benefited from the goalkeepers best friend when a hard shot hit the post midway through the half.

“Everyone played amazing especially since the conditions [were not optimal] because it was really cold,” Saylor said.

“It was all or nothing in what could be the last game of the season,” said Saylor.

While the defense was stretched by the Andover speedy attack, Belmont’s back line, anchored by junior defender Molly Thayer and senior center back Emma Pejko, kept the Golden Eagles contained by keeping the attack in front of them.

On the field, Andover used its size – several times overwhelming Belmont players to take possession – and great speed advantage to compensate for stick skills that didn’t “wow” the Belmont bench. They moved actively to the ball and were disciplined and organized in the back.

The player who did “wow” the spectators – a good number of vocal Belmont parents and friends outnumbered the home team’s supporters – was 10th grader Habelow who proved to be an unsolvable puzzle for Andover’s attacking forwards. Numerous times Habelow would flatten her stick and outmaneuver an attacking player to the ball for a clean steal. More than once, her full-swing clearing shots from deep in Belmont’s end sent Andover midfielders scrambling for cover.

After relying on Saylor in the first half, Belmont began playing its game of quick passing through junior midfielder Serena Nally mixed with strong running from Noone who kept Andover’s midfielders honest by forcing them to remain further back in their end of the field than they wanted. Statistically, Belmont held the edge on shots and penalty corners in the half.

“The second half turned it around, and we start playing our game, passing to each other,” said Smith. “You know, we realized that we were just as good skill-wise as they were.”

In the later stages of the second, Belmont had their best chances in the game; a powerful run by senior forward Haley Sawyer who placed the ball on the goalie’s pad, a strong run by Noone down the right wing who took a strong shot that skipped through the goal mouth just missing a charging Beth Young, a run by junior forward Kerri Lynch on the left that was stopped at the last minute and Habelow down low on a penalty corner whose dribble five meters out was batted away by defender Jillian Hughes.

Andover wanted no part of a sudden death as they pushed up nine players – a usual corner has six players – for a penalty corner in the final minute only to have the maneuver thwarted by Thayer.

When the whistle blew to end regular time, Smith felt confident that her overtime line up – teams are limited to a goalkeeper and six field players as opposed to 11 during normal time – of Lynch, Nally, Sawyer, Noone, Habelow, Thayer and Saylor would give the Marauders the advantage in sudden death.

“We didn’t have any great scoring opportunities in the game. But I really thought when we got into overtime; we could do it,” said Smith.

But Belmont never established a strong attack with Habelow’s two trips down the right wing coming empty.

“They started with the ball and got it down in our end. It was hard to connect tonight. We didn’t quite have it,” said Smith.

At the eight minute mark, a sideline pass found Hughes at the top of the scoring circle who got low and shot the ball into the roof of the goal.

“It was an amazing field hockey shot so there was nothing we could do about that,” said Smith.

But we did an amazing job. It was a great game, and they just had a lucky goal,” said Saylor, who ended the game with 10 saves.

“I’m so lucky to have played with all of these seniors and that I’m not going to play with them again is, well … ,” said Saylor as she accept the hug.