After clinching a playoff berth last weekend, the men’s soccer team played Furman University in the Southern Conference semifinal for a chance to claim glory in the conference championship game.
Defeating Furman with a score of 3-1, the Bruins rewrote history as they now move to the SoCon final.
Belmont came into the match as an underdog, hoping to upset the No. 1 seeded team in the conference.
At the beginning of the first half, Furman came out strong and aggressive. However, this pressure did not last long, and the Belmont defense handled it well.
The Bruins were able to strike early in the 15th minute to take the lead.
A ball crossed into the box from midfielder Jack Shaw found forward Liam O’Brien, who headed the ball strongly into the bottom right corner of the goal.
Coach David Costa was pleased with the early goal, as it played into his team’s favor and altered the momentum of the match.
“Scoring an early goal definitely played a role in how the game played out. It shifted the pressure onto Furman to have to chase the game and play at an uncomfortable pace,” Costa said.
The rest of the half was filled with physical back and forth play. Both teams searched for openings but strong defense kept the Bruins ahead by one goal.
By the end of the half, Furman had outshot Belmont 3-2, but the Bruins were more efficient with their chances. The Paladins weren’t able to challenge Belmont keeper Drew Romig a single time in the first half, whereas all of Belmont’s shots were on target.
Early in the second half, Furman was eager to find an equalizer. They battered Belmont’s defense with several shots, but most of them flew over the top bar or strayed wide of the target.
Soon afterward, the Bruins began to find their footing again and were back to challenging Furman in its defensive third. Nonetheless, the second half looked troublesome for Belmont at first.
Furman was able to take advantage of one of its advances and tie the game as forward Jake Raine volleyed a cross from the right flank into the left side of the goal, leaving Drew Romig no chance for a save.
With both teams back on level terms, the two sides were hungry for a goal to establish a lead.
Furman, with momentum from their equalizer, nearly capitalized on several chances. However, it was met by firm defensive Bruins looking to prevent another scoring strike.
Coach Costa was impressed with his defense’s work following Furman’s goal.
“When they equalized, there was a stretch we had to weather,” He said. “The team showed great maturity and composure to get through that period of the match.”
In the 73rd minute, it seemed as if Belmont would regain the lead as a Furman foul on freshman AJ Chastonay in the 18-yard box led to a penalty in favor of the Bruins.
Junior Niccolo Dagnoni stepped up to take the spot-kick. The forward drove the shot slightly left of the center, but the Furman’s goalkeeper read the shot well and deflected it away for a clearance.
Belmont didn’t let the missed penalty bother them. Rather, the team remained patient and vigilant for a chance to take the lead.
Eventually, it paid off, and in the 80th minute, the Bruins saw the ball hit the back of their opponent’s net.
A corner kick was deflected to the feet of AJ Chastonay who didn’t hesitate, striking the ball with a single touch. His shot snuck past several defenders, beating Furman’s goalkeeper to the Bruins’ exhilaration.
The Paladins, now down late, pushed high in an attempt to break level once again, but the Belmont backline remained strong. As Furman got more aggressive, the Bruins made it clear they would not let another equalizer happen without a fight.
In the fading minutes of the match, junior Ares Marlonsson played Chastonay down the right wing. Driving into the box from the right side, Chastonay made a cut-back pass to freshman Michael Saunders, who tapped the ball into the open left side of the net, sealing Belmont’s win.
As the referee blew the final whistle, the Bruins solidified a historic win for the program.
It was the first time Belmont triumphed over Furman since joining the Southern Conference, as well as the first time in program history that Belmont has made it to a championship game.
Leading his team to a win, coach Costa attributes his team’s success to its work ethic.
“Our work rate and execution were excellent. It was a complete team performance. We executed our tactics and eliminated errors while finishing our chances,” Costa said. “It is always great to play for a championship, but the credit goes to the players as they have given everything of themselves this season to each other and the program.”
The Bruins progress to face the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the tournament final on April 17 where they will look to continue their historic run and bring home the Southern Conference trophy.
This article was written by David Pang.