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Prospect girls earn emotional win for Blair

KELSEY HOPPER powers to the hoop against Belmont on Feb. 10. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
February 15, 2010
BELMONT — The post-game handshakes and hugs took almost as long as the game itself. That's when you know it wasn't just another game.

It wasn't Prospect Mountain girls' hoop coach Jeri Blair's first win in the Belmont gym, but it was certainly his first win while patrolling the visiting sidelines.

Blair, who returned to the school where he coached for 28 years on Wednesday, Feb. 10, brought along a group of girls who are playing good basketball and they continued that trend, delivering their new coach a huge win with a 39-33 victory over the Red Raiders.

"I walked in the gym and there was the emotional part of seeing the gym, but once the game started, the emotions left," Blair said. "After the game, I thought it was more emotional than before."

Players and parents approached Blair, many with tears in their eyes, and offered handshakes and hugs and words of encouragement and thanks.

"I like coming back to watch these kids play," he said of the Belmont players that were formerly his charges. "Because they're nice ball players and they're good kids."

Blair noted that while he coached many of the current Belmont players for years, he also actually coached the mothers of a couple of the current players as well.

"Those memories and friendships don't leave," he said. "You may leave, but they don't leave."

Blair noted that he played on the team that played in the very first game in the old Belmont gym and when the new gym opened, he was the coach of the team that earned Belmont's very first win in the gym he coached in Wednesday night.

The Timber Wolves, who were hoping for a crack at Belmont back in the Gilford Holiday Tournament, were determined to win one for their coach and in the early going, it appeared the emotions might be too much for Belmont, as the Timber Wolves came out and built an early lead.

Two hoops from Sydney Robertson got the Timber Wolves off and running and Belmont didn't get on the board until 2:55 remained in the first quarter. The hosts didn't sink another field goal for more than eight minutes. They did get a couple of free throws, but Prospect more than answered the bell and had a 10-4 lead after one quarter.

The two teams played basically even basketball in the second quarter, as the Raiders netted six points and the Timber Wolves put in eight, upping the lead to 18-10 at the halftime break.

Belmont came out stronger in the second half, as it appeared they were able to put their emotions aside a bit during the halftime break. The hosts outscored the Timber Wolves 10-8 in the third quarter and closed the gap to 26-20 with eight minutes to play in the game.

The Raiders came out in the fourth quarter and trimmed the lead to just one point, 26-25, two minutes into the frame. Robertson took a nice feed from Hopper to put the Timber Wolves back up by three and following a Belmont free throw, Hopper took a feed from Brown for a 30-26 lead. Hopper then converted a three-point play to make it 33-26 with 3:40 on the clock.

The hosts didn't cash it in, however, as they peeled off a 5-0 run to cut the gap to 33-31 and came close to tying the game on a jump shot, but it fell short and the Hopper put back an offensive rebound at the other end to make it 35-31 with a minute and a half on the clock.

Point guard Rachel Roberge did the rest for the Timber Wolves, as she was four-for-four from the free throw line in the final minute-plus to seal the win for her team and her coach.

"We allowed them back in, but Rachel was four-for-four from the line," Blair noted.

The win was typical of many of the Timber Wolves' wins this season, as they were once again forced to have a good fourth quarter to come away with the victory.

"Looking back at our games, we've won a lot of ballgames in the last two minutes," Blair noted. "Every game they seem to come up big in the last two or three minutes."

The Timber Wolf mentor also pointed to what he believes is the biggest factor in his team's success this year, which is the fact that they are believing in themselves.

"I've always talked about girls believing in themselves and in each other and this team has really developed into that," he said. "They can't forget what they've accomplished this year."

He also noted that the team could've easily folded up the tent on opening night when the Cougars of Campbell ran all over them in Litchfield.

"They could've folded up right then, but they kept working at it and working at it and look where they've ended up," Blair said. "It's great to see kids can improve by working hard. Being the best you can be at something is something they remember their whole lives.

"As a coach, you hope that carries on, not just in basketball, but in whatever they do in life," he continued.

For the game, Hopper led the way with 15 points, while Roberge added nine and Robertson put in eight. Robertson and Hopper combined for 24 rebounds, two more than the entire Belmont team picked up on the night.

Next up for the Timber Wolves is the regular season finale, when Epping comes to town for a 7 p.m. contest today, Thursday, Feb. 18.

The girls will host a first-round playoff game on Monday, Feb. 22, with time and opponent to be determined. Check out the sports section's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wolfeboro-Falls-NH/Salmon-Press-Sports-Wolfeboro/ for more information on that game as it becomes available.

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