Veteran Belfast squad faces tough final week

The Belfast boys basketball team began a challenging final
week of the regular season Monday evening, its game at defending Class
A North champion Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston moved up a night
because of Tuesday’s forecast of inclement weather.

That game against the 13-3 Tigers was to be followed by the Lions’
regular-season finale against Medomak Valley of Waldoboro (16-0) the
top-ranked team in Class A North.

Beyond all the potential Heal points that would be earned with a
victory in either game, those contests should serve Belfast well as
coach Marty Messer’s club prepares for the tournament.

The Lions entered the week with a 9-7 record that should earn the team
a preliminary-round home game next week in an effort to return to the
Cross Insurance Center for the regional quarterfinals for the second
straight year. Belfast advanced to the quarterfinals as the division’s
No. 8 seed last winter before being ousted by No. 1 Old Town.

One big reason for the Lions’ solid effort amid a Kennebec Valley
Athletic Conference schedule that includes eight of its 18 games
against Class A opponents is the play of senior guard Zane Bielenberg.

The 6-foot-2-inch Bielenberg is a bit of a basketball throwback,
relying in part on a fairly unique midrange approach to average 19.9
points per game on 46 percent shooting from the field.

“Sometimes it almost looks like a bad choice or a bad shot, but it
always goes in and people are amazed that he has this floater where he
uses the backboard really high but he has a nice, soft touch.

“I think teams expect him to go right to the rim for the layup but
he’ll pull up anywhere from 4 to 5 to 8 or 10 feet out. You see
coaches scratching their heads about it but it’s a great, accurate
shot for him.”

Bielenberg played on the school’s junior varsity team as a sophomore
before a growth spurt helped enable him to average 17 points per game
last winter.

“I knew he was a good shooter, he had a great set shot,” said Messer.
“Even at the JV level he was probably the best set shooter we had in
the program and after that season he just dedicated himself to being
able to finish and get to the hoop and also have that great pull-up
jump shot.

“Now when I say, “Get to the ball to the rim guys, we’re shooting
outside too much,’ he’s the one guy I trust not to listen to me and
take those pull-ups.”

Bielenberg also is one of the KVAC’s top free-throw shooters at 86.4
percent, and he teams with junior point guard Stanley Sturgis (11.9
ppg, 4.6 assists per game) to give Belfast a starting backcourt duo
that averages more than 30 points per game.

They are joined in the starting lineup by senior guard Nolan Woods
(12.9 ppg), the team’s top 3-point threat; junior forward Garrett
Hamlin, who at 5-11 leads the team with 6.9 rebounds per contest,
and 6-6 senior center Ian Snowdeal, a rebounder (5.4 per game)
and rim protector (1.8 blocks per game).

Top reserves are junior guard Dakota Doolan and junior forward Tyler Bartlett.

While the team’s record is solid rather than overwhelming, Messer sees
considerable accomplishment in the team’s first 16 games.

“It’s such tough competition,” he said of a schedule that includes two
games each against Class A Erskine Academy of South China, Nokomis of
Newport and Oceanside and single games against Medomak Valley and
fellow Class A team Camden Hills of Rockport as well as home-and-home
series against Class B North rivals Winslow, Maine Central Institute
of Pittsfield, Mount View of Thorndike and Class B South foes Lincoln
Academy of Newcastle and Maranacook of Readfield.

“No. 1, it’s tough for scouting, and you may play a Class A team
that’s not necessarily a top tournament team but they’re still very
good.”

The Lions have been able to compensate for their high level of
regular-season competition in part thanks to their collective
experience — the 13-player roster includes seven seniors.

“This is my third year with four or five of the players, and that has
helped,” said Messer. “They know me and I know them real well and we
all have the same language, they know what I’m going to say before I
even say it.

Ernie Clark

About Ernie Clark

I'm a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, my coverage areas range from high school sports to mixed martial arts.