Sweet 16 Shocker: Belmont Girls’ Hockey Upset Three-Seed Lincoln/Sudbury In Quarters, 4-1, As Costa Stops 44 Shots

Photo: Belmont/Watertown goalie Jil Costa readies to pounce on a loose puck during her team’s game vs. Lincoln/Sudbury

It was a nightmare start for Belmont/Watertown Girls’ hockey goalie Jil Costa against heavy favorites Lincoln/Sudbury Regional High in the MIAA Division 1 state championship quarterfinals.

In its first rush up the ice, Lincoln/Sudbury’s junior Ally Quinn split the defenders and sent a wrist shot to Costa’s glove side, handcuffing the sophomore netminder. The puck sneaked by and rolled on its side into the back of the net.

1-0, Warriors, after 50 seconds.

After this goal, Belmont’s Jil Costa stopped the next 44 in the 4-1 upset of Lincoln/Sudbury

“Once it went in I was a little confused, to be honest,” said Costa, one of the standout goaltenders in the state allowing less than a goal a game – 16 goals in 20 games – this season.

But rather than replay the goal in her mind, “I immediately just got it out of my head. I ignored it as if it didn’t happen and I just had to focus on the next shot,” she said.

And from that point onward, it was lights out as Costa would stop all 44 shots she faced while her teammates scored three goals in the final four minutes of the first period propelling 14th-ranked Belmont to a thrilling upset over third-seed Lincoln/Sudbury, 4-1, in the Sweet 16 contest on a rainy Saturday night, March 2, in West Concord.

Belmont Senior Mia Taylor scored the game winning goal in the first period

“We played our game, relying on [Costa] to keep it close and help her out by scoring just enough to win,” said first-year head coach Brendan Kelleher.

Belmont (15-2-3) will next meet fellow upstarts Archbishop Williams (11-10-2) from Braintree in an Elite Eight matchup on Thursday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m., 53 miles from Belmont in far-flung Kingston (which is basically west Duxbury). The 11th-seed “Archies” sent sixth-ranked Methuen packing, 2-1, on a late goal Saturday.

Saturday’s game was decided in the initial 15 minutes as Belmont withstood a continuous onslaught from the quick Warrior forwards. But it was Belmont’s approach to Lincoln/Sudbury’s overtly-aggressive game plan that proved to be the Warriors’ undoing.

Belmont’s first goal came courtesy of senior co-Capt. Lola Rocci on the power play as she slotted a Gigi Mastrangelo pass by L/S eighth grade goalie Lauren Kennedy to level the score at one.

Belmont’s Lola Rocci circling the L/S net during the team’s 4-1 upset victory

With less than 90 seconds remaining in the period, Belmont struck for a pair. Despite defending a Belmont power play, the Warriors kept pushing players into the Belmont end. But when the Warriors lost the puck in the neutral zone, second line seniors Mia Taylor and Ruby Jones jumped to create a two-on-one counter with Taylor capping the break with the game winner.

“it was just keeping that intensity up no matter who’s on the ice … and always go for it and that created the goal” said Taylor.

And it wouldn’t be a Belmont game without an outstanding solo rush and goal by Marauders’ leading scorer, senior center Maddie Driscoll, who hit the back of the net while shorthanded in the dying seconds of the opening frame to leave the ice leading 3-1.

Up by two with a half hour to play, Lincoln/Sudbury kept the pressured on Belmont’s back line and Costa yet the Marauder defensive pairs – with a great deal of assistance from the forwards – withstood each Warrior rush without surrendering ice in front of the Belmont goal and pushing Warrior forwards outside the slot so shots were taken from a safe distance.

“We were told ahead of time they had an aggressive forecheck,” said senior co-Capt. Aislin Devaney. “Our defense did a really good job blocking shots, getting the puck out, and keeping bodies on them which made it easy for [Costa] to make saves.”

Through it all, Costa was as cold as the ice surface making save after save, leaving Lincoln Sudbury players slamming their sticks onto the ice in frustration or looking to the heavens for Divine Intervention that never came.

“A lot of practice just [having a] laser focus on the puck and … just make the save,” said Costa.

Belmont’s Evie Long (second from right) scoring the fourth goal of the game late in the third

It was left up to sophomore Evie Long to put a ribbon on the upset. After receiving a pinpoint drop pass from Driscoll, the winger scooped up her own rebound and backhanded Belmont’s fourth tally high into the net with four minutes left in the game.

“We’re keeping the rink open,” said assistant coach Josh Gilonna, borrowing a phrase used by Belmont Boys’ Hockey during a recent deep run in the tournament. “We’re going to play again.”

What A Week! Belmont Boys Stamps Its Brand Of Soccer On Div. 1 Playoff With Pair Of Upsets; Winchester Next In The Elite 8 On Sunday [VIDEO]

Photo: Alex Servitopoulos celebrating his winning goal vs.Acton-Boxborough, 3-2

A year ago this week, Belmont High Boys’ Soccer players littered the turf at Franklin High School, having come ever so close to beating a top-ten seed, ruing the many missed chances in a “what if …” moment.

What a difference a year makes.

In a pair of nailbiting playoff matches, the 30th-ranked Marauders defeated third-ranked Acton-Boxborough Regional (3-2) and 14th-seed Natick High (2-1) in the MIAA Division 1 tourney, leaving the winning goals until late in both games, with the second against Natick coming down to the final kick of the game.

“We win pretty, we win ugly, We win with fire, we wind with passion,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Niman Kenkre said after a second emotional game against Natick. “They just refuse to lose. I’ve never been around a group of guys like this.”

“Their spirit, their mental strength to do what we done in both games. It bears out the work that we’ve put in, all the passion, all the love that these guys have for each other. It’s just rewarding for their commitment to the way we play and to each other.”

Belmont (13-5-4) will take its innovative tactics to Middlesex League Liberty rival 11th-seed Winchester (15-1-2) for an Elite Eight contest on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 11:30 a.m. In their previous matches, the Red and Black defeated the Marauders by identical 2-0 scorelines.

The last time Belmont had gone this deep into the MIAA tournament was in the Div. 2 North championship semifinals when Winchester beat the Marauders, 1-0, on its way to the state title.

The games stood out in their contrasting styles. Against Acton-Boxborough, Belmont excelled in the installment by Kenkre of a patient approach to attacking the opponent, using a combination of short and medium passes or dribbling with the ultimate aim of reaching the opponent’s territory in a superior position.

While most high school teams play long passes up the field with the hope of winning the ball, “we’ve really mastered playing from the back, breaking the field into thirds and building our offense in each third,” said team co-captain Sachil Kenkre after the A-B match which he collected three points on a goal and two assists. “It’s really beautiful soccer, and tonight it paid off.”

“At the start of the season, we were making mistakes left and right, and it was going to be hard to play high school [soccer] like that. But as you saw, it worked, and we beat the three seed,” he said.

“Tonight really validated the style of soccer that we’ve been striving to do all season,” said coach Kenkre.

Belmont 3, Acton-Boxorough 2

At Acton-Boxorough, Belmont’s pressure defense – attacking the Colonials’ backline and midfield with multiple players – allowed the Marauders to be on the front foot for most of the first 40 minutes. A-B had some of its own original set plays as they took the lead with just over three minutes to play, scoring on a corner from a player who came into the box on a deep run.

But the Colonials advantage lasted a mere 24 seconds as Kenkre scored a wonder goal of the season, a long-range blast that beat the outstretched hand of AB goalie Kai Chong into the upper net. Less than a minute later, a Kenkre free kick to the right of the goal found junior Owen Filler sneaking in from the backside, who headed the ball back behind Chong for a 2-1 lead entering halftime.

After the break, Belmont came out on the attack and missed scoring three times, only to see A-B senior Miller Lille lose his marker on a corner and run free for an open header to level the match at 2-2. For the remainder of the half, Belmont’s stylish and stout defending never allowed the home team to set up their long-ball attack.

The Marauders’ pressure on AB’s back line paid off big when they were rewarded a corner with barely five minutes remaining in the game. Kenkre’s corner found senior Alex Servitopoulos, who raised his six-foot frame high above the scrum and headed the ball into the left corner for the game-winner.

“It’s all a flash at this point,” said Servitopoulos. “I saw the ball go in, and everything stopped in my life. I swear I’m speechless.”

Belmont 2, Natick 1 (4-2 in PKs)

In contrast to the A-B match, Thursday’s game on Natick’s fridged field was a grind-it-out affair where tactics were replaced with a close-quarters physical contest. The Red Hawks felt more at home creating chances with long balls crossing the box with attackers missing several good chances with Belmont’s double zero Thomas Borkowski making a pair of outstanding saves in the final minutes of the half.

Natick was rewarded with the lead five minutes after the restart. A Borkowski punch save off a corner went to the feet of Natick’s big central defender Matteo Uyar, who launched a low screamer by Borkowski.

“You know, so many other teams would have packed it in [going down] 1-0. This team would not,” said coach Kendre.

After taking control of the match, Belmont would once again wait until five minutes to the end to score, relying on a first-year coming off the bench. Inserted a few minutes earlier, Lawrence Tu was at the right place at the right time when he corralled a loose ball outside the box to the right of the goal.

“Coach moved me off to attacking midfield, and I got in the box,” said Tu. “Sachil took a corner and it bounced straight to me. I just took a touch and it went in.”

“The whole season, I’ve just been filling in whenever I can. I just wanted to get the job done and I did so I am really happy,” said Tu.

The two 10-minute overtime periods were uneventful – except for two Natick starters who were carried off the pitch after collisions – and the game would be decided via the dreaded penalty kicks. After four converted kicks from 11 meters, Borkowski drilled a shot off the crossbar. But the senior stood tall, stopping the subsequent penalty stretching to his left, and sent the Belmont supporters crazy with a second consecutive save, this one at this feet.

“I knew my team was going to score. Just needed to keep one out and we were good,” said Borkowski.

Up 3-2, senior Samuel Kutsman came to the spot as nonchalance as if he knew the game was about to end. Kutsman’s run-up sent the Natick goalie to the left as he placed the ball into the right corner. All that was left to do was celebrate as Kutsman slid on his knees to the sideline, where his teammates met him as the Belmont supporters took to the field.

“I was confident in my abilities [scoring from the spot],” said Kutsman. “We’ve been practicing pens for five days. I just knew it from the start.”

Coach Kenkre said he was eager to meet that challenge with a one-loss Winchester facing them on Sunday.

“We’re ready. They’ve beaten us twice, but it’s always tough to beat a good team three times. We know how to play us, and we know how to play them. It’s going to be a great match. A Middlesex League team is going to the final four, and I think it will start with the letter B.”

Boys’ Rugby Swept Aside St John’s Prep, 29-7, Next Up BC High In State Finals Saturday

Photo: Belmont High’s Number Eight Max Cornelius scoring his second try of the game as Belmont defeated St. John’s Prep, 29-7, in the MIAA Division 1 Boys’ Rugby semifinals

The combination of a rock solid defense along with an offensive minded kicking attack resulted in three tries in the first 20 minutes as Belmont High Boys’ Rugby rolled to a 29-7 victory over the St. John’s Prep Eagles in the Division 1 state semifinals in front of a packed Harris Field on Friday afternoon, June 10.

Belmont Boys’ will face long-time rivals Boston College High in the Division 1 state championship match at 4 p.m., June 18, at Curry College in Milton. The Boys’ join the Belmont High Girls’ Rugby squad at the finals as the girls seek their fourth consecutive state championship vs Lincoln-Sudbury Regional at 2 p.m.

Belmont High’s long-time Head Coach Greg Bruce anticipated a defensive struggle with the Eagles after meeting them two week before in Danvers, a match where a late try saw Belmont come through with the victory, 15-12.

“They were really physical side and well coached and we knew that they’d have threats all over the field and we just had to play a very tight defensive game,” said Bruce after the match. “We said to the guys what’s going to determine the game is how you’re able to make your tackles … and they did it.”

Belmont clicked on its first venture into St. John’s end as the Marauders’ Number Eight Max Cornelius scooped up the ball from a ruck five meters from the try line and muscled it in at the five minute mark for a 5-0 lead.

The Eagles pressed their advantage after a kick clearance and a Belmont penalty saw them inside of 10 meters to the try only for Belmont’s defensive scheme stop five attempts by the Eagles to score and subsequently successfully holding up an Eagle player on the try line to win the ball.

Belmont showed great finesse with its kicking game which has become an increasingly important part of its game plan allowing the Marauders to relieve defensive pressure. On several occasions, Belmont “flipped the field” by kicking the ball from deep in its defensive end with the ball ending up in St. John’s end of the pitch.

As St. John’s continued to press, the Marauders’ defense stepped up once again as outside center James Barsam intercepted a flat pass and and sprinted 50 meters in the clear for the Marauders’ second try and a 12-0 lead after 15 minutes.

“James has gone for a few of those this year and it hasn’t really worked out. When he did it tonight, one of my coaches leaned over and goes ‘he finally got one’,” said Bruce, praising Barsam by noting that “while there’s other guys that get more credit, James is one of our most solid defenders outside and one of the most hardest positions and channels to defend on the field, which is the outside center.”

Four minutes later, after a costly Prep miscue, Belmont big man, tight head prop Asa Rosenmeier, rumbled in for the try – Belmont’s third – and a commanding 19-0 lead before 20 minutes had passed.

“I was out when we play them three weeks ago and I needed to prove myself,” said Rosenmeier who played the entire 70 minutes.

Bruce noted after the third score, St. John’s Prep changed its defensive set up which disrupted Belmont’s attack. “They put us under pressure. We lost all momentum and fluidity to our game at that point. And it stayed that way for a period of quite a long period of time,” said Bruce

St. John’s would use its passing quickness to set them up after a penalty inside the 10 meters for a successful try to cut the lead to 19-7 at the 26 minute mark. But that was all the Eagles could muster for the rest of the half as the Marauders’ group tackling was outstanding, limiting their opponent to only a handful of runs beyond 10 meters and forcing mistakes in the Eagles’ back.

“For as long as I can remember, our number one priority is defense. We spend more time on our defense this year than any year in the past,” said Bruce. “I said to the boys in the locker room, this is one of the best defensive teams we’ve ever had. And you’re gonna have to play the best game you’ve ever had to earn a spot next weekend. And they did it,”

Through out the remainder of the game, Belmont’s team defense would be challenged only a handful of times with hook Raffi Belorian and left wing Stephen Hong knocking a Prep runner into touch a meter from the try line to end St. John’s best and only threat of the half.

A second try from Cornelius 11 minutes into the second half and a three-point penalty kick from fly-half Erik Rosenmeier at the 60 minute mark punched the Marauders’ ticket to next week’s state finals.

For Bruce and the team, the victory celebration will be short lived.

“We’re gonna enjoy tonight and get back to work tomorrow. BC High is an amazing team,” said Bruce.

“I wouldn’t say we’re favorite just because we beat them in the last game (a 28-21 away victory on May 19),” he said. “BC has a way of putting together a game plan that works when it matters the most. And so, we’ll keep that in mind and try and counter it as best we can.”

For Rosenmeier, the finals will be one more game he gets to play with his brother, senior Erik.

“The emotions, wow. I know I will be nervous but also super excited,” he said. “First time ever playing in a state finals, It’s going to be a great place to be in whether we win or loss. Just playing at Curry is going to be fun.”

Last In Belmont Boys’ Lacrosse Entertains Peabody Tuesday, June 7 In Division 1 Prelims

Photo: Belmont High will be playing in the MIAA Division 1 Boys’ Lacrosse tournament

It doesn’t matter how you make the postseason, just that you did. And by the skin of their teeth, the Belmont High’s Boys’ Lacrosse will be playing next week in the Division 1 state championships.

Under the MIAA state tournament system, the top 32 teams in the power rankings are invited to the playoffs much like the NCAA system. And for the final weeks, Belmont were hovering around that coveted final spot to extend its season.

And the Marauders (9-9) came through with 6 wins in their final 8 matches and in the final rankings, Belmont got an automatic bid … as the 32nd seed.

Whew!

Under the tourney system, any team with a winning or .500 record also are invited in to play the lowest seeded teams, which includes Belmont. As a result, Belmont will welcome 9-7 Peabody Veterans High School to Harris Field on Tuesday, June 7 at 6:30 p.m. in a play-in match.

This marks the second time this season teams from Belmont and Peabody will meet in a preliminary round match as the Mustangs defeated the Marauders, 1-0, in Boys’ Soccer last fall.

Winning the play-in may just be a pyrrhic-victory as the team left standing will face the number 1 seed and perennial Division 1 powerhouse St. John’s Prep at Danvers.

But, that team will be playing one more game.