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O’s Suffer Early KO

L&G Holds Off Oxbow Rally in Playoff Opener

  • Oxbow's Heather White, right, competes with a Leland and Gray player for the ball during their match in Bradford, Vt. on October 22, 2013. Oxbow lost the game 4-3 and were eliminated from the playoffs. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Oxbow's Heather White, right, competes with a Leland and Gray player for the ball during their match in Bradford, Vt. on October 22, 2013. Oxbow lost the game 4-3 and were eliminated from the playoffs. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow's Wren Smith, left, eludes a Leland and Gray player during their match in Bradford, Vt. on October 22, 2013. Oxbow lost the game 4-3 and were eliminated from the playoffs. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Oxbow's Wren Smith, left, eludes a Leland and Gray player during their match in Bradford, Vt. on October 22, 2013. Oxbow lost the game 4-3 and were eliminated from the playoffs. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow's Corrina Oakley, left, kicks the ball past a Leland and Gray player during their match in Bradford, Vt. on October 22, 2013. Oxbow lost the game 4-3 and were eliminated from the playoffs. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Oxbow's Corrina Oakley, left, kicks the ball past a Leland and Gray player during their match in Bradford, Vt. on October 22, 2013. Oxbow lost the game 4-3 and were eliminated from the playoffs. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow's Heather White, right, competes with a Leland and Gray player for the ball during their match in Bradford, Vt. on October 22, 2013. Oxbow lost the game 4-3 and were eliminated from the playoffs. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Oxbow's Wren Smith, left, eludes a Leland and Gray player during their match in Bradford, Vt. on October 22, 2013. Oxbow lost the game 4-3 and were eliminated from the playoffs. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Oxbow's Corrina Oakley, left, kicks the ball past a Leland and Gray player during their match in Bradford, Vt. on October 22, 2013. Oxbow lost the game 4-3 and were eliminated from the playoffs. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

Bradford, Vt. — When Giannina Gaspero-Beckstrom’s second goal of the game gave visiting Leland & Gray a 4-0, second-half lead over Oxbow in Tuesday’s Vermont Division III first-round playoff game, Rebels coach Lucas Bates walked over to Olympians coach Andrew Flaherty to lament the score.

“It was a bad call,” Bates told Flaherty. “It shouldn’t have been a goal.”

As it turned out, it was one Leland & Gray really needed. Oxbow responded with three goals in just over 15 minutes, turning what appeared to be a sure upset into a nail-biter as the No. 11 Rebels hung on for the 4-3 win over the sixth-ranked Olympians.

The controversial game-winner came in the 53rd minute, when Oxbow goalie Meaghan Williams dove to smother Gaspero-Beckstrom’s low-lying shot to the right side and subsequently tumbled across the goal line. Both coaches agreed the whistle should have been blown for a goal kick after the save, and even Gaspero-Beckstrom said, “I feel so bad,” when she came back to the bench area.

No matter for the Rebels (6-9), who avenged first-round losses to Oxbow in 2010 and ’11 and move on to visit No. 3 Thetford on Friday. It’s their second straight trip to the quarterfinals, while the Olympians (8-6-1) failed to advance beyond the first round for the first time since 2009.

“It shouldn’t have been a goal, but I’m happy with this result because the girls deserve it,” said Bates, in his second year with the Rebels. “Everyone has to deal with bad calls. We’ve certainly had our share of them this season.”

Oxbow was sluggish in the first half as Leland & Gray dominated, with a 12-4 edge in shots and 4-0 advantage in corner kicks. Thanks to five first-half saves by Williams, the O’s still had a chance to score first on a direct kick from close range by senior midfielder Mikayla Hodge. Rebels keeper Emily Reilly leaped to knock it away.

Leland & Gray broke through with three goals in the final 13 minutes of the first half, with Gaspero-Beckstrom assisting on the first two before scoring the third.

Her touch pass in the box to senior Stevie Roberts put the latter in position to beat Williams at the opposite corner in the 28th minute. In the 35th, Gaspero-Beckstrom’s crossing pass to Ashley Bates was spot-on for a one-timer plunk. Gaspero-Beckstrom did it all herself for Leland & Gray’s third goal, getting separation on the left side and beating Williams over the middle.

“She’s our work horse, she’s the heart of our team all game long, every game,” coach Bates said of Gaspero-Beckstrom, a junior. “She’s always where she needs to be and makes plays.”

Oxbow played inspired soccer in the second half, as the O’s nearly scored on their first corner kick of the game when Hodge sent one over the cross bar on a second-touch feed from Heather White.

The Olympians stayed aggressive after Gaspero-Beckstrom’s second goal, making it 4-1 two minutes later when sophomores Wren Smith and Corrina Oakley connected. Smith set up her classmate on the right side and Oakley drove it across the goalmouth to the left corner past Reilly with 25:21 to play.

White stuffed in the rebound of an initial bid from Becca Towle with 20:19 left, and the O’s pulled within a goal with 8:23 remaining on another rebound. This time it was a shot by Hodge from the top of the box that Megan Boardman stuffed in to make it 4-3.

“We know we didn’t play a good first half, but we had confidence that we could come back,” said Flaherty, an Oxbow social studies teacher in his first year with the Olympians. “We were hoping for the tie, but it’s hard when referees are missing calls.”

Flaherty also felt the Rebels’ first goal shouldn’t have happened because of what he perceived as a handball prior to the score. He was even more upset over the fourth goal.

“Two questionable calls made it a lot harder for us,” he said. “We still almost came all the way back.”

The O’s nearly made it 4-4 with 6:30 to play, Leland & Gray’s Sally Densmore bailing out Reilly by knocking the ball away from White after the Oxbow senior got behind the keeper. Reilly had come out of the box to challenge White much too early.

White beat Reilly again in the final minute, and again it was Densmore knocking the ball away at the last second. Oxbow was whistled for a foul moments later, giving the Rebels a direct kick and enough time in their own end to run the clock down and clinch the upset.

Leland & Gray takes on the Panthers (12-3) at 3 p.m. in Thetford on Friday. Thetford beat No. 14 Northfield on Tuesday, 4-0.

Free Kicks: The teams met in the first round for the third time in four years after never having faced each other in the post-season prior to 2010. All three games have been at Oxbow, with the Olympians winning the first two by a combined score of 10-1. ... The Rebels held a 20-15 edge in shots and 5-2 advantage in corner kicks. ... A faulty speaker system forced an Oxbow administrative assistant to yell out player names during pregame introductions instead of using a microphone. The National Anthem wasn’t played. ... Williams stopped defender Emily Thibault’s penalty kick midway through the first half after the Olympians were whistled for a handball. ... First-string Leland & Gray goalie Elizabeth Gallup is out for the season with an injury. The Rebels have had at least five other starters miss time because of injury, Bates said. ... Oakley’s goal was her team-leading eighth of the year. White, one of nine Oxbow seniors, had seven. ... Flaherty was issued a yellow card after knocking over a chair in frustration after a call against the Olympians with 11:06 to play.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.