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Gateway girls soccer shuts out Smith Academy in Division 3 semifinals

After a one-year absence, Gateway returned to the Western Massachusetts Division 3 championship game by shutting out Smith Academy for the second time this season in a 1-0 semifinal victory Saturday at Szot Park.

Sophomore Charlotte LeBarron’s goal with nine minutes, 33 seconds left in regulation lifted the Gators to their third sectional title game in the last four years. They are unbeaten over their last seven games.

“It was such a fun game to play in because Smith Academy is a tremendous opponent,” LeBarron said. “It was so close and could have gone either way, so we’re really happy to win and get back to the finals. We hope to go as far as we can.”

No. 6 Gateway (13-4-2) will face top-seeded and defending champion Lenox (13-4-2) for the title at 11 a.m. Monday at Westfield State University. The Gators won western Massachusetts championships in 2009 and 2010.

“We’re playing better each game, and we’ll definitely need to keep that trend up against a team like Lenox,” said Gateway coach Steve Estelle. “We’d like to put a couple goals in (on Monday) and see what happens.”

The No. 2 Falcons (17-3) enjoyed the best season in the program’s history. They won the Franklin League at 12-0.

“We’re growing up as a program, and it just takes time to reach that final level,” said Smith coach Matt McCloghry. “Now we’re one of the top four, five teams in Division 3. We’ll be a contender next year, even though we’re losing a lot.

“My kids gave everything they could,” he added. “Gateway’s won championships and we haven’t, so that experience could have been the difference.”

The scoring play started with Jamie Pease finding Ali Fisk on the left side. Fisk crossed to LeBarron, who charged in on the back side and got off a shot that snuck just inside the post.

“I have to give all the credit to Ali for giving me a great cross, it was perfect,” said LeBarron. “I was ready for the ball once it got to me. I calmed myself down enough to get off a good enough shot.”

Said Estelle, “That’s a play we run, and we’ve been waiting all year for that perfect play and it happened. We try to get the cross over the keeper’s head and have the outside midfielder come flying in to finish.”

Goalkeepers Brooke Fairman of Gateway and Brooke Pashek of Smith each made a pair of saves. Both goalies played an active game, repeatedly coming off their lines to take away scoring opportunities.

Estelle credited Alyssa Moreau and Kayla Lent for holding Falcons’ star forward Cassidy Snyder off the board.

It was the final game for Smith Academy seniors Nicole Gay, Kory Wagner, Ali Fitzgerald, Anna Gelotte, Mollie Higgins, Hannah Sassi and Lenette Williams.

“These seniors are like my daughters, I love those kids,” McCloghry said. “They built this program, and I’m hoping the legacy is one of tradition, hard work and sportsmanship.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com.

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