Photo: At the end …
During the interval before the start of the first overtime, the Belmont High Boys’ Soccer team were feeling it; the first round MIAA Div. 1 Soccer Tournament encounter against favorites Franklin was there for the taking.
In the final ten minutes of the second half in a 0-0 game, Belmont had hosts Franklin holding on for dear life as the Marauders had the Panthers scrambling in front of their net. A missed break away, a ball that trickled across the goal line, and several last second diving blocks as Franklin desperately fought off the relentless Belmont attack.
“Let’s go, boys!” said a player as the team returned to the pitch. “It’s ours!”
Belmont’s confident play continued into extra time as they started on the front foot. So a counter by Franklin 30 meters from the Marauders’ goal didn’t appear to be too troubling.
With just the slightest of opening between three Belmont defenders, Franklin senior Trey Lovell blasted what he called “a chance” from 25 meters. Once the shot came off his foot, the ball cut right like a golfer’s slice eluding the outstretched arm of Belmont’s goalie Thomas Borkowski before nestling into the upper right corner of the goal.
It was a gut punch that sent several Marauders to the turf in disbelief and despair.
And just like that, the game, the team’s playoff run, and many senior careers ended.
The finale was beyond disappointing. It was filled with tears and downcast heads, a sense that a season of promise shouldn’t be finished by a ‘bad beat’ on a chilly and windy pitch located off a far away Route 495 exit ramp.
“This was by far our best game of the season,” said Belmont’s second year Head Coach Niman Kenkre after the game. “Everyone played their hearts out. We played our style … and in the final minutes we had them reeling. We were definitely on top and then they got one against the run of play.”
“Credit to [Franklin], they played a good game. But this is a painful one. We were so close,” said Kenkre.
Belmont (6-6-7) came into Monday’s match 23rd in the power rankings, hampered by a Div. 1 leading seven ties, a result of not being able to finish off teams despite having Middlesex League’s leading scorer, Sachil Kenkre.
But the team, which has employed a refined multi-pass system that frustrated many opponents, felt they could dampen Franklin’s countering attacks and static defense. What had been a warm pleasant full-moon evening for the earlier Belmont/Franklin girls’ playoff match (a 4-0 Franklin win) became breezy with a chill which required any effective passes to stay close to the pitch.
While the 10th ranked Panthers (held the territorial advantage in the first half, Belmont were the far more dangerous in front of goal; a Kenkre rocket required a full stretch save from Franklin’s keeper while the subsequent corner was flicked on and struck the far post. Belmont’s defensive trio – anchored by senior Peter Grace with sophomore Andrew Schreiner and junior Bjorn Bindslev on either side – and sophomore Borkowski never looked overly troubled as they limited challenges by a quick Franklin front.
The Panthers got off to the better start in the second half but Belmont would soon hold the momentum with stellar movement in the midfield led by seniors Lucas Alvarez-Fernandez and Andy Bello as Franklin began feeling the effect of chasing Belmont especially down the wings where junior Alex Cook and senior Steffen Manjikian frustrated the Panther backs to the point where both were taken down with less than allowable tactics.
By the final 10 minutes, it was just one-way traffic as the Marauders began breeching the Panthers defense, starting with forward Daniel Chang – a freshman starting his first game as striker – who stole a ball from a downed defender in the box only to pushing his breakaway shot by the left post. Two minutes later, it was Chang again who sent a shot by an out-of- position which dribbled slowly along the goal line only to slide across untouched to the screams of the Belmont girls’ team in the stands.
It was a shooting gallery for Belmont as Franklin literally threw bodies in front of drives at the Panther goal – notably a chance out in front by Bello and a collision between the goalie and Cook – until the full-time whistle sounded allowing the visibly exhausted Franklin team to walk over to the sideline as Belmont felt they were just one chance away from the upset.
That moment wouldn’t come.
“It’s really cruel in a knock out tournament like this. Everything was going in our favor, but that’s the way sports is, you know,” said Kendre.
Speaking to the team as the stands quickly emptied, Kenkre told his charges how proud he was to coach them and how they should be proud of their effort during the season and especially in the match.
“I’m glad that we went out with such a performance. If we had gone out with a whimper, that would have left a sour taste. When the pain eases, we’re going to walk away with our heads held high. This is what being an athlete is about, nights like this when everyone of these guys did themselves proud.”