Frontier edges Belchertown, 2-1, to defend championship

  • Defending champion Frontier’s airborne sniper Ethan LaFleur (3) leaps up into the arms of teammate Ian Newman (9) after he scored the game-winning goal Sunday, past Belchertown keeper Tanner Clark, to win the WMass Division III boys’ soccer championship at Westfield State University. for the recorder/J. Anthony Roberts

  • Frontier’s Ian Newman (9) chases the ball upfield, past Belchertown’s Dan Becker (12), during the Hawks’ 2-1 Division III WMass boys’ soccer championship game win. for the recorder/J. Anthony Roberts

  • Frontier’s Zach Hamilton (10) and Belchertown’s Even Fournier battle for control of the ball during first-half action of the Division III WMass boys’ soccer championship match won by Frontier, 2-1. Sunday at Westfield State University. for the recorder/J. Anthony Roberts

  • Frontier celebrates Ethan LaFleur’s game-winning goal past Belchertown keeper Tanner Clark during second-half action of the Red Hawks’ 2-1 Division III WMass boys’ soccer championship Sunday at Westfield State University. for the recorder/J. Anthony Roberts

  • Frontier’s Noah Jacques (4) heads the ball across the field away from the Frontier net during second-half action of his Red Hawks’ 2-1 Division III WMass boys’ soccer championship win Sunday at Westfield State University. for the recorder/J. Anthony Roberts

For The Recorder
Published: 11/13/2016 9:38:01 PM

WESTFIELD — Ethan Lafleur can handle himself in the air.

The Frontier Regional School junior forward karate kicked a pass from Dan Bronke into the net 18 minutes into Sunday’s Western Massachusetts Division III boys’ soccer title game against Belchertown High School to give the Red Hawks an early lead.

“I saw Ethan split the two center backs, and he’s done it before, so I thought it would be a good idea to give it to him,” Bronke said. “He’s got a lot of chances on net from those. He knows what he’s doing in the air.”

LaFleur added a second goal in the 69th minute that secured Frontier’s second straight sectional title, 2-1.

The Red Hawks (13-3-4) will play central Mass. champ Nipmuc (17-4-1) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Westfield State in the state semifinals.

Frontier beat Palmer last year in penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation and overtime to win Franklin County’s first sectional soccer title.

LaFleur ensured the Red Hawks wouldn’t have to wait that long to see the ball in the net.

“I saw the defense was standing still and was hoping to get in behind,” LaFleur said. “Then I did.”

Only three players returned from last year’s title team, but their collective experience helped the Red Hawks stay loose.

“Last year we hadn’t won a title yet there was more pressure,” Frontier coach Dale Totman said. “This year it was different in that we didn’t feel the pressure even though we had the same kind of feeling we would win.”

Belchertown (12-8-1) tested that faith. The Orioles pressured Frontier from the opening kick.

They earned two free kicks and a corner before Frontier possessed the ball in their half.

“We talk to each other and yell at each other so we know where everything is,” Dan Bronke said.

Evan Fournier nearly tied the game with a free kick in the 31st minute that Frontier keeper Peter Bronke just tipped high enough to bounce off the crossbar and out.

Fournier kept the ball lower to the ground on his next free kick in the 69th minute. It skipped 25 yards in front of Peter Bronke (seven saves) and slid into the bottom right corner to tie the game at 1.

“They were putting guys inside the goal to try and block it, so I figured there was no way it would get in in the air,” Fournier said. “The wall jumped every time, so I just decided to put it on the ground.”

After taking the Orioles’ best shot, Frontier countered two minutes later. The Red Hawks won a header on Belchertown’s side of the field, then found Ian Newman on the right side. He briefly lost possession before Zach Hamilton dumped the ball forward.

Belchertown’s Chris Ingram tried to clear the danger but knocked the ball straight in the air. Ben Arnold headed it down to LaFleur, who let it bounce briefly before firing a shot into the left side of the net in the 71st minute.

“For us to have the mental strength to not allow the momentum to turn and to come right back and score a few minutes later, that’s unbelievable,” Totman said.

Belchertown couldn’t reclaim the sectional crown it wore for four years before Frontier took it last season, beating the Orioles in last year’s semifinals and this year’s final. Sunday was the final game for Belchertown seniors Hayden Bennis, Tanner Clark (five saves) and Alec Morgado.

Frontier will return to the state semifinals with a clear understanding of what it takes to compete at that level.

“Last year was new for us. This year it’s a little different. We have the experience now,” Totman said. “Those captains know what it’s like. The fact that it’s in western Mass., we feel very good. We’re hungry for the state title now. We want it all.”

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