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BERNE—Bellmont has been searching for an answer to their shooting woes all season long.
After getting embarrassed at Garrett, then playing solid for three quarters against New Haven, coach John Baker expected his Braves to come out with a better mind-set against the Starfires on the road Friday night.
The team responded.
Bellmont stroked 12 of 13 fourth quarter free throws to ice South Adams in a 68-52 win at the Stardome.
"I don't know what we finished at the line but it was a stark contrast from where we've been this season," coach Baker noted. "It snowballs when we start making free throws."
At the core of the shooting was Parker Zeser for Bellmont who made six of his seven free throws in the game during that fourth quarter keeping the Stars a healthy distance away on the scoreboard.
After trading baskets to start the game, the Braves went on a 12-4 run throughout the quarter to lead 14-6 at the end of one. Bellmont looked to get the ball inside using their height advantage and the Stars gave up easy baskets leading to the deficit.
South Adams countered in the second quarter with the double-team down low when the Bellmont bigs would get touches. The strategy worked for the Berne boys as the Braves struggled from the perimeter going 0-9 in the first half from beyond the three-point line. South Adams shot no better as both teams combined for 0-13 in the first half.
South Adams would, however, chip away at the lead finding themselves down just four at halftime, 24-20, despite their best scorer, senior Chase Mosser, scoring just two points on a pair of free throws in the first quarter.
Senior forward Blake Fox played physical basketball getting to the basket at will in the second quarter leading to easy opportunities for SA. Fox scored a season-high 24 points for the Stars leading all scores but could have had more with a better free throw percentage (10-19).
South Adams' coach Andy Brown did not focus on the free throws, but rather, how physical Fox played for the Stars, "This was his best game. He played really well at Parkway earlier this week but he's starting to assert himself on the offensive end tonight and I hope to see that continue."
Meanwhile, Lance Vergara was the driving force keeping Mosser (averaging 20 points per game) at bay.
"He was a senior for us tonight," coach Baker praised. "He's the only one on the team and tonight he played great on the defensive end."
Bellmont had their worst scoring quarter of the night in the second scoring only 10 points against the stingy Stars' defense.
"At halftime we made a point of emphasizing getting the ball inside," explained Baker. "We had some good looks for easy baskets to start the third quarter and that pushed us up by double digits."
It worked perfectly for the Braves starting with the only three-pointer of the game for Bellmont by Zeser from the corner to balloon the lead to seven points. Zack Macklin made his only points of the game on the next possession and suddenly the lead was nine points at 29-20.
The game became very physical for both teams as the Stars worked to get back into the game at a feverish pace. Bellmont led 44-34 after three quarters outscoring the Stars 20-14 in the quarter.
The pace continued in the fourth and by the five-minute mark both teams found themselves in the double bonus. A pattern emerged for the remaining five minutes (which actually took about 35 minutes real time due to several free throws) as the Stars would push the ball, make great plays, and get to the line on offense. South Adams shot less than 50% from the free throw line in the fourth quarter but hung around thanks to the play of Fox who had three baskets plus the foul in the frame missing on two of the freebies, the theme for the Stars.
"We missed a lot," coach Brown said bluntly. "We're probably about at 65% for the last couple of games which is not great but it's not bad as a team. If we shot at least that tonight we may be looking at a different game towards the end."
By contrast, Bellmont's hot shooting from the line would squelch the Starfires' comeback hopes at every turn. The closest the home team got to the Braves came when Dustin Dellinger nailed the Starfires' only triple of the game to make it 59-50 with two and some change left in the game.
Bellmont would put the kibosh on the game on their next two possessions as Vergara made a nice drive from the top of the key for an easy lay-up at the front of the rim, then the senior found Maverick Birch down low on a look away pass where the junior big-man would dump in the lay-up plus the foul. After the freebie, Bellmont led 66-50 in the closing minute.
"It was uphill all night. Concentrating and thinking the game out are things we are still working on. It carries over into our play when we miss those shots at the line. I did see some improvement, however," coach Brown added positively.