Belmont High School's Girls' Basketball began its season going toe-to-toe with hoop powerhouse Wellesley on Monday, Dec. 12, at the Wenner Field House in Belmont.
And Belmont nearly pulled out the upset as the group of underclassmen swarmed over the Raiders – who last year was a two loss, sectional quarterfinalist – and took a lead into the final eight minutes.
But the experience of the Bay State Conference divisional champion Raiders showed up in the final quarter as they hit a clutch three pointer in the final two minutes and outscored their non-league challengers 15-8 to take home a hard-fought 36-32 victory in Belmont.
"[Belmont] came out scrappy and out hustled us in the first half. They were just more agreesive," said Wellesley head coach Kristin Cieri.
In the season opener for both teams, Wellesley (1-0, 0-0) was hampered from getting started by the scrappy play from Belmont (0-1, 0-0) especially the Marauders' "5 and Dime" backcourt of junior Amari Bradshaw (No. 10) and freshman Sophia Eschenbach-Smith (No. 5) which pestered the Raiders' up and down the court, at one stretch creating three jump ball situations.
Belmont started off hot going up 11-6 in the first quarter and then up the lead to 16-8 when junior Katie Leinbach scored inside with three minutes remaining.
Keeping the Raiders in the game was Sophia Mavrommatis who scored four points in the half including a shot from the middle of the key to cut the lead to 18-12 before Belmont's junior co-captain Olivia Lyons blocked a shot and ended the hustle play with a jumper to give the Marauders a 20-12 half-time lead.
Whatever Cieri told her charges at half time woke the Raiders up. Senior guard Caroline Harrington started the come back with a three pointer followed by junior forward Charlotte Bussema who knocked in a shot while being fouled and hit the basket from the penalty stripe to cut the score to 20-18.
Belmont then converted from freshman forward Linda Herlihy – who ended with six points in her Marauder debut – and junior center Kate Zolner to give Belmont 24-21 lead going into the final quarter.
The final eight minutes started with the teams trading hoops was Bradshaw knocked down a pair as Wellesley center Grace Miller and Harrington responded. Wellesley tied it up at 26 from Bussema (who scored seven of her nine points in the fourth quarter) before Belmont's Lyons hitting a a two pointer from outside with zero on the shot clock.
Bradshaw drilled two consecutive shots to up the score to 32-38 in the Marauders favor with just under three minutes to play. But Belmont would be hurt by committing nine fouls to one for Wellesley as Harrington and then senior Shannon Magpiong shot free throws on non-shooting fouls, cutting the lead to 32-31.
A turnover by Belmont allowed Magpiong to set up and hit a three with two minutes left to give Wellesley the lead for good at 33-32. Belmont did have their chances as Wellesley turned the ball over three straight possessions but could not get a clear shot off.
"We don't have a real superstar on this team this year so we have to have a star each night and here it was Caroline (Harrington) and Charlotte (Bussema)," said Cieri.