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Challenge denied: Belmont falls to Gilford

GILFORD — After the game, Belmont High School boys' varsity coach Derek Hamilton conceded that his team's season, which had ended moments earlier after a 51-43 playoff loss to Gilford, was a strong step forward from last year, when the Red Raiders had won only four games and were left out of tournament play. This year, Belmont won twice as many games and had the experience Tuesday of winning a playoff game at home, knocking off Fall Mountain Regional. Still, he couldn't help put wonder, had things gone slightly differently, if his 13th seeded team could have pulled an upset last night against the 4th seeded Gilford.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Belmont trailed by five, 32-27. With hot-shooting Bret Spaulding in the midst of a 19-point game, the Red Raiders needed only a couple of opportunities to take the lead and perhaps move on to the quarter-final round. It wasn't to be, though. "Some of those bounces didn't go the right way," said Hamilton.
Spaulding started the game hot, hitting two three-point shots early in the first quarter, helping his team end the first quarter with a 14-12 lead. Gilford muscled its way back on top halfway through the second, thanks in part to Kaleb Orton, whose post defense forced a Belmont travel. A half-minute later, Orton collected a strong rebound, which he put back for two of the 13 points he'd have in the night, giving Gilford a 17-16 edge. Though tenuous, the lead would prove lasting. The score favored the Eagles at the half, 23-18.
Belmont threatened in the third, coming within three points after another Spaulding three-pointer with 4:45 left in the quarter, answering a three sank in the previous possession by Gilford's Sam Prescott. But Orton again put up a determined effort, scoring with a layup with 3:40 left in the third, then a hard-driving basket with just under two minutes left. In the fourth, Gilford showed poise and took home the win. Josh Joyce, who would end the night as Gilford's leading scorer, helped secure the result by scoring half of his 18 points in the final quarter. Orton, with 13, was the second-highest scorer for Gilford.
"I think we lost some steam down the stretch," said Hamilton, adding, "I'm proud of the guys and where we've come."
Gilford coach Chip Veazey said Belmont gave his team a good run. "It was really a tough game, Belmont's a tough team, we knew it was going to be a battle." He praised Orton's performance, whose rebounds and baskets came at pivotal points in the game, as well as Joyce, whose fourth-quarter production "gave us a bit of breathing room." There were other players on the roster whose roles in the game didn't translate into  score sheet statistics. The pestering defense of Matt Troiano, who scored eight, disrupted Belmont's perimeter play, and Cam Partridge, held scoreless, earned his coach's praise by limiting Spaulding's influence. "Cam made him work," said Veazey.
Gilford moves on the quarter-final round and will host fifth-seeded Campbell on Saturday night at 7 p.m. The winner of that game will face either Mascoma Valley Regional or the top-seeded Berlin in the semi-final round, held Tuesday night at Southern New Hampshire University.
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