VMS girls soccer survives OT scare from The Academy
It wasn’t pretty, but Gore Rangers are heading to the 3A semis after 2-1 win
EAST VAIL — Vail Mountain School’s Stella Stone started the afternoon in playoff orange and wound up golden.
Thanks to Stone’s scoring touch Saturday, the third-seeded Gore Rangers are heading to the 3A state semifinals after overcoming a good scare from No. 6 The Academy at home.
The 90 minutes of soccer that came before Stone’s golden goal midway through the first overtime period that allowed VMS to escape with the 2-1 win was a white-knuckle ride for players, coaches and fans.
Just like the clouds overhead, the Gore Rangers attack threatened all afternoon. But the rain never came, and, despite numerous point-blank shots, the barrage of goals never showed up for the home team, either.
That’s a credit to Wildcats senior keeper Karleigh Wattier, who gobbled up shots from Gore Rangers shooters all afternoon.
“She was fantastic,” said VMS coach Bob Bandoni. “Player of the match. She’s the one that put it into overtime.”
Clinging to a 1-0 lead, VMS looked like it was going to eke out a win in regulation. The Wildcats from Westminster never stopped battling, though, and finally found the back of the net in the 76th minute when junior AJ Loera connected on a corner kick from Elysse Tanaka.
“It was pretty heartbreaking that we didn’t get it there, but it was even better in overtime,” Stone said. “Just crunch time.”
Stone’s winning shot came 10 minutes into the extra period when she caught up to a pass from center back Ellie Campbell on a run from the left and drilled a shot that one-hopped into the net past Wattier.
When the ball went in, a wave of cheers erupted as Gore Rangers fans stormed the field, while Wildcats players stalked off with shocked looks.
“I felt as though we had opportunities during the run of play that we should’ve put away.” Bandoni said. “But [The Academy] fought hard and they scored a great ball off that corner.”
In particular, Bandoni said his players lost some of their composure in the final 20 minutes of regulation and “were seeing the end of the game before it was actually there.”
“We didn’t hold the ball in the midfield as well as we were up until that point,” he said. “But we came back to that in overtime, and I think that’s what gave us the structure that we needed to move players forward. The goal that was scored, that started with a combination play with our center back. I was really pleased to see that kind of vision and that kind of courage.”
After a scoreless first half in which the Gore Rangers mostly controlled possession and outshot the Wildcats, Kjersti Moritz finally got the home team on the board in the 46th minute off an assist from keeper Frankie Marston. Yes, you read that right — an assist from the goalie.
Marston’s big clearing boot led to a foot race between Moritz and a Wildcats defender that Moritz won before tapping a shot to the right of Wattier and under the post.
“It was a little bit nerve-wracking, but we just tried to stay calm and we executed,” Moritz said after the win. “I was a little nervous that they would score another one after that late goal and we’d end up losing, but our team tried to calm ourselves down and not focus on the score.
Next up for the unbeaten Gore Rangers is a Wednesday matchup with No. 1 Colorado Academy at the Stutler Bowl in Greenwood Village.