Belchertown boys soccer overcomes rare challenge, downs Hampshire 2-0
WESTHAMPTON — Holley Division teams always seem well-prepared for the postseason.
During a season that has seen few boys soccer teams stand close to even with Belchertown, rival Hampshire Regional made the Orioles work for their 12th straight victory, a 2-0 decision at Michael Dorunda Field that left both teams feeling good about what they got from the contest.
“It’s good because we’re not unstoppable and I think we know that now,” Belchertown midfielder Chris Riel said. “We are trying not to get used to beating teams 7-0, 8-0. Two-nothing keeps it realistic, so I’m glad we were able to have that.”
The Orioles (12-0, 7-0 Holley) have now outscored their opponents 74-2 this season and had just one other 2-0 game — against Palmer on Oct. 8 — to serve as the lone times they’ve been remotely challenged.
“You’ve got to give Hampshire a lot of credit,” Belchertown coach Tony Almeida said. “They worked very hard and created some problems for us. In the first half, they had an edge in the play. They were beating us to the ball quite a bit. I thought we turned that around in the second half and created some chances, but we couldn’t quite put another one away. Overall, I think we did a pretty decent job.”
It was the Raiders (4-4-3, 2-4-2) who had the first great chance at a goal early in the first half. Senior midfielder Scott Labrie blasted a hard shot to left side, but Orioles goalkeeper Zach Parsons (five saves) just got his hands on the ball with a diving save.
Parsons “has done that to me so many times,” Labrie said. “We’ve both been on varsity since we were freshmen, so we know each other pretty well. He’s great.”
The rebound went back to Labrie, who fired again with Parsons still on the ground, but defender James Izaat was on the line and booted the ball away to end the threat.
Belchertown got on the board in the 25th minute. Jack Stinson took a restart from the left side at midfield and blasted a high, hard ball to the far post.
Nate Fournier ended up getting enough of his body on the ball to put it into the net.
“Stinson likes to play that long ball and he’s got a good kick in,” Fournier said. “Really, it’s just fighting for the ball. I don’t even know. It just hit me and went in. It basically hit the back of my head as I went up for it and tried to get it on net.”
Hampshire coach Dan Moynahan said, “I feel like their first goal went against the run of play. We were possessing the ball. We were dangerous, and it’s just one of those things that happen in soccer.”
Belchertown doubled its lead just before halftime when Fournier took control in the middle of a scrum in front of the Hampshire net and slipped a pass to Oliver Hopkins, who blasted into the goal.
Hampshire, which fell at Belchertown 6-0 on Sept. 12, withheld some intense pressure down the stretch to keep the game close.
“We were more prepared and knew what to expect from them, plus we have gotten a lot better throughout the season,” Labrie said of the improved performance. “We knew that all the pressure is on them coming into it. No one is expecting us to do much against them, so we just wanted to play our hardest and do the best we can.”
Goalkeeper Ben Preston (nine saves) was especially key down the stretch.
“Ben’s been making saves like that for us all season,” Moynahan said.
Hampshire needs five points in its final five games, and Preston felt Thursday’s performance bodes well for his team down the stretch.
“This is one of the closest games (Belchertown) has had and they are an amazing team, so it will be good for us going forward,” he said. “We pretty much just need to play exactly how we played today, with a lot of intensity, but just get rid of those few mental mistakes that led to those goals.”
Hampshire has overcome a slew of early season injuries and a 1-3-1 start to be at .500. Thursday’s loss snapped a five-game unbeaten streak.
“Our league prepares teams for tournament every year. I’m very pleased with what I saw on the field today,” Moynahan said.
He later added, “It’s not the position I want to be in right now, but with our league, you just have to get to tournament.”
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.