When senior co-captain Olivia Lyons – a reliable double digit scorer and rebounders – laid crying on the court at Boston Latin Academy Friday night, March 4, after twisting her ankle four seconds into the Belmont/Latin Academy game, Belmont High School Girls' Basketball Head Coach Melissa Hart said she would need to rely on her seniors to get the team past the number-two seed in the Division 2 North tournament quarterfinals.
"It was up to [the seniors]," said Hart.
And one senior stepped up big time.
In one of the most impressive individual performances by a Belmont player in the post-season, guard/forward Katie Leinbach put the team on her back scoring a season-high 28 points and grabbed 21 rebounds to carry the Marauders to a hard-fought 55-26 slug fest over the 14-win Dragons on their home court.
Leinbach's performance, along with defensive stalwart senior guard Amari Bradshaw, and clutch first-half scoring by Bradshaw's back court teammate junior Ashleigh Chinn – who scored her nine points in the first half to keep Belmont in the lead in the first half – allowed the team to work around Lyons' absence.
Belmont and Latin Academy showcased their defense in the first half as Bradshaw and Chinn harassed the Dragon's back court into numerous mistakes and making steals while the Marauders were hampered by Latin Academy's size under the boards. The game stood at 2-2 well into the first quarter before Chinn and Leinbach pushed the score to 11-7 at the end of the first eight minutes.
Missed free throws – Belmont would finish the game making barely 50 percent (16 for 31) from the charity stripe – and lay-ups ("They can't bring home the bunnies," said one observer on the Marauders' failed opportunities under the basket) haunted Belmont as the Dragons started the second quarter scoring two quick baskets by talented sophomore center Catherine Loney to cut into the lead.
Tight match in the first half
At one point, Latin Academy went to the free-throw line with an opportunity to take the lead trailing 14-13 but missed on the front of a one-and-one penalty.
Belmont continued pressing defensively with senior forward Kate Zolner (3 points) and sophomore forward/center Linda Herlihy (4 points) holding Loney to a single basket for the remaining six minutes of the quarter.
Nine points late in the quarter by Leinbach coupled with a pair of hoops by Chinn jumped Belmont to a 26-16 lead at the half.
Leinbach came out of the break breathing fire as she scored Belmont's first six points while the Marauders' defense smothered Latin Academy's shooters, twice forcing the Dragons into 30-second violations and holding the home team to six points in the eight minutes.
And in shades of the Knick's Willis Reed in game 7 of the 1970 NBA finals, Lyons hobbled back onto the court to score a pair of layups and take down a rebound. But equally important, Lyons' presence inspired the team.
With Belmont's confidence growing and leading by 15 (37-22) at the end of three, it was Leinbach to shut the door on any comeback by hitting her only three pointer to extend the lead and limiting Latin Academy to four points in the fourth.
After the game, Hart and Leinbach spent time being interviewed by the Boston Neighborhood News before making plans for their semi-final match against the winner of Sunday's Arlington Catholic/North Andover quarterfinals.