DECATUR – The Bellmont girls soccer senior class is one of the more accomplished in program history. It captured four straight sectional titles and won a regional in 2018 as freshmen, but Wednesday its quest for another regional championship came to an end in a 2-1 semifinal loss to Class 2A No. 15 Hamilton Heights on a field made muddy from afternoon rain.
“Great senior (class), I'll miss them all,” Bellmont coach Steve Lee said. “Most of them have been three-, four-year starters, and we're going to miss everyone of them. They're great players and they're great kids.”
It was an emotional scene on the Bellmont side as players dealt with the end of a season that had seen them win seven of their previous eight contests, all by shutout.
“They left everything on the field and I'm very, very proud of them,” Lee said. “Two good teams going at each other. We knew it was going to be a dogfight from the beginning and it was, right to the very end.”
Lee reiterated the point to his team after the game.
“There's not a damn thing you could have done different,” he said with his players huddled around him, many of them fighting tears.
Bellmont (12-8) scored its lone goal in the 79th minute, with 1:30 to go until the final whistle. Trailing 2-0, sophomore Carly Gilbert darted down the right side and laid a shot on goal. Hamilton Heights saved the ball, but surrendered a rebound and freshman Lauren McMahon was in position to drill the ball into the back of an empty net.
The next 90 seconds saw the hosts desperately try for an equalizer, but they couldn't manufacture any real chances.
“Crazy hectic,” senior forward Kenzie Fuelling said of those final minutes. “I thought maybe we were a little nervous to get that one, but once we got the first one, we were like 'OK, let's go, let's get this next one.' We thought we could get the next one, but it didn't turn out how we wanted.”
The Huskies (17-3) will meet No. 10 Leo (18-0-2) for the regional title Saturday at Norwell after the Lions beat Western 4-1 on Wednesday in the bracket's other semifinal.
Hamilton Heights jumped in front in the 31st minute when defender Keri Townsend lofted a one-touch shot from 25 yards out over the desperate dive of Bellmont goalkeeper Lexi Ellsworth, who made a series of terrific saves to keep her team in the game.
Bellmont had its best chance for an equalizer in the 53rd minute when Hamilton Heights failed to clear and the ball was bouncing free in front of a wide-open net, but Fuelling could not quite put it through. In the 66th minute, the Huskies went on the attack off a free kick and Ella Hickok beat Ellsworth to the right corner to make it a two-goal spread.
“We always said 'we're family' and I thought we really showed up as a family tonight,” Fuelling said. “Nobody quit. Even though it wasn't the outcome we wanted, I thought we played so hard.
“I am just so appreciative of the team I've been able to play on for my last four years. We've been so successful, and it's crazy to be on a successful team for four years and have that opportunity.”