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Hoops: Senior Leads By Example In Boys' Win Over Burlington at Season's Midpoint

Belmont High senior Aaron Croce (#23) led Belmont to victory over Burlington.
Belmont High senior Aaron Croce (#23) led Belmont to victory over Burlington.
Belmont High School Boys' Basketball Head Coach Adam Pritchard could have pointed to a number of his charges for praise in the team's methodical dismantling of a tall and talented Burlington High School, 84 to 63, on Friday night, Jan. 24, at the Wenner Field House in Belmont. 

Missed the game? Watch it on demand at the Belmont Media Center.

But Pritchard wanted to talk about Aaron Croce, the team's co-captain who demonstrated senior leadership when he was needed to fill in early in the game.

When Belmont's center and big man in the middle Adam Kleckner got into early foul trouble (he received his first 17 seconds into the game) and was forced to sit on the bench for nearly the entire first half, Croce stepped up to 

"I don't know how it will show up in the stats but Aaron's a senior making smart plays, timely plays," said Pritchard.

Croce not only scored six of his 11 points (two hoops on reverse layups in traffic) in the half but had numerous rebounds on both ends of the court and three blocked shots including an emphatic "stuff" of an attempted three point shot with no time remaining in the first quarter. 

One play in particular stood out to Pritchard; with time running out in the second quarter, Croce called a time out as he was falling out of bounds after stealing the   ball to keep possession. 

"He plays with intelligence so he was terrific," said Pritchard.

Playing significant minutes for the first time this season was sophomore big man Emperor Phillips (6 points) who took on the Red Devils' senior Christien Morneweck, limiting the taller center to 9 points, all in the first half.

"[Phillips] came in when [Kleckner] got in to trouble and he's a very good defender, he's big around the basket and he gave us a lift," said Pritchard. 

Despite not having their starting center on the court, Belmont relied on their sharpshooting sophomore Matt Kerans to power the offense, starting the game with a pair of quick threes, just two of his seven three-point hoops leading to his game high 30 point night. 

With Kerans hitting from the outside, Croce and Belmont's freshman sixth man Jalyn Hinton (10 points including 6 in the second quarter) took the ball inside to steadily open up a three point (21-18) first quarter lead to an 11 point advantage at the end of the first half, 38-27.

At the start of the third quarter, Kleckner took control in the middle, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the third to push their advantage to as much as 23 points, 61-38, before ending the quarter up 62-45. 

Any hope for a Red Devil comeback ended when Kerans hit a pair of threes in the first 49 seconds of the quarter. 

Belmont's 72.7 points per game now ranks the Marauders tops in Division 2 and third-highest average overall in eastern and central Massachusetts behind only Clinton High School and the number-one ranked juggernaut Catholic Memorial (86 points per game.)

Belmont reaches the mid-point of the season with an overall record of 9-2 (8-1 to lead the Middlesex League's Liberty Division by two games) needing two wins in their next 11 games to make the post-season.

But Pritchard doesn't see the remainder of the season getting any easier. 

"We're concerned about every team coming for the rest of the season," he said. "I feel the same as I do every year; I'm fortunate that we have great kids who are competing and having success so it's nice."

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