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South Hadley falls to Monument in boys Division 2 semifinals

Facing South Hadley in Friday’s Western Massachusetts Division 2 boys soccer semifinals at Szot Park, the Spartans spent the first 37 minutes banging on the door with both fists. But the breakthrough eluded them against Tigers goalkeeper Eric Maryea.

That was until Sam Plishtin slid a ball over to Nick Masiero down the right wing. The senior took a shot that curved toward the goal in almost slow motion. Finally, it slammed into the post with a clunk and into the net.

“Yes, that’s great,” Masiero said. “We’re going to the finals. I knew once we put one in we had the momentum.”

The Spartans made that goal stand up, earning a trip to Sunday’s final with the 1-0 victory. Monument will face unbeaten and top-seeded Belchertown (20-0) at 2:15 p.m. at Westfield State for the sectional crown. The No. 3 Spartans (16-2-2) were denied a trip to the final last year in an overtime loss to Mount Greylock.

“It definitely feels good,” said Ian Akers. “We definitely had some high expectations at the beginning of the season. It feels good to fulfill those so far.”

Monument controlled play from the opening kickoff with the No. 7 Tigers (12-6-3) struggling to find their footing early. South Hadley always found a last-minute tackle or a spectacular save from Maryea to keep the scoreboard clean against intense pressure.

With time running out, it looked like the Spartans would have to go into the break frustrated. That’s when Masiero saved them.

“I was ecstatic about (the goal),” said Monument coach Matt Naventi. “To get one going into a half like that really takes a team into a tough place. We’ve been there before. It’s a tough conversation.”

South Hadley pushed ahead in the second half, moving players into midfield and not giving the Spartans as much space on the ball. The Tigers tried to get the ball ahead to Ryan Dickinson up front, but couldn’t find a goal despite a pair of corner kicks and dangerous free kicks in the frantic final minutes.

Masiero played a big role in that. The senior was all over the field, chasing down balls and disrupting play from one end to the other. Even South Hadley players in possession of the ball were in danger of being pick pocketed by Masiero. It left Tigers coach Jij Mercer gushing over Masiero after the game.

“That (Masiero), he was everywhere,” Mercer said. “He’s a fantastic player. He really is. They have a very good team but he really makes them go. His work rate, everybody works as hard as he does on that team — or tries to. He’s really their engine. What a great player.”

The disruptions and aggressiveness to 50-50 balls allowed Monument to weather the second-half surge from South Hadley. Naventi said it was another example of the composure his team has shown late in games recently, including a win over Greylock to end the regular season.

They’ll need that on Sunday. Belchertown notched a 2-1 win over the Spartans on Oct. 20, scoring the winner with 20 minutes to go after Monument tied the game on a Masiero goal.

“I’m proud that these guys are now getting used to that,” Naventi said. “We’ve been in several games over the last couple weeks where it’s a similar situation. It’s the games we want to be playing in and happened to be at the right time of the season.”

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