Central Catholic Defense Shuts Down Belmont Girls’ Hoops in North Sectional Finals

Photo: Senior co-captains (from left) Carly Christofori, Jenny Call and Greta Propp leaving the court after falling to Central Catholic, 43-35, in the Division 1 North Sectional finals.

When the buzzer sounded at the Tsongas Arena Saturday night, March 10, it was fitting that Belmont High Girls’ Basketball co-captains where standing united for a final time on a basketball court. But it wasn’t to celebrate a first-ever finals victory but to be joined in heartache as the three senior leaders – Jenny Call, Carly Christofori, and Greta Propp – headed off after Belmont (19-4) fell to an undermanned Central Catholic High School (21-2) squad, 43-35, in the Division 1 North Sectional finals held in Lowell.

The teammates, who first played together in the MIAA North semifinals as freshmen three years ago, attempted to put a brave face on the loss but tears began as their teammates attempted to comfort them after the trio came close once again – reaching the sectional finals as sophomores and semifinals as freshmen and juniors – to holding up a championship trophy.

For Christofori, the team she led from the point guard position showed what it was made of despite trailing throughout the 32 minutes.

“It’s really sad but knowing we put everything into it this whole season and we played to the end of the game, that showed something about our team,” said Christofori after the game. “If we lost, we lost together and we worked hard for the entire game.”

In a game that highlighted team defense, Central Catholic – which was missing two starters including its team leader injured the night before in its semifinals against Lowell High – targeted the heart of Belmont’s offense as its avenue to victory. In fact, sophomore Nadeshka Bridgewater (5 points), the Central Catholic player who had the greatest impact on the finals outcome, likely would not have been on the court if it wasn’t for starter Ava Bradley being on crutches.

Central Catholic’s Head Coach Casey Grange started the quick 5’2″ guard to do one thing; pester Christofori. And Bridgewater did just that, playing a tight man-to-man defense on Belmont’s senior point guard who found it difficult to execute the Marauders’ offense or to get off a shot either from distance or on the drive. The tactic accomplished its mission in spades; where Belmont was hitting an average of eight threes in the playoffs, Central Catholic held Belmont to just three from beyond the arc. And when Belmont came inside, Central Catholic would swarm inside the paint taking away Belmont’s drives from the outside.

“[Bridgewater] definitely made the difference in the game,” said Head Coach Melissa Hart.

“They knew they had to shut down Carly and they worked really hard to take her out of the game,” said Belmont’s Assistant Head Coach Steve Conley. “She’s the guts of the team.” 

In front of a pro-Raiders’ arena, the Raiders raced out to a 7-1 lead midway through the first quarter when Belmont responded, first with a three from junior Megan Tan (a Marauder high 9 points) then a tough two from Propp (6 points) to cut the lead to 7-6. A three from freshman Adrianna Niles (who scored 10 of her 11 points in the first) upped the Raiders’ lead to 12-8 before Belmont’s center Jess Giorgio (7 points to go along with 6 rebounds) hit a pair from the paint to tie the contest at 12 after one.

Central Catholic would use its physical defense to cause Belmont turnover problems and hold Belmont to two baskets (a mid-range jumper by sixth-man Jane Mahon (2 points) and a Tan drive) and open up the court as the Raiders’ Kaylee Thomas hit two from distance (six of her game-high 17 points) to build an eight-point lead, 24-16, at the half.

There was a glimmer of hope in the third when Call hit her trademark three-pointer – she ends her four years as the team’s career leader in threes – at the 7:00 mark followed by a pair by Propp from the free throw line and a spinning layup by Giorgio to keep the game close at 26-23 at 5:35. But a basket and a three from Thomas upped the Raiders’ lead to 31-23 midway through the quarter. But a Tan fast-break layup and a transition three by Christofori (her only points of the game) would see Belmont chopped the lead to five (33-28) entering the final eight minutes.

The final quarter turned out to be a march to the free throw line as Belmont committed its seventh foul early. After making two of four from the line, Central Catholic got the lead to six when the Marauders went on its final run of the game. Call drove and scored while being fouled to cut the lead to three, 34-31, then Propp was hit going up and made her free throws to cut Belmont’s deficit to one, 34-33, with five minutes to play.

But after that spurt, Belmont would be forced see the Raiders head to the free throw line on four consecutive trips down the court as the Raiders’ went 6 for 8 to increase the lead to 40-33 with a minute and a half remaining. A foul on Call resulted in Belmont cutting the lead to five, 40-35, but it came with 49.6 left. Needing the ball, Belmont fouled and while senior Maura Smith (2 points) missed a pair, Belmont could not capitalize on two trips down the court.

In the final quarter, Central Catholic scored all its 11 points from the line on 20 attempts, compared to the Marauders going to the charity stripe six times making five.

“They definitely earned it. They made up turn the ball over and got us out of our game,” said Hart. “And then, they made more baskets then we did.”

And while the past four years – which the Marauders have gone 66-26 in league and playoff play – has been a testament to the growth in the program, Hart lamented the five seniors – including Ally Shapazian and Kylie Rhone – couldn’t make an appointment to play for the Eastern Mass championship at the TD Boston Garden.

“Those seniors worked so hard all four years. It’s a shame it had to end here,” said Hart.

After OT Win, Belmont Field Hockey Sees Playoff Run End To Central Catholic

Photo: Junior Morgan Chase scores vs. Central Catholic.

For 60 minutes on Saturday night, Nov. 4, the Belmont High Field Hockey team ran, passed and demonstrated solid stick skills that on most days would secure an easy victory for the Marauders.

But that wasn’t the case on a turf field in downtown Lawrence. It just so happened fifth-ranked Belmont met a fourth-seed Central Catholic High team that decided to show off its best form of the season against the visitors.

“They were really that good,” said Belmont Head Coach Jessica Smith after her team’s 6-1 defeat to the Raiders. “You should feel like you didn’t come out to play. That was not the case. They were superstars tonight and you were outmatched. It happens.”

“I asked their coach if they play like that all the time and she said that [Saturday’s game] was by far their best game of the entire year,” Smith told the Belmontonian. “We just got them on their best day ever.”

“They had to be their best because they were playing us,” noted one of the team co-captains which her colleagues agreed.

Belmont ended their season with a 13-3-2 record which included a 1-0 overtime victory over Natick in the opening round of the sectionals. The seniors, many who played the past three years on varsity, leave a strong legacy to build on, compiling a 42-9-3 record that included two league titles and three postseason appearances.

For senior forward and co-captain Alexa Sabatino, the night brought to a close a successful season for this tight set of teammates.

“At the beginning of the season, we lost two really important players (AnneMarie Habelow and Julia Chase who are currently playing Division 1 college field hockey), so we knew we had to work really hard. And everyone really stepped up because we needed that cohesiveness to go this far,” said Sabatino.

“And it was so much fun coming to practice this year, not one dreads it. It was a great team aspect, so we’re all really happy what we accomplished and be a part of it,” Sabatino said.

As for the game, Central Catholic was rolling on both sides of the ball using a great deal of speed, pinpoint passing and a swarming defense to counter a Belmont team that was performing at a high level of hockey proficiency. Standout defender sophomore Emma Donahue was kept busy with backline teammates seniors Meri Power and Johnna Crowley and sophomore Meaghan Noone to halt the Raiders straight-line offense up and down the pitch.  

But it was the lack of a scoring punch, a bugaboo for Belmont all season long, along with Central Catholics swarming defense around the ball which kept the Marauders off balance inside the attack circle. 

After a close miss by the left post by junior forward Mia Kaldenbaugh, Belmont finally broke through four minutes from the end when junior forward Morgan Chase – who scored against Central Catholic two years ago in a 5-3 victory in an opening-round playoff game – slotted a shot from two meters out into the right side of the Raiders’ net with an assist from sophomore midfield standout Katie Guden.

The Marauders got its post-season off on the right foot against Natick on Wednesday with an exciting 1-0 OT victory at Harris Field that belied just how dominate Belmont was on the pitch. Belmont grabbed 21 penalty corners to Natick’s 1 and had 26 shots to the Redhawks’ 2. But as in Lawrence, Belmont could not find the final touch on the ball despite playing nearly the entire second half in the Natick end.

That lack of a scoring punch nearly came back to bite the Marauders as Natick came out the aggressor in the overtime – when the teams are reduced to 7 players from 11 – as Belmont relied on Donahue to make some critical stops in front of senior goalie Christine MacLeod. The game-winner came two minutes remaining in the first extra session when Guden “decided that this game had gone on too long” and put in a shot from beyond 10 meters to secure the win.

The playoff victory softened the team’s exit from the sectionals which also brought to an end “coaching one of my favorite of all teams I’ve ever had,” said an emotional Smith.

“Now I don’t have anything to do in the afternoons,” Smith told her team saying she even enjoyed coming to practice each day. “Maybe I’ll now just go clean my house,” she said.

Sports: Belmont Field Hockey Wins Nail Biter over Cent. Catholic, 5-3

Photo: Senior co-captain Serena Nally led Belmont to victory over Central Catholic, 5-3, Nov. 5.

In a game that saw three lead changes and the home team falling behind for only the second time this season on Harris Field, Belmont High School Field Hockey scored two goals in the final five minutes of the second half to secure a hard-earned 5-3 victory over an underrated Central Catholic High School squad in a first-round game in the Division 1 North Sectionals playoffs.

“Belmont will be paying for my early retirement,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Jessica Smith after the nailbiter that saw the Marauders (15-2) outshot the Raiders, 20-8.

Belmont’s senior leaders stepped up in the game as co-captain Serena Nally scored a pair and assisted fellow senior Kate McCarthy on the game winner while co-captain Maggie Thayer anchored the defense. 

Belmont will host 5th-ranked Masconomet Regional High School (16-2-1), which easily defeated Haverhill, 5-0, on Thursday, at Harris Field at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7.

Usually, a match between a 13 and 4 seed is not that competitive but Central Catholics’ record (10-6-2) was deceiving as their six losses came from only three teams in the strong Merrimack Valley League, losing twice to the likes of 17-win Andover, 15-win North Andover and Chelmsford with 13 victories.

“They were better than I expected. Not at the beginning but they turned it on later in the half. Their offense was powerful,” said Smith.

And it was Belmont that got off to dream start as the Marauders broke the ice just two and a half minutes in when Nally slotted in a shot by the Raiders’ goalie after a solo run.

“I just lifted it a little and it went to the far post,” said Nally.

And for most of the first half, the game was one-way traffic going Belmont’s direction as the Marauders’ pressure provided some golden opportunities for Belmont to put the game to bed early.

But for the remaining 27 minutes of the half, the Marauders’ drew blanks. Even when Belmont was awarded a penalty stroke midway in the half (essentially the equivalent of soccer’s penalty kick) the team’s leading scorer, junior AnnMarie Habelow, sent a screamer wide of the net.  

“Everything was happening except for the execution at the end. Granted the goalie was good, she was there for the initial stops but we couldn’t get the touch on the ball coming through,” said Smith.

Late in the half, Central Catholic did not let their scoring chances go wanting, scoring from forward Mary Lambert with three minutes remaining in the half. 

“At the beginning we were having a tough time finishing our shots. We had a lot of opportunities on their end from [penalty] corners and our passing,” said Nally.

And Belmont would pay for their missed opportunities as Central Catholic was awarded its penalty stroke, which the Raiders’ leading scorer Courtney Woronka buried five minutes into the second half.

Despite being behind for only the second time at home this season (the other time was against Watertown), Nally said the team never lost the confidence that they could not come back to tie and go ahead. 

“Once we were behind, we realized we needed to turn it on and finish those balls to the post and tipping them in. We also did a good job talking and communicating and being open for one another,” said Nally. 

Within six minutes, Belmont tied the score through freshman wing Morgan Chase, who slotted in a Nally push pass at the post. And the Marauders retook the lead two-and-a-half minutes later as Nally scored off a Habelow “bouncy hit that I got a little piece of it and I tipped it in.”

But the Raiders were not about to surrender as the Raider’s Casey Thompson navigated by four Belmont defenders on a 60-yard run before beating Belmont goalie Christine McLeod to tie up the score once again with 13 minutes remaining.

As Central Catholic took advantage of the momentum switch, Belmont’s defense stiffened led by junior sweeper Julia Chase, who stopped several attacks with one-on-one battles within the attack circle. Thayer, Molly Goldberg, Sophia Stafford and Lilly Devitt set up a rolling wall in front of McLeod, who made two good stops over the next five minutes. 

Soon, Belmont took control of the ball and through Habelow and Nally put the pressure on the Raiders backline. It paid off with just under five minutes remaining when senior forward Kate McCarthy directed in the eventual game-winner off a pass from Nally who capitalized on a defensive lapse to steal the ball deep in the Raiders’ zone.

The Marauders kept the pressure on Central Catholic and scored an insurance goal with a minute, and change left as Bridget Gardner redirected a Habelow shot at the near post. 

Two things Smith will be drilling to the girls at practice is scoring and more scoring.

“Every opportunity, especially in a playoff game, has to count. I hope this game results in them knowing that feeling a little bit more and knowing the urgency of scoring.”

“If we scored on just a few of our chances in the first half, I wouldn’t be having heart attacks in the second,” she said.