With their backs against the wall following a lopsided first-round loss to eventual champion Oak Bay Breakers, the Belmont Bulldogs senior girls dug deep trying to repeat their wild card performance from earlier in the week.
Facing elimination at the Island AAA girls basketball championships in Port Alberni, the Bulldogs pulled off a pair of convincing wins then came from behind to overtake Stelly’s in the third/fourth game Saturday, only to lose in overtime, 62-61.
With the win, the Central Saanich squad earned a spot in the challenge game against a Lower Mainland team for a wild card berth into next month’s provincials in Langley.
Down by 14 points at the half and 15 at one point in the third quarter, Belmont battled back to take the lead by two in the final minute of regulation, but Stelly’s hit a late shot to send the game to OT.
While the Bulldogs led for much of the extra period, a Stelly’s three-pointer with eight seconds left sealed the deal and ended the Bulldogs’ season.
“The girls showed a lot of heart and determination to battle back from down 15 to send the game into OT,” said Bulldogs head coach Brad Lidstone. “It’s what we’ve been doing all year; no one was willing to give up and in the second half they showed the progress they’ve made.”
Belmont star Isla Swanwick wrapped up her high school career with a best-ever 34 points and hauled down 11 rebounds. Jess Thomsen added 11 points and collected a team-high 18 boards. Both girls were named to the tournament all-star team.
Teammates Cassy Allen, Alysha Walton, Madi Bullen, Nicole Weldam-Dickson, Hannah Allen and Frelen Gorst all made significant contributions in the contest.
“Probably not many people expected us to get as far as we did,” said Gorst, one of three team captains and a half dozen or so graduating players. “In the end, to lose by one point … It was an amazing weekend and I’m really proud of all of the girls and the growth we had through the season.”
The chemistry the players built through league and tournament play was something that will make her basketball experience unforgettable, she added.
The Bulldogs’ pre-season goal was simply to make it to Islands, Lidstone said.
“I had a strong idea that if the team developed the way I thought, they could (do even better). I think we really achieved our team goal and I think a lot of players surpassed their personal goals. It was a super-exciting way to end a season. It’s heartbreaking, but it really motivates us for next season.”
Six players from this year’s team are eligible to return, but three may play at Royal Bay, he said. Nonetheless, upcoming middle school players from Spencer give Belmont some good prospects in the system for future, LIdstone said.
Recapping the Islands games:
Despite being dominated by Oak Bay in a 73-23 loss, the Bulldogs received strong performances from Claire Church and Savonah MacLeod-Vesilisin. Game 2, a 53-28 win over Cowichan, saw Swanwick (18 points) and Thomsen (11 pts.) lead the Belmont attack.
Led by the three-point shooting of Walton, lockdown defence from Bullen and Gorst and solid post play from Cassy Allen and Thomsen, the Bulldogs got past Mount Doug 41-31 on Saturday morning to set up the finale against Stelly’s.