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NHIAA girls’ soccer: No. 5 Belmont falls to No. 1 Raymond, 3-1, in semifinals

  • Belmont’s Rebecca Flemming (7) and Raymond’s Aliyah Valentin (21) keep their eyes on a free ball in the Division III semifinals at Laconia High School on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. RICHARD MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

  • Belmont’s Julianna Estremera celebrate her goal with her teammates in the Division III semifinals at Laconia High School on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. RICHARD MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

  • Belmont’s Julianna Estremera (13) shoots and scores the first goal of the game in the Division III semifinals at Laconia High School on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. RICHARD MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

  • Belmont’s Chloe Sottak (23) battles for a loose ball with Raymond’s Kathryn LaCasse (7) in the Division III semifinals at Laconia High School on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. RICHARD MIYARA / NH Sports Photography



Monitor staff
Wednesday, November 01, 2017

LACONIA – The Belmont girls’ soccer team held a return ticket to the Division III finals for 55 minutes on Tuesday night. That’s how long the Red Raiders, last year’s runner-up, had a one-goal lead over top-ranked Raymond.

The Rams possessed, pressured and prodded, but No. 5 Belmont had all the answers … until the final 18 minutes. That’s when Raymond freshman Kathryn LaCasse scored two goals and assisted on another as the Rams (17-1-0) claimed a 3-1 win and a spot in Sunday’s final against defending-champion Fall Mountain.

“I had a good feeling that once we got the first goal that we we’e going to finish, and we did,” Raymond Coach Tim Brusso said. “All we needed was that one goal, and we got it. And in the end, the freshman led the way.”

The Raiders (12-4-3) came into the game, “very upbeat, we were playing with confidence,” Belmont Coach Mark Dawalga said, and it showed. Midfielders Katie Gagnon and Makenzie Donovan were clicking early, owning the center of the pitch at Laconia High School and creating chances for their team. And in the eighth minute, the chances turned into a goal.

It started with a long throw from Kaitlyn Delisle that bounced into the box and landed at the feet of Julianna Estremera, Belmont’s leading scorer. Estremera’s offensive talent was on full display as she quickly turned with the ball at her feet and blasted a nearly blind shot into the upper right corner of the goal, giving her team a 1-0 lead.

“That was great, and she’s been a leader on and off the field all year,” Dawalga said of Estremera. “There’s times when we look for her to do a lot, but she’s had a lot of help, too. But like I said, she’s been great for us and she’s really outstanding in everything she does, on the field, in the classroom, all of it.”

It was an odd position for Raymond, a team that had only trailed once this year – at Hopkinton on Sept. 15, a game that turned into a 2-0 loss for the Rams, their only setback of the season.

“I wanted to see what kind of character we had, and obviously we showed a little bit there, but credit Belmont, they had a good game plan and they really had us on our heels early,” Brusso said. “This is a home game for them, make no mistake about it, because they’re right down the street, but they did a good job. They almost stole it. On style points I guess we were way ahead, but it took a while to work them over.”

It did take a while for the Rams to actually score, but they nearly answered Belmont’s goal, twice, just two minutes after it happened. First, a shot from LaCasse went off the post. Then the rebound caromed straight to Anna Harmon, but Belmont’s Sana Syed blocked the shot that was ticketed for the back of the net.

The Belmont defense, with Syed and Chloe Sottak anchoring, settled down after that and Gagnon and Donovan resumed their ownership of the midfield. For a while it looked like the Raiders would have no problem seeing this one-goal lead safely to the end, but the Rams got on the front foot during the latter stages of the first half.

“In all fairness they carried the last 10 minutes of the first half,” Dawalga said. “You could feel it.”

The Rams carried that momentum into the second half and controlled play. If it wasn’t for keeper Emma Cochran (eight saves), some tough defending from Sottak and a little bit of luck, Belmont’s 1-0 lead would have vanished early in the second half, but as the clock wound down the Raiders still led.

All that changed in the 63rd minute when Raymond’s Hannah Costa sent a perfectly weighted through ball into space that set LaCasse free. The freshman calmly put it away inside the far post to rip the lead from the clinging Raiders.

Two minutes later, Megan Dumont slipped a pass to LaCasse on the left side of the 18-yard box. It was tough angle, but a better shot from LaCasse, who put it in the far side netting to give the Rams a 2-1 lead.

Raymond gave itself an extra cushion in the 69th minute when LaCasse showed off her handling, vision and passing. After dribbling inside the 18 and drawing the defense to her, LaCasse fed a pass to the top of the box to a waiting Harmon, who blasted one past Cochran to make it 3-1 with 11:14 left.

The Raiders pushed everyone forward after that, and Rebecca Fleming, Gagnon and Estremera all had looks at the goal, but nothing came close to beating the Rams.

“We’ve come a long way from the beginning of the season to where we are now,” Dawalga said. “We’ve grown a lot, so I’m very proud of the kids.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)