SAN ANTONIO – Judging by the start of the season, the Bowdoin men’s soccer team did not appear headed for a successful year.

The Polar Bears were 1-1-2 overall after the first four games and were in last place in the New England Small College Athletic Conference at 0-1-2.

But the Polar Bears regrouped and finished as runners-up in the NESCAC, then won three playoff games and have advanced to today’s NCAA Division III semifinals.

“We had a belief then and we have a belief now,” said Bowdoin Coach Fran O’Leary, whose team will take on Lynchburg (19-4-1) at 2:30 p.m. at Blossom Soccer Stadium.

“We managed to maintain our cool and our poise when we were at the bottom of the league, with no goals scored in the first three games.

“Everyone realized we all had to do a little better job and to turn what were ties into wins.”

Sixth-ranked Bowdoin (15-1-4), which lost in the first round in last year’s NCAAs, will make its first appearance in the national semifinals. The winner plays at 2 p.m. Saturday against either two-time defending champion Messiah (21-1-0) or Wisconsin-Oshkosh (20-0-3).

O’Leary, a native of Dublin, is making his second trip to the semifinals. He guided Kenyon to the 1993 tournament final four, when the Lords lost to eventual champion California-San Diego.

Following this season’s shaky start, the Polar Bears went 14-0-2, losing to Middlebury in a penalty-kick shootout in the NESCAC championship.

After receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and a first-round bye, the Polar Bears earned their first NCAA postseason victory by beating Eastern Connecticut State, 2-1.

Bowdoin eliminated Amherst in penalty kicks and got revenge against Middlebury with a 2-1 overtime win in the quarterfinals.

The Polar Bears have scored 48 goals (2.40 per game) and yielded only 10 (.50 per game). Bowdoin has outshot opponents 375-166 and holds a 169-59 advantage in shots on goal.

Tim Prior has been an offensive leader for the Polar Bears. Prior, a senior midfielder, leads the team with 22 points. He has scored seven goals, including one game winner, and dished out eight assists.

“It took us four years to get here,” said Prior, of Georgetown, Mass. “We took it a game at a time and kept going.

“I think it was offensively we got our act together. We started putting more shots on frame and we were able to play our game and score.

“It really came down to scoring goals and distributing the ball from the back to the front.”

Junior forward Eddie Jones of Scarborough has contributed 20 points, with two game winners among his seven goals along with six assists.

Sophomore forward Michael Gale of Portland, Ore., has 17 points, scoring seven goals — one game winner — with three assists.

The Bowdoin defense has produced 12 shutouts this season, anchored by junior back Sean Bishop of Danvers, Mass., who has one goal and three assists. Bishop was named to the all-NESCAC first team.

Another back, freshman Ben Brewster of Cape Elizabeth, who has one game-winning goal and one assist, was named NESCAC rookie of the year.

Senior goalkeeper Dan Hicks of New York City has played in 16 games. He has allowed eight goals (.49 per game) and made 47 saves while compiling six shutouts.