Belmont Head Coach Melissa Hart just shook her head when she was asked the factors that led to the Belmont High School Girls' Basketball team to the second- ranked team in Eastern Massachusetts.
"We were just so nervous. Even when the pressure wasn't there, we were throwing the ball out of bounds," said Hart after her Mauraders (7-2) fell to host Reading High School, 57-39, Friday night, Jan. 11.
"Reading is very good but we did not play our best," said Hart. "It shouldn't have been that hard of a game."
Adding to the team's case of the jitters was a near suffocating full-court press from a highly-athletic team led by the best female baller in the state in senior forward/guard Olivia Healy who scored 19 to lead the Rockets to a 8-0 start to the season.
Yet for the first time possibly in her career, Healy was not the top scoring Olivia on the court. Belmont's Olivia Lyons was the team's MVP Friday putting in 22 points (including 6 for 8 from the charity strip) to go along with her 13 rebounds for the 5' 9" senior's seventh double-double in nine games.
Despite coming out well in the first few minutes, Reading's press caused consecutive errors by Belmont "and that's when we lost all nerve," said Hart.
Yet down by 12 (17-9) after the first eight minutes, the Maurauders' defense stepped up their play holding the high-scoring Rockets to seven points in the second as Belmont's senior guard and co-captain Amari Bradshaw harassed the much-taller Healy (5' 2" defending the 5' 10") limiting her offense to a single bucket as the Marauders crept back into the game with junior guard Ashleigh Chinn (5 points, three steals) hitting a pair including one from outside to support Lyons who scored seven in the quarter including five consecutive free throws.
"[Bradshaw] was fantastic on [Healy]. Only once did she [Healy] hit a shot with Amari in her face. Nothing was easy," said Hart.
Down by a still manageable margin (26-18) at the beginning of the second half, Belmont suffered what Hart has been seeing for the entire season, the third quarter letdown.
"Our third quarter is never good. The team was trying to get the ball to places where (Lyons and senior forward and co-captain Katie Leinbach (8 points)) were that just weren't open," said Hart, who said that Reading returned with a power press.
In addition, Healy stepped up her game with offensive rebounds that she scored and a handful of steals that led to easy buckets as Belmont was outscored 17-8 in the third.
"We had open shots but we couldn't hit anything," said Hart.
The rematch of the Olivias will occur on Friday, Feb. 8 at Belmont's Wenner Field House.
Third quarter does in Marauders
Despite the three-point scoring from freshman standout Matt Kerans (who led the team with 16 points) and the leadership and points from senior guard Alexander Nikolaidis, Belmont High School Boys' Basketball could not match Reading High School's scoring spurt late in the third quarter and saw the game slip away as the Rockets came away with a 86-63 away victory Friday night, Jan. 11.
It was the youngsters who kept Belmont within 10 in the first quarter (22-12) as Kerans and 6' 4" sophomore center Adam Kleckner were the only scorers in the first eight minutes with Kerans hitting a pair of threes and Kleckner scoring inside for his own two along with two free throws.
Kleckner continued his hot hand with seven in the quarter (he's finish with 14 points) as seniors Matt Muckjian and Jay Mulani each hit a trey and Matt Levine hit three of four from the charity strip to end the quarter with 5 as Belmont scored 20 in the period and only trailing Reading by 41-32.
But Reading took advantage of missed shots and turned on their fast break as Rocket senior forward Chris Godwin (who would finish with a game high 26 points) put in eight on the inside as sophomore guard Mike Algeri (14 points) hit a pair of threes to end the quarter with 9 points while Nikolaidis tallied all but one of Belmont's 13 points in the eight minutes to fall behind 68-45.