Season ends in playoff exit for Stevens boys soccer

Stevens High soccer co-captain Luke Belisle rests on the bench at halftime of his team's 5-0 loss to Hopkinton during an NHIAA Division III first-found playoff game on Oct. 24, 2023, in Hopkinton, N.H. The Cardinals trailed, 2-0, at the break and lost their ninth consecutive game after beginning the season 7-0.  (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Stevens High soccer co-captain Luke Belisle rests on the bench at halftime of his team's 5-0 loss to Hopkinton during an NHIAA Division III first-found playoff game on Oct. 24, 2023, in Hopkinton, N.H. The Cardinals trailed, 2-0, at the break and lost their ninth consecutive game after beginning the season 7-0. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

Stevens High goalkeeper Nevin Marsh comes down with the ball in front of teammate Logan Minckler (15) and Hopkinton's Avery Condon (24) during the NHIAA Division III teams' first-round playoff game on Oct. 24, 2023, in Hopkinton, N.H. Hopkinton won, 5-0.  (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Stevens High goalkeeper Nevin Marsh comes down with the ball in front of teammate Logan Minckler (15) and Hopkinton's Avery Condon (24) during the NHIAA Division III teams' first-round playoff game on Oct. 24, 2023, in Hopkinton, N.H. Hopkinton won, 5-0. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

Stevens High goalkeeper Nevin Marsh punts against NHIAA Division III foe Hopkinton during a first-round playoff game on Oct. 24, 2023, in Hopkinton, N.H. Hopkinton won, 5-0. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Stevens High goalkeeper Nevin Marsh punts against NHIAA Division III foe Hopkinton during a first-round playoff game on Oct. 24, 2023, in Hopkinton, N.H. Hopkinton won, 5-0. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

Stevens High's Jackson Fellows (13) heads the ball alongside teammate Josh Howe (14) and behind Hopkinton's Nolan Linstad during the NHIAA Division III teams' first-found playoff game on Oct. 24, 2023, in Hopkinton, N.H. Hopkinton won, 5-0. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Stevens High's Jackson Fellows (13) heads the ball alongside teammate Josh Howe (14) and behind Hopkinton's Nolan Linstad during the NHIAA Division III teams' first-found playoff game on Oct. 24, 2023, in Hopkinton, N.H. Hopkinton won, 5-0. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

Stevens High's Owen Chapman, right, shadows Hopkinton's Liam O'Brien during the NHIAA Division III teams' first-round playoff game on Oct. 24, 2023, in Hopkinton, N.H. Hopkinton won, 5-0. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Stevens High's Owen Chapman, right, shadows Hopkinton's Liam O'Brien during the NHIAA Division III teams' first-round playoff game on Oct. 24, 2023, in Hopkinton, N.H. Hopkinton won, 5-0. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 10-25-2023 9:08 AM

HOPKINTON, N.H. — A skate park sits in front of Hopkinton High, its ramps and curves and rails drawing small-wheeled enthusiasts from throughout the Merrimack County town.

Behind the park Tuesday, the Stevens High boys soccer team continued its startling slide. The Cardinals’ 5-0 loss to Hopkinton in a first-round NHIAA Division III playoff game was their ninth consecutive setback after beginning the season 7-0.

“We had some losses we just gave away and I think those got in our heads a little bit,” said Stevens coach Jason Stone, whose team lost its regular-season meeting with Hopkinton by the same score on Sept. 29. “We also dominated some games and lost and those are almost worse.”

The 13th-seeded visitors were pinned on their side of the field for much of the first half. They held off the fourth-seeded Hawks until striker Avery Condon used a slick, back-heel strike to open the scoring 13 minutes before halftime.

Hopkinton (14-3) doubled its lead four minutes later. This time, Condon spun 180 degrees before thumping a low shot inside the left post.

The Cardinals (7-9) surrendered a third goal three minutes into the second half and suffered their fifth shutout. The Hawks’ last two tallies came off Noah Aframe’s throw-ins launched into the middle of the penalty area and put away at the back post.

“We just needed somebody to go get the ball,” Stone lamented.

After outscoring opponents, 18-5, during its winning streak, Stevens was outscored, 24-5, the rest of the way.

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“We just weren’t good enough today,” Stone said. “At first, we were almost too amped up and we took sloppy touches on the ball. We gave it back to (Hopkinton) time and time again. We just smashed the ball without any purpose.”

The oft-injured Cardinals were 3-13 last fall, but Stone initially thought this year’s team had a chance to make a deep playoff run. He implicated a tortuous stretch of midseason scheduling that had his team play five games in 10 days and during which it went 1-4.

“That killed us,” said the 12th-year bench boss. “It wore us down. When we had tired and nicked-up guys and we moved others to compensate, it was like trying to put a puzzle back together.

“Some of it was on me, management wise, because I was trying to spare some guys minutes so they might be ready for the next game.”

Stevens graduates seven seniors, including midfield standouts Lucas Belisle, who was shut down by Hopkinton on Tuesday, and Jason Demars, hobbled by a lingering knee injury. When the latter was healthy, it allowed the former more room to operate.

“They just whacked Luke every time he got the ball,” Stone said of a player he expects to represent New Hampshire in next summer’s Lions Cup all-star game and play NCAA Division III soccer. “It’s happened to him all season.”

Stone, who also trains younger players through the Connecticut River Soccer Academy, said a host of freshmen and sophomores earned game time this season. The 1994 Stevens graduate touted the talent and numbers of Claremont’s current middle school players.

“We hoped to be a little sharper today,” Stone said. “We didn’t beat ourselves but we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win, or to even stay in the game.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.