MANSFIELD, Mass. – As the game stayed scoreless into the second overtime, every ball into the box, every set piece, even the most low-percentage shot took on an extra edge of anxiety. Add in the cold and it was important that a goalie stay prepared because you never know when they might be called upon.
Sophomore goalie Janiya Matier’s moment came in the 93rd minute. Grafton’s Olivia Campbell cut across the top of the box and hit a right-footed shot that was slicing into the upper 90. Somehow, Matier (six saves) got all the way across and managed to get to hands up into the top corner to push the shot to safety.
Three minutes after Matier saved the day for Oliver Ames, classmate Emma Gavin won it. Senior Jenna Gilman, who scored the winning goal in the first round and the quarterfinal, made a burst down the left wing and, for one of the first times in the match, was able to get all the way to the end line. She cut it back to Gavin racing into the box for a first-time finish and a 1-0 win in Tuesday night’s Div. 2 semifinal at Mansfield’s Alumni Field.
The goal secured OA’s first trip to the state title game since the Tigers won it all in 2007.
“I was so distracted by that save and then we go down and I looked and we scored and I was just like, oh my goodness,” Matier said after the game. “Hard work just pays off and we’ve been working very hard this whole season and we’ve definitely earned this and deserve it.”
When asked how she managed to stay ready to make that big stop when called upon, Matier explained, “Always making sure I’m paying attention in practice and just being myself. I’m so happy to be here and that was really crazy. I didn’t expect to get it! You have to keep on practicing and never giving up.”
This was the fourth clean sheet in four tournament games and OA coach Britt Sellmayer was full of praise for his defense after the game.
“My back four held on,” he said. “Molly Capece, Catie Wilson, they’re not year-round soccer players, they’re kids that show up in August, and they did a great job on the outside. Sophia Byron and Taylor deVos, our center backs, they just did enough. They’re super, super players.”
About the game-wining goal, Sellmayer added, “Emma ‘Big Game’ Gavin. This girl runs from 18-to-18, she does everything for us in the middle of the field.”
Grafton, which came into Tuesday’s match unbeaten, gave OA its biggest test of the tournament so far. The Gators, especially Bridget Kennedy and Elie Bristol, managed to keep OA from getting the ball out to the wings and bottled up every Tigers attack. Up front, Caity Tyldesley was causing OA problems by finding space in front of the back line to create.
Just five minutes into the game, Matier was called into action to prevent an early goal. Sophia Kling slid a through ball behind the OA defense to Campbell, but the OA keeper was off her line quickly and had no hesitation diving at the feet of the attacker to make the save.
Matier also made a good save on a long shot by Tyldesley and cut out a nice diagonal ball across the box that nearly found the feet of Gina DeBaradinis.
It was Cotter that would create the first look at goal by springing Gilman down the left. Her looped cross into the middle was headed wide by Gavin. A couple minutes before the break, Gilman again managed to find space on the left side and she picked out Cotter all alone inside the six, but Cotter was only able to get a flick on the header and it went wide.
“Let’s be honest, Janiya hard four or five big saves today and their goalie didn’t have a lot to do,” Sellmayer said about OA’s struggles in attack. “This Grafton team is a very, very good team, they move the ball very well.”
He continued, “It was one of those games, I just kind of had a feeling if we hung around something good was going to happen.”
Kling would get a chance to test Matier in the 50th minute when she latched onto a loose ball from the edge of the box. deVos would put a couple of long-range free kicks into the hands of Grafton keeper Shyla Kulesza, but it was increasingly difficult to create good scoring chances on either end of the field. Diaz would cause problems for the Grafton back line throughout the second half, but the final ball into the box wasn’t finding a black jersey.
OA’s best chance at a winner in regulation came with nine minutes to play. Diaz was on the left wing and cut the ball back to Cotter in the box. Cotter took a touch, turned, and laid a pass off for Gavin to run onto, but the shot went over the bar.
In the first overtime, the only chance of note was a long shot by Kennedy that Matier held onto comfortably. Gavin would take a chance from distance early in the second OT but that was similarly easy for Kulesza to hold.
Grafton seemed to have its spot in the final secured when Campbell let fly, but Matier’s brilliant save denied them. It was a match-saving moment that was soon followed by Gavin’s match-winning one. OA entered the season not quite knowing how good they could be, but three months later will have the opportunity to play for the D2 title.
“No clue,” Sellmayer said. “We lost our first game to Franklin then we won a couple games and I said, ‘Hey we could be pretty good.’ I came to practice every day, ‘Are we pretenders or are we contenders?’ We’re contenders.”
Oliver Ames (16-3-1) will face No. 10 Silver Lake in the title game on Saturday at 3:15 at Walpole High.
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