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Wilder buries PK as Belmont holds off Winnisquam, 1-0

The playoff game lives up to its billing as the local squads battle in a tight affair

Belmont’s Joe Boles and Cullen Robinson of Winnisquam jostle for position during the Red Raiders’ 1-0 win last week. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
October 31, 2011
BELMONT – As expected, Round 2 between Belmont High School and Winnisquam Regional High School looked much different than the previous meeting way back in August.

But the host Red Raiders made sure the end result stayed the same however, as junior captain Austin Wilder buried a penalty kick in the 66th minute to lead fifth-seeded Belmont past the 12th-seeded Bears, 1-0, in a Division III preliminary round game on Oct. 28.

"Before the game (BHS coach Mike Foley) told us don't let them breathe, be right up on them," said Wilder. "Don't give them the hope that they're going to beat us, we need to play like we're going to win the game the entire way. I felt we did good the whole time but we never really produced the chances like we wanted to."

Wilder drew the PK after a collision with Winnisquam goalkeeper Sean Connor late in the second half of a scoreless game, and the BHS midfielder calmly placed it into the lower right corner to give the Raiders the 1-0 lead.

"There was no question in Austin's eyes he was going to take that kick," said Foley. "He could've been half conscious and he was still taking it. And that's been his mindset all season, he's been our leader and our go-to guy in a lot of situations."

It was a wild game from the get-go, as Wilder flicked a shot past Connor just three minutes in but Winnisquam defender Rory Stevens cleared the ball off the goal line to avoid an early disaster.

"All we've preached the last few days is that we have to get a lead," said Foley. "You can't give a team, particularly a lower-seeded team, hope. If you can dash that hope early, it's a much more comfortable game. But the longer that hope goes on, that's when crazy things can happen."

The Bears (7-9-1) countered with a scoring chance of their own late in the first half, as Luke Welch and Jason Robinson worked a nice give-and-go. Welch's shot from inside the box went wide, and teammate Ben Worth was unable to beat Belmont keeper Kaleb Brace to the loose ball on the back post.

"The key was to keep them from scoring early because that's happened a lot to us in the season," said Winnisquam coach Jason Welch. "That was the game plan, keep it close and have a shot at the end."

Belmont (13-3-1) looked destined to get on the board just before halftime, as Wilder blasted a low shot from the 18 that was headed for the back of the net. But Connor made a fantastic diving save to his right, getting a piece of the ball with his hand and deflecting it out of bounds. Joe Boles got another shot on Connor with just seconds left before intermission, but he came up with yet another big save to send the teams into halftime scoreless.

"Their keeper was outstanding, just outstanding," Foley lauded. "He definitely kept them in the game, and their defense was solid. They forced us to the outside. We had a couple really nice looks late in the first half but they were from 30 yards out."

Winnisquam had a solid scoring chance in the 42nd minute, as the Bears were awarded a free kick 25 yards out. Cullen Robinson hit his shot into the Belmont wall, but the ball trickled through onto the foot of Gerry Craig. Craig's shot in traffic went wide however, and the Raiders dodged a bullet as the tension grew.

Belmont put together several offensive charges in the middle of the second half before finally cashing in when Wilder scored the PK. After that, Foley thought his team did a nice job protecting the advantage and making it stand up over the last 10 minutes of regulation.

"You have to be able to protect the lead in playoff soccer," the coach said. "We gave up a corner late, that's deadly with under two minutes left. But the guys did a nice job controlling the ball and playing it up and out wide."

Nick Welch took the Winnisquam corner after a nice hustle play in the final minutes, but Cullen Robinson's header went wide and the Raiders held on.

"They've definitely shown improvement since we saw them last time (a 4-0 Belmont win on Aug. 26)," said Wilder. "I got nervous after we scored that goal because they floated both of the Welch's up top and they're dangerous players. But our defense solidified things for us."

Coach Welch used Luke Welch up top as a forward while Nick Welch stayed back in a defensive role until the final 10 minutes. Finding the right balance with the talented duo on the field was a problem he's wrestled with at points this season.

"It's tough and it's something I struggled with in regards to Nick because as a sophomore, he's an outstanding player," Welch explained. "If he's up top, we have more chances to score but we lose something defensively if we do that. He's scored some big goals for us but when I moved him up late in the game, he didn't have much left in the tank after working hard defensively all afternoon."

The loss ended the season a Winnisquam team that shook off early troubles and finished the year with momentum after going 6-4 in its final 10 regular season games.

"I think we put a lot of effort into this game, I don't think we could've played any harder," said Connor. "It would've been better if we won obviously but I think we did all we could."

Welch, who loses eight seniors to graduation, thought gaps in key spots on the field made the difference in the loss.

"I thought we lost the game in the transition between the mids and the offensive guys because we did allow a lot of space and allowed (Belmont) to play in there," the coach explained. "As far as the effort, I thought everybody stepped up their game today and the defense played the way we've been hoping they would."

For the Raiders, a 1-0 contest is nothing new this season. Belmont went 2-2 in its four 1-0 games this season, as it beat White Mountains and Prospect Mountain to go along with losses to Somersworth and Berlin.

"We've had plenty of games like this, 1-0 games all season," said Wilder. "The way we came out in the second half though, I felt we were going to get one. Just stay composed and we got the opportunity and put it away."

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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