WOBURN – Facing a fired up rival and a raucous crowd, the Watertown girls basketball team battled back from a halftime deficit and defeated Belmont 46-41 to claim the Div. 2 North Section title and book a trip to the TD Garden for the second straight year.
In the first half of the game played at Woburn High School, the Marauders’ (14-10) pressure defense had the Raiders (20-3) off their game and the teams headed to halftime with Belmont leading 26-21. Watertown Head Coach Patrick Ferdinand told his team to remember how they prepared for the game.
“It was really about digging in and communicating defensively and being physical,” Ferdinand said. “(Belmont) did a good job early hitting stuff early on but I think we had to stay true to what we were doing and stay in it. It really came down to finding our match ups in transition and finding our interior.”
The Raiders raced out of halftime, scoring the first eight points, and a three pointer by senior guard Nicole Lanzo gave Watertown its first lead in a long time with 3:24 left in the third. Belmont closed the third quarter with a 5-2 run, and tied the game at 31 heading into the final act.
While Watertown started scoring more in the second half, Ferdinand was more worried about the defensive side.
“It was tough. (Center) Shannon (Murphy) and (forward) Katelyn (Rourke) both had three fouls coming in,” Ferdinand said. “The third quarter was so key for them not to pick up a foul. We were able to defend pretty well on the perimeter and not pick up a foul until close to the end of it.”
Murphy was kept scoreless in the first quarter, but scored five in the second quarter and seven in the second half. Belmont used multiple defenders on Watertown’s center to try to shut her down.
“It was definitely tough. My teammates did a really good job getting open and I could pass it to the if they were on me,” Murphy said. “It was a team effort, I couldn’t have done it without them. My teammates did a great job helping me get open, setting picks”
Murphy and Rourke each had 12 points to lead Watertown. Korte and Lanzo each had nine. Sophomores Carly Christofori and Jennifer Call each had 10 points for Belmont.
The Marauders kept within shouting distance, however, and with 1:40 left in the fourth Murphy fouled out with the score 42-38 Watertown.
Belmont had upset other high seeds this tournament – Newburyport and Arlington Catholic – and part of the game plan was to rattle their opponents and make them miss free throws. In those games the opponents shot under 40 percent from the free throw line.
Watertown did not succumb to the pressure, and made 24 of 37 free throws (65 percent), including some big ones down the stretch. Korte missed two in the third quarter, but with 58 seconds left she made both her free throws. Then senior forward Lilly Pennington, who came into replace Murphy, made a key play.
“She had a huge rebound on the floor, got fouled and made the free throws,” Ferdinand said. “Just a gutsy, gutsy game.”
The buzzer sounded and Watertown had won by five points. The Raiders will face South Champion Oliver Ames (21-3) in the state semifinal – a.k.a the EMass final – at the TD Garden in Boston on Tuesday, March 15 at 5:45 p.m.