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Early momentum fades as Raiders fall to defending champs


by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

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Belmont’s Jared Clough gets up for a rebound during action against Berlin on Dec. 14. Clough grabbed 12 boards in the 50-39 loss to the defending state champions. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
December 17, 2012
BELMONT – For one quarter, the Belmont High School boys' basketball team looked like a well-oiled machine on Dec. 14. The Red Raiders were patient on offense, finding open shots and converting on a variety of set plays.

But defending Division III state champion Berlin High School was relentless for the final 24 minutes, and the visiting Mountaineers forced 17 turnovers to overcome an early deficit and record a 50-39 win.

"The way Berlin attacked us defensively as the game went on changed things," admitted Belmont coach Derek Hamilton, whose team fell to 1-2 on the year with the loss. "We didn't respond well to their pressure and I think that was the major difference in the game."

Belmont came out of the gates strong in the first quarter, as Jared Clough, Pedro Perez and Kaleb Brace all scored in a 6-0 run to begin the contest.

Bret Spaulding drained a three-pointer midway through the frame and late baskets from Perez and Clough gave the Raiders a 15-9 advantage after one period. It was Belmont's ability to get some quick hitters on inbounds plays that put them on top.

"To be honest, it was a six-point lead but I told the guys it should be 16 points," Hamilton explained. "We had some looks to extend the lead that didn't go in for us."

Berlin (3-0) came charging back in the second quarter, using an 8-0 run to take a 17-15 lead with 5:32 remaining. Spaulding hit a layup to tie the game just seconds later, but he would pick up his third foul with 4:08 left and be forced to sit the rest of the frame.

The Mountaineers kept the defensive pressure up the rest of the half, forcing turnovers and getting out in transition for easy baskets. Eight different Berlin players scored in the first half, as the visitors outscored Belmont 17-4 in the second quarter to take a 26-19 lead at intermission.

"We gave them opportunities to get back into the game," said Hamilton. "We had some careless turnovers that came back to bite us. We've got to get tough."

The Raiders stayed within striking distance for a portion of the third quarter, as back to back hoops from Brace and Spaulding had the hosts within 32-25 with 3:11 remaining. But Berlin would kick off an 18-6 run over the next 8:06, with the only Belmont points coming on threes by Adam Prout and Kyle Donovan.

The Mountaineers turned to a variety of scorers during their run, as six different players contributed to the 18-point total.

"They didn't have those go-to scorers like last year," Hamilton said of Berlin, which beat Prospect Mountain for the state title a year ago. "We wanted to contain (Dimitri) Giannos (12 points) and not let them get out in transition. We didn't do a good enough job of that after the first quarter."

The Raiders closed the final gap with an 8-0 run to end the game, and Brace drained the team's fourth three-pointer of the game just before the buzzer to account for the 50-39 final.

"We need to get mentally tougher…that makes a big difference," said Hamilton. "Physically we can play with most teams in the division. We just need to get there mentally."

Clough led the way with eight points, 12 rebounds and two blocks for Belmont, while Brace had seven points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Spaulding chipped in seven points and three steals while Perez totaled six points and five assists from his point guard slot. Prout added four rebounds for Belmont, which shot just 32 percent from the floor in the loss.

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