Bellando Shines in Champion HS Showcase
by Austin Lyon | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online
Stony Brook-recruit Matthew Bellando had five goals and two assists to lead Freedom past Liberty in the Champion High School Showcase.
© Scott McCall
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There are many times during a game when it's easy to lose track of Matt Bellando.
Standing just 5-feet, 4-inches tall, Bellando is confident he's the shortest player in this week's Champion High School Showcase.
But he shined brighter than anyone else Tuesday night, scoring five goals and registering two assists to lead Team Freedom to a 17-10 victory over Team Liberty on the first day of competition at ESPN Wide World of Sports in the US Lacrosse event.
"We moved the ball around, so it helped me get open," Bellando said. "I just tried my best and it turned out really well."
Bellando says that his height, or lack thereof in this case, gives him an advantage over bigger players.
"I think I'm shiftier, and there are usually a bunch of taller guys who block me from view and that makes it easier for me to get open," Bellando said.
He started to find those gaps in the defense late in the first quarter Tuesday night, as he scored two goals and had an assist in the final three minutes of the opening period to help Freedom build an 8-0 lead.
Bellando opened the scoring in the second half with an impressive effort, coming from behind the net and splitting two defenders before ripping a shot into the back of the net.
His performance caught the attention of everyone on the field.
"He really impressed me today, he's a great lacrosse player," said teammate William Ward, an attacker from Baldwinsville, N.Y. who had three goals and will play for Syracuse next season.
"He has great vision, he's fast, and he's got the stick skills."
Bellando scored 86 goals and won his third consecutive state championship during his senior season at St. Andrew's School in Boca Raton, Fla.
One of Bellando's coaches this week is Chris Spaulding, who has a first-hand knowledge of just how skilled the attacker is.
Spaulding is the head coach at Lake Highland Prep, the team that Bellando and St. Andrew's defeated in the state tournament in each of the last two seasons.
"It's nice to finally not be coaching against him," Spaulding said. "He's probably one of the best I've seen around the cage, he's just got a knack for the goal."
"He knows where to make himself dangerous, whether he's got the ball or he's off the ball and he always puts the ball in the net."
Bellando will play college lacrosse for Stony Brook, and he hopes that competing against some of the nation's top players will help prepare him for next season.
"I'm going to be playing against some of these guys in my four years of college, so hopefully it helps," he said. "It's a lot of fun to play against these guys because it gives me a chance to prove myself."
With his performance Tuesday night, Bellando proved he belongs among the best in the country.
Cornell-bound Douglas Tesoriero led Liberty's offense with two goals and one assist with both goals coming directly off face-offs he won. Ryan Mix, headed to Notre Dame, also added two goals. Liberty goalie Brian Feeney, a Penn recruit, made nine saves while allowing just four goals in his two quarters of action.
In Tuesday's other game, Chad Ellis (St. Charles North (Ill.) HS) scored three goals and defenseman Breck Merritt (Brewster (Mass.) Academy) made a key stop late to help Team Spirit defeat Team Pride, 9-8.
Jake McAndrew (Seneca Valley (Pa.) HS), Zach Losco (Hauppage (N.Y.) HS) and Daniel Eipp (Groton-Dunstable Regional (Mass.) HS) added two goals apiece as Spirit rallied from an 8-6 deficit to win. Eipp put his team ahead, 9-8, with :54 on the clock, but Merritt had the clinching play. Team Pride's Nick DePaolera (Kinnelon (N.J.) HS) was driving with about 20 seconds left, but Merritt stripped him. Team Spirit secured the ground ball and was able to run out the clock for the win.
All four teams will play two round-robin games on Wednesday. The championship game will be played on Thursday at 2 p.m. The championship will be aired on ESPNU on a tape-delayed basis on Sunday, July 25 at 7 p.m.
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