O’s stop Rams run

Southwick midfielder Paul Whalley (7) maneuvers between Belchertown defenders during a West Division 2 quarterfinal Tuesday at Chicopee Comprehensive High School. (Photo by Marc St. Onge)

CHICOPEE – If the average local high school sports fan watched the Southwick High School boys soccer team in the playoffs over the course of the last four days, one would never know they were a double-digit seed in the tournament.
No. 10 Southwick played second-seeded Belchertown to a tie before tiring late, and ultimately fell 3-1 in a West Division 3 boys soccer quarterfinal Tuesday at Chicopee Comprehensive High School.
“It was a close game for a long time, but it is what it is,” Southwick coach Chris Whalley said.
Belchertown quickly jumped out to a 1-0 lead with Zachary Lajeunesse heading in a corner kick from Owen Raines 85 seconds into the game.
Belchertown continued to press the action on offense, earning a direct kick in the fifth minute. Southwick goalie Ryan Molta made the save. The Rams defense stepped up to thwart another corner kick just seconds later.
The two teams exchanged relatively decent scoring chances over the course of the next several minutes with Southwick’s Paul Whalley striking a 40-yard floater into the arms of Belchertown goalie Christopher Tilton in the 16th minute. Two minutes later, Molta made a diving save on an Orioles’ shot.
Molta made an even more dramatic save in the 30th minute, knocking away a shot that Lajeunesse tried to wedge into the lower right corner of the net. Southwick’s defense broke up the ensuing corner kick.
Molta made yet another stop on a long bullet from Jarod Bolton in the waning minutes of the half.
While Southwick’s offense seemed somewhat stagnant at the outset, the Rams appeared to gain some momentum over the final third of the first half with better ball movement and a quicker pace.
The uptick in momentum paid off as Matthew Allen worked the ball up along the left sidelines and crossed it to Cade Billings, who kicked a short riser into the upper right corner of the net with 53 seconds remaining in the half.
Southwick’s defense made Belchertown work extremely hard throughout much of the second half. The Orioles rarely got a clean shot off.
Belchertown made a few organized runs to the net; Southwick responded with a couple of their own. The Orioles struck gold though on Evan Fournier’s penalty kick with 14:31 remaining in regulation.
Jarod Bolton tacked on an insurance goal with 8:12 left.
“Last year we beat them so they wanted their revenge,” said Southwick’s Matthew Allen, whose team knocked off Belchertown a year ago to come away with a championship trophy. “I think at the end of the season, we just gave our grit and really pushed for what we wanted which was Western Mass.”
Southwick stumbled out of the gate in the early part of the season, but rallied to post three wins and a tie during the season’s final days. The Rams finished 4-8-4, but qualified for tournament play with a second place league finish. They upset seventh-seeded Palmer 4-3 in a tournament opener Saturday night.
“Our schedule early was brutal,” coach Whalley said. “It was a lot of games with very little rest. I think that games we should have won, it was just tired legs and being such a young team. I think that towards the end of the year, we found a nice rhythm, got a couple wins, and the momentum carried us.”
It was Whalley’s decision-making as head coach that gave his team an edge late in the season and through nearly two complete postseason games.
“We changed formations and a few tactics,” said Whalley, who moved Cade Billings out of the backfield to the front of the offense. “Cade is a big, fast strong player who gave us the ability to stretch the field.”
Unfortunately, Southwick was unable to stretch out its run just a few more times.
“Coming into this game, we were the underdogs, there was nothing to really play for than to prove everyone wrong,” Southwick’s Jared O’Connor said.
Said Whalley: ”It was a great season. A lot of players stepped up late. …That’s what you kind of hope – you build momentum. (Belchertown’s) senior experience proved to be a major difference maker in the end. They had a bunch of seniors step up late. I’m very proud of our seniors for the effort they put forth.”

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