By Mike Flanagan (@flano0)
BELMONT – Before the start of the 2022 season, Aidan O’Neil (Richmond) was crystal clear on what he and his Tabor Academy teammates wished to accomplish.
“Honestly, it’s ISL championship or nothing. We have a ton of guys that have been talking about it for a long time and if we get to where I think this team potentially can get to, we should be playing for a title.”
On Wednesday, Tabor got their chance to brand themselves as a legitimate threat to win the ISL with a road clash against the preseason favorite, Belmont Hill (5-2, 4-0). With both teams entering at 3-0 in ISL play, the winner would catapult themselves into sole possession of first place in the league after previously unbeaten St. George’s fell to St. Sebastian’s.
The game script had all the makings for a Tabor victory, as the Seawolves (6-2, 3-1) scored each of the game’s final four goals and held Belmont off the scoreboard for the entirety of the fourth quarter. Amazingly, it still was not enough. A 5-1 run by Belmont during the third quarter proved to be the difference along with 16 saves by Matt Torrey (Air Force) in a 12-10 victory.
Good ball facilitation allowed Belmont to jump out to a 6-2 lead midway through the second, as six different guys found the back of the net for the Sextants. Back-to-back goals by Aidan O’Neil on the man-up and Reed Allen (three goals) brought Tabor within two at halftime.
Belmont Owns The Third
Belmont began the second half on the man-up and Liam Horkan (Connecticut College) immediately cashed in by dumping home a goal off a feed from Preston Evans (three assists).
Mitch Kavey bounced home a goal down the right alley to bring Tabor back within two at 7-5, but Horkan followed it up with a lefty laser on the run. Belmont’s Eli Goldstein (Dartmouth) and Tabor’s Evan O’Neil (two goals, three assists) exchanged man-up goals to bring the score to 9-6.
A 3-0 run with goals coming from Adam Figler (Williams) and two from Ethan O’Neill (Tufts) gave the Sextants their biggest lead of the game at 12-6. Allen put an end to the run with a low-to-low bouncer in the final minute of the quarter to make it a 12-7 game at the end of three.
“We played three really good quarters, got a little sloppy towards the end but that’s a really good team,” said Belmont senior defenseman Drew Dummer (Middlebury) following the game. “We have a lot of positives coming out of that, but still some things we need to work on in practice.”
‘Money’ Matt Torrey
With Belmont leading by three midway through the second quarter, Torrey made a game-altering save, diving across the crease on a fast break for Tabor and stoning Jackson Chase with a sprawling stick save. Torrey quickly transitioned the ball up field and Charlie Cave (Brown) dumped home a goal on the ensuing fast break off a feed from Figler to make it a 5-1 game.
“He’s money,” said senior defenseman Tom Goguen (Dartmouth) on the play of Torrey. “There really isn’t much more I can say. That was just an amazing save and it really changed how we we were able to strategize throughout the rest of the first half. It went from us only being up by two, to up four.”
Just before Torrey’s incredible play midway through the second, Goguen helped the cause by assisting on a goal to fellow pole Charlie Hazard (Hopkins), who took Goguen’s clearing pass, rushed up field and bounced home a goal that that squeaked through Tabor goalie Tim McNamara (Denver). Hazard’s goal put Belmont ahead 3-1 at the end of one quarter.
“Felt good,” said Goguen on his apple. “I just did what I had to do and got the ball up field. Charlie used his legs and did the rest.”
Managing The O’Neil Brothers
Belmont’s offense took a conservative approach throughout the fourth quarter, putting an emphasis on chewing clock and preserving the five-goal lead instead of attacking the net. Belmont’s suffocating defense forced Aidan and Evan O’Neil to navigate into some uncomfortable areas. Eventually, Tabor was able to climb within two goals, but it wasn’t until 1.7 seconds to play in the game when Allen dumped in a feed from Aidan O’Neil.
Even after not scoring a single fourth quarter goal and getting outscored 4-0 in the final 12:51, Belmont was still able to pick up its biggest win of the season and take over first place in the ISL.
“We were just trying to make sure we cleared the ball and played clean in that fourth quarter,” said Belmont head coach Tim Sullivan. “Obviously, Aidan O’Neil is an outstanding player so we just tried to keep giving him different looks with different guys matching up on him. Tabor is a very good team so I don’t think it’s any surprise that it was a close game and both teams were pushing deep into the fourth quarter.”
As Belmont enters the meat of its ISL schedule, Wednesday’s win against Tabor couldn’t have come at a better time, especially with a mammoth sized matchup against arch rival St. Sebastian’s looming next week at Regis College.
Belmont 3 3 6 0 12
Tabor 1 3 3 3 10
Adam Figler – 2 goals, 3 assists
Ethan O’Neill – 3 goals, 2 assists
Liam Horkan – 3 goals
Preston Evans – 3 assists
Eli Goldstein – 2 goals
Charlie Cave – 1 goal, 3 assists
Charlie Hazard – 1 goal
Tom Goguen – 1 assist
Eli Friedman – 14-of-24 face-offs
Matt Torrey – 16 saves
Evan O’Neil – 2 goals, 3 assists
Aidan O’Neil – 3 goals, 2 assists
Reed Allen – 3 goals
Garrett Salit – 1 goal, two assists
Mitch Kavey – 1 goal
Jackson Chase – 1 assist
Tim McNamara – 6 saves