BEVERLY — Had the ball sailed another six inches to the left, the Beverly High girls soccer team might still be playing.
Against almost all odds, it tailed to the right, wide of the goal, and the Panthers are still yearning for their first playoff win since 2013.
A nearly flawless defensive effort from No. 10 Belmont and a little bit of bad luck on the ball doomed No. 2 Beverly in a 1-0 Division 2 North quarterfinal loss at Frank Forti Field on a dreary and chilly Thursday afternoon.
The Marauders (10-7-2) got the game’s only goal two minutes into the second half and held the Panthers scoreless thanks to 13 saves from keeper Bridgette Martin. The last 15 minutes were furious in terms of scoring chances.
Senior Cassie Jones created two incredible opportunities by beating defenders only to see her shots smothered by Martin. With five minutes left, Beverly was awarded a free kick from the left side inside the 10-yard line; it was essentially a free cross that Sam Carnevale delivered directly to Sarah Hall’s head for a chance that somehow didn’t find the back of the net.
A moment later, Jones sent a pass across the box that Lia Whitehair toed just over the bar. Then with two minutes to play, Beverly (15-3-1) earned its fifth corner kick of the game: It was well served and created a rebound chance, but Martin snared that one, too.
“The hard thing is we’d produced all season in different ways: Off set pieces, in settled play, in transition. We created chances in all those ways but couldn’t get the result,” first-year Beverly coach Samantha Charest said. “Soccer can be a cruel game in that way.”
It was a more wide-open game than Belmont’s first round win over Masconomet and that pace seemed to suit the Panthers in the early going.
Belmont had a 10-7 shots edge at halftime but many of those were easy saves for Beverly’s All-NEC keeper Sydney Anderson (15 stops) and it seemed like the hosts’ chances were the more dangerous of the bunch.
Early in the second half, though, Belmont’s Kyra Christofori tapped in a fast feed from the left sideline at the near post.
It was her second straight second half game-winner in a 1-0 tourney upset as the Marauders advance to Monday’s semifinals.
“If I’m Belmont that’s the chance I need to put away. Syd had no chance on it. She played phenomenal,” said Charest. “Hats off to Belmont. They played really well.”
Isabella Sullivan gave Beverly a spark off the bench while Whitehair was immense in the middle of the field. Sophia Hemsey had a big game defensively and captains Tuesday Crowell and Alex Sullivan also played well.
Belmont controlled the action for stretches of the second half, limiting Beverly to only one shot on goal in the middle minutes with center back Ashley Green playing extraordinarily well. In the 65th minute, Jones freed herself and created a chance despite going 4-on-1 and that seemed to spark the Panthers to a finish that put all kinds of pressure on the goal.
“There were parts of the game where we dominated and couldn’t put the ball away,” Charest said. “It’s hard not to get the result we wanted, the result we know we’re capable of getting.”
The Northeastern Conference North co-champions did escape the first round of the playoffs, by virtue of a high-seed and bye into the quarterfinals.
Still, they wanted to taste tournament victory on their home field more than anything.
“It’s a special group and I’m going to miss the three seniors a lot,” Charest said. “I don’t want the girls to take the sourness of today and forget all the great things they did. We had a lot of kids in new positions, a new coach asking them to play a brand new style. They played some phenomenal soccer.”