Photo: The 2015-16 Middlesex League Liberty Division champions: Belmont High School
The lockers took a beating from Belmont High School’s Boys Basketball players as they added a celebratory beat to the joyful roar emanating from the visitors locker room at Reading Memorial High School as the Marauders raucously celebrated winning the Middlesex League Liberty Division championship after defeating Reading, 60-54, on Friday night, Feb. 12.
“We met with the juniors last year and talked about goals and a league title was always one of them,” Belmont’s long-time head coach Adam Pritchard told the Belmontonian after the game.
“I just thought it was something that they should expect and have to earn. I thought we had to the ability to do it,” he said.
Belmont now stands at 15-4 with four games remaining including a final league match with visiting Lexington at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18. The team will also take part in the Sharon Tournament where they will meet three teams – Braintree, Cathedral and Sharon – that have made the MIAA playoffs.
If winning the championship was a great accomplishment, the game in which they won it was not, as the game tapes are worthy of being burned. Midway through the first quarter, Belmont led 2-1 before going on an 8-0 run on threes from senior guard Cole Bartels and junior Paul Ramsey (9 points). At the end of the quarter, the two playoff-bound teams scored an anemic total of 21 points (12-9 Belmont).
The second quarter was slightly more productive as strong defense and less than stellar shooting sent Belmont into halftime with a five-point edge, 26-21, as co-sixth men guards Daron Hamparian (2 points) and Tomas Donoyan (3 points) came off the bench to up the defensive intensity
“We went in at half time and I told them we have not shot a free throw, they have a two to one offensive rebounding advantage and we’re up by five, held them to 21 points in the first half and we haven’t played well on our end,” said Pritchard.
“If we can hold them defensively, our offense will win the game,” he said.
Bartels started the third quarter with a three pointer (one of three in the game for a team high 16 points) and a bucket and one in the first two minutes to give Belmont a nine point lead (36-27). Reading would keep it close behind its go-to senior guard Jared Thorpe-Johnson (three tough baskets in the third quarter, part of his game high 21 points) to cut the lead to six, 37-31. But Belmont would counter with a Steph Curry-like teardrop three from Matt Kerans (part of his 15 point night) to put the team up by nine (46-37) at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Marauders was able to pull away early in the final quarter as senior forward Luke Peterson (4 points) – who is coming back from injury – was nearly credited with a dunk which was waved off for a foul (he hit the two foul shots) while Bartels drained a three to see Belmont up its lead by 13 with 4:47 left in the game. While Reading did make a late run to come with five points at 57-52, Bartels (16 points) drained a three to end any upset ideas from the hosts.
While not wanting to rate this squad to other league championship or good squads he’s coached in the past, Pritchard said “[t]hey are similar to a couple successful teams in that they are a nice, tight team. They go to dinners together, they are very supportive of each other and we have very good students and high character kids. They’re fun to be around.”
Pritchard is now looking forward to the post season with some practical advice to his team.
“A couple of players from the [Super Bowl winning Denver] Broncos that said their coach told them all you have to be is better than everyone else for the next month. I told the boys you have to be better then everybody every day.”
So, can this team win what will be a tough Division 2 North Sectionals? How about a state title?
“Absolutely they can do it. They are a talented group, they have good leadership, they are smart basketball players. It is always a tough road ahead, but why not us?”