Lions roar long, loud in prelim win over visiting ShiretownersNo. 7 Belfast faces No. 2 MDI Feb. 17 in Bangor
Belfast — The No. 7 Belfast boys basketball team looked forward to its Class B North prelim playoff showdown with No. 10 Houlton all week.
And the Lions certainly did not seem deterred when the Wednesday, Feb. 15 high school court contest was pushed ahead two hours to a 4 p.m. tip to account for another impending winter storm.
In fact, if the Lions' performance on the court was any indication, they welcomed the change.
The hosts rattled off the first eight points and slowly pulled away from the Shiretowners as the game chugged along.
And, in the end, the Lions clinched a berth in the quarterfinals for the second straight year with a 65-51 victory.
Watch video below.
Now, Belfast (10-9) moves on to face No. 2 Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor (15-3) on Friday, Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. The Lions and Trojans did not play each other during the regular season.
Houlton’s season wrapped at 11-8. The Lions and Shiretowners did not face one another during the regular campaign.
“I thought we came out and executed very well offensively and defensively,” said Belfast coach Marty Messer. “I’m glad the guys didn’t overlook Houlton. I know we were the higher seed and had them here where we play really well, but they’re a good team and well-coached. But we stayed with the game plan, never seemed to get rattled and kept the tempo just the way we wanted it.”
Belfast held an 18-12 lead after the first quarter and incrementally extended its advantage throughout the contest as the Lions prowled to a 30-21 advantage at halftime and 44-33 edge after three quarters.
Zane Bielenberg poured in 23 points to lead the Lion offense as he excelled in his mid-range shooting game in addition to setting up open teammates by drawing double-teams driving to the basket.
“He makes himself so much better when he can penetrate because he’s so quick,” said coach Messer of Bielenberg. “And he can finish at the rim or dish off. He’s making a lot better decisions on when to pull up or when to drive in and pass it off and, of course, he’s a deadly 3-point shooter too.”
Bielenberg said his evolution into a more complete player happened in the offseason.
“I grew six inches in one year so I had to come in and kind of change my game,” said the 6-foot 2-inch guard. “It kind of messed my shot up, actually. Some days my 3-point shot is feeling on and others it's not, so I’ve got to try to find other ways to score and help the team win and that’s what I worked on.”
Stanley Sturgis also had an 18-point night for the hosts and was 9-of-9 from the foul line, including 6-of-6 in the fourth quarter to help Belfast hold off the visitors.
Garrett Hamlin also added 11 points for the Lions, while Nolan Woods chipped in eight; Ian Snowdeal, six; and Skylar Perkins, one.
Nick Perfitt, Kaegan Gentle and Cameron Graham led Houlton with nine points, while Jacob Worthley added eight; Nick Brewer, six; Nolan Porter, four; and Dylan Johnston and Cameron Cleary, three.
As a team, the Lions netted 15-of-17 foul shots (88 percent), while the Shiretowners were 4-of-10 (40 percent).
While he did not show up in the scoresheet, Dakota Doolan also provided a spark off the bench for the Lions, as he pulled down several rebounds on the offensive and defensive ends.
“Whenever we have Ian [Snowdeal] out of the game I’m comfortable putting him in,” said Messer of Doolan. “It happens a lot. He knows how to get to the rim and backboard and box out and get those rebounds. I think he averages about five a game and for his minutes that’s really good.”
The Lions scored the first eight points of the game off a trey from Woods, a Snowdeal power layup in transition and a three-point play by Sturgis off a steal from Bielenberg.
The Shiretowners responded by going on a 7-0 run, but Bielenberg said the early run “got the crowd into it” and gave the Lions confidence moving forward.
The Lions began to pull away in the third quarter off a 10-0 run off three Bielenberg jump shots, a hoop from Hamlin underneath, off an assist from a penetrating Bielenberg, and a hoop from Woods, off a steal from Sturgis, to make the score 42-26 with 2:37 to go, which prompted a Houlton timeout.
The Shiretowners got no closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
Now the Lions look forward to a trip to the Cross Insurance Center for the second straight year and a date with the Trojans. Belfast will have one day of practice to prepare for a team that lost only three games all season, but Messer said the Lions can upset MDI and “we have the athletes and solid leaders to do that.”
“I can see it in their eyes,” the coach said. “Just being in the locker room with them just now after the win. Last year they were saying, ‘It was fun to go to Bangor,’ but now they’re saying, ‘We want to stay up there for a few games.’ We’re just focusing on that first quarter against MDI now and not just enjoying the experience, but to go up there and try to win.”
Bielenberg agreed, adding that last year the Lions — the eighth seed — were in the game against No. 1 Old Town into the third quarter before the Coyotes went on a run to pull away.
“I just feel like we’ve came together as a team,” Bielenberg said. “It’s been a roller-coaster all season and I feel like we’ve got it together at the right time. I’m just really excited for the opportunity to play in Bangor with this team.”
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Mark has been covering local sports throughout Knox, Waldo and part of Lincoln county since 2007. Haskell has a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication from the University of Maine and is also a 2000 graduate of Rockland District High School. He has won multiple Maine Press Association awards for writing and photography.
Mark loves the Boston Red Sox, iced coffee, cargo shorts and time with friends and family.
He resides in Thomaston with his wife Jenn, his sons Beckett and Austin and daughter Lila.
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