BOXFORD — The Masconomet girls soccer team had already overcome so many obstacles this season in terms of illnesses and injuries that a one-goal deficit in the state tournament didn't shake them. The Chieftains felt like it was just one more hurdle to clear.
Even though they attacked with poise and confidence after falling behind, seventh-seeded Masconomet wasn't able to finish around the net in a 1-0 loss to No. 10 Belmont in the Division 2 North first round Monday at home.
Masconomet, which wraps up the season 11-5-4, put eight shots on net. Truth be told, their best scoring chances were wide of the frame and with junior Morgan Bovardi, one of the state's best goal scorers, sidelined by a knee injury manufacturing offense against a stout defensive team like the Marauders proved difficult.
"We've come from behind in a lot of games this year so we felt pretty good. We thought we could pull it out," said Masco coach Alison Lecesse. "We played well. There were stretches where we were pretty dominant ... but we do miss Morgan up top. She's a game-changer — she had 19 goals in 12 games and that's a big presence."
Belmont (9-7-2), which goes to No. 2 seed Beverly (15-2-1) for Thursday's quarterfinal (2 p.m.), broke a scoreless with with just over 12 minutes left in regulation. The Chieftains cleared the ball up the right sideline, but Belmont's Marina Karalis won control and quickly sent it towards the goal.
Kyra Christofori alertly got herself back in position just inside the box for a redirection that hit the back of the net for the only goal of the afternoon.
"It was a quick ball across and I don't think we were ready for it," said Lecesse. "It was a little bit of an unlucky bounce."
The best chance to tie for Masco came on a corner kick in the 75th minute. Ryenne Feeney's boot hit a few bodies in front and found a trailer at the side of the box for a scoring chance, but Belmont keeper Bridgette Martin cut off the angle and forced the chance to the side of the net.
The start of the second half featured the most pressure from the hosts. Junior mid Allie Vaillancourt had a couple of scoring chances denied and sophomore Elena Lindonen got in on goal more than once only to see Martin (eight saves) smother the ball.
"Their goalie held it when she needed to. There weren't many rebounds or extra shots. Belmont's a strong, physical team," Lecesse said. "Elena played out of her most. She's one of the fastest girls you'll see and she's only a sophomore. We're excited to have her back for two more years."
Senior Tori Simas, playing a hybrid defensive and attacking midfield role, was also excellent for the Chieftains. Junior Alex Karafotias nearly score for Masco in the first half, with her offering sailing over the cross bar, and sophomores Charlotte Meixsell and Alex Woodland were in the middle of almost every scoring chance.
Defensively, senior keepers Keilan Romito and Maria Lantzakis both played well and combined for 10 saves. The Chieftains were also without captain Bella Young in the back end due to injury and got tremendous play from Feeney to anchor the defense. Junior Lauren Hanson, freshman Kylie Dumont and sophomore Carissa Scannell also played well in front of the keepers, allowing zero corners on the day.
Both teams had direct kick chances just outside the box that were either wide or off frame, and Belmont did hit a couple of posts in the last five minutes with Masconomet pressing hard for the tying goal.
The Chieftains graduate seven seniors — Feeney, Simas, Young, Elizabeth Sampson, Makayla Kalman, Romito and Lantzakis — who qualified for the state tourney in all four of their seasons and won two Cape Ann League titles with two undefeated regular seasons.
"It's a tough way to finish a season that had a lot of ups and downs. These girls went through a lot and they came out of it playing really good soccer," Lecesse said. "It's a really special group of girls. I had a lot of these seniors in my class in seventh grade. I'll miss them. It's bittersweet to see them go off."