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Hillsboro-Deering Hands Stevens an Upset

Claremont — The Stevens High girls soccer team finished the regular season with two wins and two ties over its last four games, despite scoring just two goals. The lack of scoring punch continued Wednesday during the opening round of the New Hampshire Division III girls soccer tournament, as the Cardinals were eliminated, 3-1, by Hillsboro-Deering at Monadnock Park.

It was a strange game: for the first 25 minutes the Cardinals were clearly the dominant team, but couldn’t put the ball in the net.

“Then we hit a wall and they started beating us to the ball,” said Stevens coach Tom Belaire.

Added Hillsboro-Deering coach Susan Else: “We’ve always been a late starting team.”

Stevens (9-2-4) came into the game as the fourth seed, while the underdog Hillcats (8-8-1) were 13th. Like Stevens, Hillsboro-Deering limped down the stretch as it was shut out in its last three regular-season games. Of the Hillcats’ eight losses, seven were shutouts.

The game hit a critical juncture midway through the second half when Stevens’ Katelyn Belaire scored to cut the deficit to 2-1. But the Hillcats scored 14 seconds later to regain momentum.

“After you score a goal like we did, that’s when you are the most vulnerable,” Stevens assistant coach Steve McManus said.

The first 25 minutes, in which Stevens controlled play, was also a time of frustration as scoring opportunities were there, but not converted. Belaire had a shot from in close that was tipped over the net. Next, Jazmyn Griffin got the ball to Designe Roy about 10 yards from the goal, but her shot was off the crossbar. Later, Alyson Lizotte dribbled the ball in from the left side and got a hard shot off, but Hillcat keeper Emma Moore held her ground, catching the ball in her hands and not allowing a rebound.

As the first half headed into the final 15 minutes, Hillsboro-Deering became a different team, and only the play of Stevens defenders Natalie Wilson, Emily Varkhum, Nikki Root and goalkeeper Molly Early kept the game scoreless. It stayed that way until there was 3:43 to play before the break, when the Hillcats moved the ball inside the Stevens’ zone in rapid fashion. Eventually, the Hillcats’ Madisyn Winters sent a cross to teammate Bridgette Winters, who got a shot on Early. The keeper got her hands up to stop the ball, but the rebound went to Makaya Savoy, who sent the ball past Early for the goal.

At halftime Sweet Caroline was played, and the Red Sox’ inspirational song apparently gave Lizotte a boost, as she zinged one over the arms of Moore, but it banged off the crossbar. Waiting for the carom was the Cardinals’ Heidi Neuhausser, who kicked it back over the cage.

It was that kind of day for the Cardinals.

That missed opportunity seemed to spur the Hillcats, who put the Cardinals in a 2-0 hole as their transition game resulted in an offensive flurry that culminated in a corner kick by Kiersten Clough that was headed in by Winters.

With their backs to the wall, the Cardinals responded with a goal to make it 2-1 when Belaire made a long run to the left of Moore and got off a on-the-run shot that sailed past Moore and inside the far post. Then 14 seconds later, the Hillcats stunned the Cardinals as they moved right down the field and got the back-breaking goal to make it 3-1.

“We’ve been working on our transition game and it was good today,” said Else, who also thought her team was just a little more physical and that physicality helped.

“We like to play physical, but we like to play clean,” she said.

Hillsboro-Deering had a 10-8 edge in shots on goal. The corners were two apiece.