NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Oliver Ames senior James Gillespie didn’t have a ton of touches on the ball during Thursday’s nights game against Walpole, but he certainly had the two most important ones.
Gillespie scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner in double overtime in the 94th minute of play to help the fourth-seeded Tigers avoid an upset bid by the 12th-seeded Rebels.
“You’re kind of like hiding back there and defenders don’t know you’re there sometimes,” Gillespie said of his back post positioning, the spot he was for both his goals. “The first goal, the defender didn’t know I was there. It’s a good spot to be standing in because we get a lot of crossed to the back post.”
The Tigers nearly had the game won in regulation but Walpole struck with just over a minute to play. With just their second shot on goal of the half, Rebels senior Luccas Ferreira got just enough of a header on a long throw-in from Kevin Sullivan to tie the game.
“We knew we had to keep our heads high, we couldn’t let them come back and score another goal,” Gillespie said. “We just had to keep fighting to get that goal back.”
Oliver Ames had its chances in the first half but only converted once.
A tactical change helped create the Tigers’ goal in the first half. Head coach John Barata switched senior Matt Campbell from the right side of the pitch to the left side. Shortly after, Campbell won possession on the wing and delivered a low cross that found its way through the area to the back post, where Gillespie tucked it in on a one-timer.
“James is brilliant at that, he’s been brilliant at framing the back post,” Barata said. “We’ve been lucky because no one can mark one guy. For example, James scored twice today but we have 14 goal scores, so we don’t have that star scorer teams can focus on. But we have guys that score.”
The lone scare of the first half came via miscommunication between the defense and keeper. A defender attempted to head the ball back to Jack Carroll, who had come out to get it himself. Senior Colin Evin recovered nicely and cleared the ball just before the goal line to preserve the one-goal lead.
OA kept the pressure up but couldn’t find the back of the net.
In the 29th minute, Alvarado slipped a through ball to Nikiciuk, who got a slight touch before the keeper, but Walpole’s goalie recovered nicely.
A minute later, senior Nathaniel Cardoza linked up with Alvarado, who cut it back to put the ball on his left foot but his shot was slightly deflected and just hit the post and stayed out.
On the ensuing corner, Walpole partially cleared the ball but Mason Galbato took the ball down on his chest and fired a low shot that just rolled wide.
The chances continued in the second half when Jack Sheldon found Alvarado two minutes in, but his left-footed strike was knocked down and saved.
Good pressure from Nikiciuk resulted in another chance in the 57th minute, as his hard run to a loose ball forced a collision between keeper and defender, but before the ball would sit for Alvarado on the rebound, a defender made a nice tackle to block the shot.
Sheldon forced the keeper into another big save in the 67th minute. His shot from just outside the area was slightly deflected and popped up on the keeper on the bounce, but he got just enough to push it over the net.
“We knew we needed two goals against them because they might sneak one in,” Barata said. “The funny thing is the game should have been over; should have been over in the first half, should have been over after the second half. We should have had three or four to be honest. [Walpole] is a very good team but we had multiple chances. I don’t think they had five shots. We have to learn from this that this could have easily been a loss in a game that we purely dominated. We knew it’d take two goals but I just wish it came earlier.
Walpole had its best three chances of the game come in the final 10 minutes. A long throw from Sullivan bounced through the area to the far stick but Walpole’s Conor McDonough saw his golden chance sail over the bar.
The Rebels had a free kick from 25 yards out in the 75th minute, but Carroll was quick to react and made the comfortable save to his left. Four minutes later, Walpole had the equalizer.
“The boys know what they should be doing, getting the ball in the corner and be relaxed,” Barata said. “But instead the adrenaline was bouncing around, plus [Walpole] had to come at us late. We knew it’d be tough, but we just lost some focus in the last two minutes, and we didn’t clear two balls.”
After a scoreless first overtime period, the teams switched sides and OA cashed in on its first corner of the frame. Sheldon’s low cross was touched by Galbato right at the penalty spot, sending the ball to the back post for Gillespie to bury for the winner.
“The ball deflected off a teammates leg and it was open in front of me and I just ran in there and put it away before they could get to the ball,” Gillespie said.
With the win, Oliver Ames boys soccer (13-2-4) to the D2 South Semifinal to take on top-seeded Nauset (18-1-1). It’s a matchup of the past two D2 State Champions.
It will be the first time we play them ever in program history. They’re the number one team in the state, number three team in the region and number five team in the country so we’ll have our hands full. But we’re looking forward to the challenge. We go in as the underdogs so hopefully, we’ll go in fighting.
The game between OA and Nauset is scheduled for Saturday at 2:00 at Milford High School.