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Belmont can’t hand on, falls to Stevens in D-III semifinals

  • Belmont’s Senior Logan Wilder (2) fights for the ball. RICH MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

Monitor staff
Published: 11/3/2016 12:50:04 AM

LACONIA – They really thought 2016 was going to be their year.

The Belmont boys’ soccer team had done everything right: they took care of business during the regular season to earn the number six seed and a first-round bye; made all the plays in a second-round win over Mascenic; and even edged Lakes Region rival Gilford in the quarterfinals.

But nothing the Raiders did Wednesday in the Division III semifinals could slow down Stevens’ Noah Spaulding.

The Cardinals, playing in the semifinals for the first time in 23 years, rode their best playmaker to a pair of goals in a two-minute span during the second half – the first coming on a penalty kick – and denied No. 6 Belmont of its first title-game appearance since 2012 with a diving header by Drew Grenier in the 72nd minute to clinch a 3-2 victory and a berth to the state championship.

“It’s brutally difficult to play a perfect game,” Belmont Coach Michael Foley said after the loss that ended the Raiders’ season at 14-4. “We felt the Gilford game on Sunday was probably the first game all year that we played a full 80 minutes of soccer and we’ve said it all year long, the soccer gods have their way and it just didn’t happen today.”

Spaulding’s two goals in the early stages of the second half proved to be the difference. Belmont was nursing a one-goal lead and appeared poised to take control of the contest entering the final 40 minutes, but Spaulding had other ideas.

Spaulding stepped up to the line for a penalty kick after taking a hard foul in the box six minutes into the second half and cashed in as the ball trickled past Belmont goalie Jonny Leclair. Less than two minutes later, Spaulding connected again, this time taking advantage of a defensive mistake to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead.

“I think their style of soccer is just look, they’re going to send it to their bread and butter, the Spaulding kid, and just let him create,” Foley said. “It’s a lot of long balls out of the back and they just hope and pray our defense makes a mistake and we made a mistake on the second goal.”

The Raiders struck early when Logan Wilder’s shot off a free kick from just outside the 18 stung off the hands of Stevens keeper Tanner Durkee, and Zach Ennis was there to put home the rebound 18 minutes into the contest. But Stevens made it difficult on Belmont after going on top.

The Cardinals adjusted their formation slightly and tried to force the Red Raiders to the outside.

“It was (packed) a little bit in the middle but we left those outside midfielders and tucked them in a little bit to keep things safe,” Stevens Coach Jason Stone said. “Our back four does a really good job of shifting and keeping things tight so it has to go wide.”

That plan worked for the majority of the half until Ennis changed the complexion of the game.

With 11:49 remaining, Ennis carried the ball to his left and let one fly from a few yards outside the 18, finding the back of the net with a left-footed finish for the equalizer and his second goal.

The Raiders, though, barely had time to celebrate as four minutes later, Stevens executed a corner to perfection for the eventual game-winner.

Junior Mitchell Paquette sent in cross to the far post and Grenier launched his body head first at the ball, directing it in for the score.

“To get it back even was huge and then really it was a misplay on the corner kick and (Grenier) ran wide open at him, so kudos to them,” Foley said. “We put as much pressure as we possibly could on them and the last 20 minutes of the game was a whirlwind. But they dropped it in and just did nothing but defend and that’s the nature of playoff soccer.”

Stevens will take on No. 5 Hopkinton in the Division III championship game on Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University.

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