DECATUR – Turns out, the road to a Northeast 8 title still leads through Bellmont.
There is no Grace Hunter. There is no wildly, highly rated team. But make no mistake, Bellmont girls basketball is still very much a contender. The Squaws won their fifth straight game on Friday night, beating NE8 leader Columbia City 40-31 to send the conference into a tail spin.
There are now four teams – the Squaws, the Eagles, Norwell and Huntington North – that sit 3-1 in the conference with a couple more big games left to see how many teams could win or share this conference. Before Friday night, it seemed like Bellmont was an afterthought, through no fault of their own. Norwell was the favorite by far, then they lost to Columbia City. With the Eagles 32 minutes away from being the new standard, Bellmont simply wagged their finger ‘no.’
Now Bellmont coach Andy Heim didn’t distinctly agree on Friday night with my assertion that the conference road still leads through Decatur, but he didn’t shoot me completely down either while reminding yours truly that the Squaws must still travel to Norwell. But if the first half of their game with Columbia City was any indication, Bellmont has the energy and fire power to go at Norwell too.
“It’s good to get a win against the first place team. It is good to bounce back in our conference after the East Noble game too,” Heim said.
Their first half zone defense was smothering to the Eagles, who couldn’t find gaps and were forced often into errant skip passes that sailed into the Bellmont student section more often than they found their intended targets.
It took nearly five minutes for the Eagles to break their scoreless streak with Rebekah Marshall using her length to create space and score at the rim. Despite getting down 7-0 and having more first quarter turnovers than points, Columbia City escaped the first down just 10-6.
“Our defense all year has been awesome. Our offense, we get stuck once in a while. If we get that figured out, we are going to be a dangerous team because our defense is long, they get out on shooters,” Heim said. “Columbia City has seen us so many times, they knew what was coming and it was still hard to adjust because of our length and our quickness.”
But just as Bellmont asserted their aggressive nature on defense in the first, they did so on offense in the second quarter and pretty much the rest of the way. The Eagles hit eight fouls with 6 and a half minutes left in the first half. With 5:55 left in the second, Emma Keane found space to knock down a three pointer and extend the Bellmont lead to nine, followed immediately by a Carly Mabie foul on the other end. Once Bellmont worked their way to a 20-8 lead, Heim was constantly coaching his team to control their tempo and pace themselves to avoid the same type of mistakes Columbia City was suffering through in the first half.
It only took three and a half minutes of the second half for there to be eight fouls called and all flow to be killed in the process. But Bellmont pushed on. They constantly got to the rim and then to the free throw line as the Eagles struggled to not foul in the paint. Columbia City had 26 team fouls on the night and Bellmont paraded to the free throw line 37 times overall, including 23 times in the second half alone.
“That was a key, we talked about going at them,” Heim said of his team’s clear game plan to keep drawing fouls.
The third quarter was awfully flat, filled with with empty Columbia City possessions that led to Bellmont free throws. But Kenzie McMahon was big in keeping it lively after missing too much of the first half in foul trouble. McMahon was consistently outquicking everyone on the break and was smart in the post, drawing fouls while making sure to avoid fouling on the other end.
A big hallmark of this win was Bellmont’s mindset to never give in to any Columbia City run, which they did make in a much better played second half offensively. The Eagles limited some turnovers, but Heim pushed for his team to retain their pace. With 4:08 left and up 37-24, Heim clearly yelled out to his offense: “I want a layup or nothing. Get to your spots and be basketball players.” So clearly, he wasn’t ready to take his foot off the pedal.
“I don’t care who it is, if we play somebody in our conference, it is going to be a physical game, there are going to be runs, we can’t just let up,” Heim said. “We’ve had a tendency where we get rid of the ball, we sort of stand up and stop being basketball players, so we talked about that in practice and they did a good job with that.”
They followed his words, keeping their program as an area force. McMahon, Kenzie Fuelling and Meghan Busick all powered to the rim, got to the line and closed the game out. Keane and McMahon led seven different Bellmont scorers with 10 points each, Busick and Fuelling each had four steals and Morgan Shifferly had a team high eight rebounds.
Heim may not agree fully with the phrase, but I am sticking to my guns: the road to a NE8 title leads through Decatur. And it does because Heim and his program have been built to sustain and he has a team of girls this year that certainly aren’t willing to let that down.
“Great win. It was a great win,” Heim said. “They were amped up all day at school. We were ready to go.”
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