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Belmont ride comes to an end, fall to Bow in semis


The Raiders pressure all night but can't break through in a 4-1 loss to the top seed



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Belmont’s Aaron McLelland defends Hunter Berke of Bow closely during the D-III semifinals. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
November 07, 2011
EXETER – The chances were there all night long, but the Belmont High School boys' soccer team saw its postseason run come to an end on Nov. 3, as the fifth-seeded Red Raiders conceded a pair of late goals to drop a 4-1 decision to top-seeded and eventual state champion Bow High School in a Division III semifinal held at Bill Ball Stadium.

"Our goal at the beginning of the season was to get to the semifinals," said Belmont coach Mike Foley. "This is what they needed…they needed this experience to know what it feels like. You're not going to win them all. Last year in the playoffs we got knocked out right off the bat and there's not a whole lot to learn from that. When you play under the lights, you reach the semifinals and it doesn't go your way, you hopefully learn from it and come back smarter, stronger next year."

After pulling off a huge win in penalty kicks against Somersworth in the quarterfinal round just two days earlier, the Red Raiders (14-4-1) found themselves playing from behind almost all night long against Bow (20-0-0). Just six minutes into the first half, a through ball found dangerous striker Dan Crisman and he finished perfectly to the far post, beating Belmont keeper Kaleb Brace for a quick 1-0 Falcons lead.

"It was very important for us to get that first goal," said Bow coach George Pinkham. "When (Belmont) comes in as technically the underdog, you know they're going to come out hard and try and set a tone. For us to match that and then score a goal was big."

Belmont had plenty of scoring opportunities after Crisman's goal, as Austin Wilder found Pedro Perez just 30 seconds later on the right side. Perez's cross connected with Jeremy D'Amour in front of the Bow net, but his volley out of the air went just over the crossbar.

Senior Kyle Bjelf had the Raiders' first shot on net in the 11th minute, as his bouncing shot from distance gave Falcons keeper Jordan Birtz problems but was ultimately cleared out of danger.

Bjelf looked like he would pull Belmont level midway through the half, as a Wilder corner was volleyed past the goalie. But a Bow defender got there just in time, clearing the ball of the line and keeping the Falcons ahead 1-0.

While Brace made back-to-back diving saves in the 21st minute to keep the Raiders within striking distance, Bow doubled its lead with 12:40 left before halftime. Crisman got his second goal of the night, flicking a cross past a charging Brace to put the Falcons up 2-0.

"You put yourself in a hole and you've got to dig out," explained Foley. "Going down two (goals) though, that hurt. That was just a miscommunication. Then it was all about the resolve to come back and throw everything we had at them to make it a game again."

Bow held on the rest of the frame, taking the 2-0 lead into halftime.

"Being up two goals, you can't give them a goal because otherwise that second half is going to be a horror show," said Pinkham.

Despite trailing against an undefeated opponent, Foley and company regrouped at intermission and came out determined in the second half.

"We said pre-game, we said at halftime, anything can happen," the coach said. "You've got to believe in yourself."

Sophomore Joe Boles had Belmont's first dangerous scoring chance in the second half, as his shot from just inside the box forced Birtz to make a leaping save with 33:50 to play.

The pressure really started to come with 20 minutes to go however, as Brendon Johnson beat the keeper from 20 yards out with a perfectly hit ball. Johnson's blast hit the crossbar however, and Bow was able to clear and avoid further disaster on the play.

Just when it looked like it wasn't Belmont's night, the tide shifted with one well-placed shot. A corner kick from Wilder bounced around near the keeper and ultimately found the foot of D'Amour just inside the 18. The junior forward moved the ball to his right and put it in the back of the net to the far post with 10:23 left in regulation, cutting the Bow lead to 2-1 and igniting a pro-Belmont crowd that erupted.

"I knew Belmont was going to come prepared and they did, particularly in the second half where they scared the heck out of us to be honest with you," said Pinkham. "We were just hanging on. They were coming at us. When they scored I actually said, 'That's it, it's going to be 2-2 in regulation.' I really did, I felt that."

Belmont kept coming after the goal, moving players forward to try and score the equalizer.

"That second half they were really taking it to us," said Pinkham. "We got lucky a couple of times."

Moving players forward left the Raiders open to a quick Bow counterattack however, and the Falcons managed to get their two-goal cushion back with 6:31 to play. Ian Avery buried a bouncing ball past Brace during transition and Bow went on top, 3-1.

The Falcons finished off the scoring with under two minutes remaining, as Avery scored his second goal in five minutes for the 4-1 final.

"I'm not disappointed," said Foley. "This game is a matter of inches. We hit the crossbar on a great shot by Brendon Johnson. Guys had opportunities. End of the game, it's a 2-1 game and we're pressing. Doesn't matter if you lose 3-1, 4-1, 5-1, you've got to push and take chances.

"We talked at halftime that we spent a lot of emotion at Somersworth so we can't play on emotion now," he continued. "We have to really want it, push and play hard and trust what you're doing is right. We played really an outstanding second half."

Pinkham, whose team advanced to the finals against surprising Raymond High School, knew what his team was in for against Belmont, and he knows the score wasn't indicative of the game played on the field.

"I've got so much respect for Michael Foley as a coach," Pinkham said. "He's worked our Capital Kickers with (brother and Gilford head coach) David (Pinkham) and I for years and we talk soccer a lot. Belmont can play with anybody in the division…they were right up there with the best this season."

The night marked the first time all season the Raiders lost when scratching the scoreboard.

"The thing we've held our hat on all season long is every time we've scored a goal, we've won," Foley explained. "So it figures the last game you play, you score a goal and you don't win. Their keeper made two fantastic saves to keep them in this. That's what you hope for in playoff soccer."

It was a tough matchup for Belmont against the talented Falcons, as Bow lost in the state championship game last fall to Gilford.

"They're fast…holy cow they're fast," said Foley of Bow. "They're similar to what we've seen in Gilford, played very similar physically to Berlin. They're good, they move the ball well. We knew how they were going to move it, we knew where it was going to go. It's up to us to try and stop Crisman and (Jason) Underhill…those two guys make it happen for them. We knew what we had to do but they capitalized on mistakes. They're number one for a reason, they're undefeated for a reason."

The future is still awfully bright for the Raiders, as Foley graduates just three seniors and a loaded junior class will be back with another year of experience under their belts.

"It's a great progression for us," the coach said. "We achieved our goal this year and it's awesome. I graduate three kids so we come back next year and we're hungry, ready to go for more."

Tiffany Eddy
Martin Lord Osman
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