Opportunities pass, Belchertown boys fall 1-0 in state semifinal
William Aldrich of Belchertown, right, looks for a shot against Groton-Dunstable goalie Connor Maguire while defended by Eric Stone during the state Division 2 semifinal Tuesday at Westfield State University. Belchertown lost 1-0. Purchase photo reprints »
Alex DeSantis of Belchertown, left, moves the ball against Adam Kmetz of Groton-Dunstable during the state Division 2 semifinal Tuesday at Westfield State University. Belchertown lost 1-0. Purchase photo reprints »
Chris Riel of Belchertown, center, moves the ball between Groton-Dunstable defenders Ben Lutz, left, and Paolo Filho during the state Division 2 semifinal Tuesday at Westfield State University. Belchertown lost 1-0. Purchase photo reprints »
Nate Fournier of Belchertown, left, passes ahead of Alex Murphy of Groton-Dunstable during the state Division 2 semifinal Tuesday at Westfield State University. Belchertown lost 1-0. Purchase photo reprints »
Lewis Berger of Belchertown, right, moves the ball as Doug Rosa of Groton-Dunstable approaches during the state Division 2 semifinal Tuesday at Westfield State University. Belchertown lost 1-0. Purchase photo reprints »
Sam Stroman of Belchertown, left, goes to the ball against Dan McGuiness of Groton-Dunstable during the state Division 2 semifinal Tuesday at Westfield State University. Belchertown lost 1-0. Purchase photo reprints »
WESTFIELD — In all 21 prior games this season, the Belchertown boys soccer team eventually found a way to break through in the scoring column.
Despite numerous chances throughout the contest, that streak ended along with the Orioles’ season in a 1-0 loss to Groton-Dunstable in the state Division 2 semifinals at Westfield State Tuesday.
“Nothing was falling,” senior midfielder Nate Fournier said. “We had four or five quality opportunities throughout the game and nothing fell for us. I guess it just wasn’t our day.”
It was the same round, the same opponent and the same score for the Orioles (21-1). The Crusaders (17-2-4) went on to win last year’s state title.
“I think we are a stronger team than we were last year, certainly,” coach Tony Almeida said. “The record indicates that. We knew what we wanted to do out here.”
Last year’s squad gave up a goal in the 13th minute and had few chances to get an equalizer against a dominant Groton-Dunstable squad. This time around, the Crusaders scored in the 28th minute when Nate Pomeroy collected a cross from Morgan Manthous with a touch on his thigh and blasted a shot into the left side of the net.
“I thought the first half hurt us,” Almeida said. “We gave them too much. We shied away from their physical contact a little bit and that hurt us.”
This year’s Orioles’ squad was much more well equipped to come back from the deficit and created chances throughout the contest, but never found the equalizer.
“We definitely were more prepared this year than ever before,” Fournier said. “That’s what hurts the most, is when you know you had chances to win the game. We had opportunities. That’s just a killer.”
Groton-Dunstable will go for its second straight state title Saturday at 5:30 at Worcester State against the winner of today’s other state semifinal between North Andover(18-2-2) and Medway (18-3-1).
The loss marked the final game for Belchertown seniors Trevor Erb, Derek Gariepy, Wes Martins, Zach Parsons, Chris Riel and Fournier.
“They are great kids,” Almeida said. “They’ve been to the (sectional finals) four years in a row and won two of the four. They should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished and they continued to keep the program well alive and healthy. I even told them yesterday, they are leaving huge, huge shoes to fill for the other kids, especially the season they have had this year. I don’t know if we’ll ever have a season like this again.”
The Orioles outscored their opponents 112-9 this season and posted 14 shutouts en route to a Holley Division title and their first No. 1 seed in the WMass D-2 tourney. They defeated Palmer (5-0), Mount Greylock (3-1) and Monument Mountain (1-0) to earn their second straight title and fifth under Almeida.
“I’ll definitely look back it and I’m going to miss it all,” Fournier said. “It was a great journey from freshman year watching on the bench all the way to senior year captaining a great team. Every guy on the team, I love. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
On Tuesday, the Orioles controlled play for the early portion of the first half, with Alex DeSantis — who scored the game winner in Sunday’s title game — missing to the right on a nice look in front of the net and Fournier’s blast on a direct kick being snatched by Crusader keeper Connor Maguire at the upper-right corner.
“I thought it was in,” Fournier said. “That was the kind of day it was, I guess.”
Groton-Dunstable picked up the intensity, however, and finally broke through when Manthous found Pomeroy in front.
The Orioles held on to keep the deficit at 1-0 into the half and carried play in the second half.
“Personally, I think we outplayed them in the second half and put a lot of pressure on them and turned the game around,” Almeida said. “It just wasn’t meant to be. The chances we created, we didn’t finish them.”
Belchertown appeared to be knocking on the door throughout the final 17 minutes, earning three corners and putting numerous balls in the box.
With 13 minutes left, Riel blasted a rocket from 30 yards out to the top-left corner, but Maguire got a hand on it. Five minutes later, Riel sent a through ball that split the defense up to Sam Stroman, but again Maguire grabbed the shot.
DeSantis, meanwhile, controlled much of the play on the left side despite constant attention from the Crusaders.
“I knew they’d be after Alex today,” Almeida said of his junior midfielder, who scored Sunday’s goal with less than a minute remaining. “They covered him well, but he still made some great, great plays out there. The kid is just a tremendous talent.”
Almeida said it will take some time for he and the squad to appreciate what they’ve accomplished this season.
“It’ll probably be more so when we have the banquet in a couple of weeks,” Almeida said. “Being the old-fashioned old man that I am, I’ve been trying to knock (the undefeated streak) out of their heads game after game. You score eight or 10 goals, it doesn’t mean nothing in the next game. It’s hard to get away with that when everybody is talking about it, but I just tried to get it out of their heads.”
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.