Abby Little

Mansfield Christian's Abby Little celebrates after the Flames beat Crestview 2-1 in the Division III district semifinals in Ashland on Tuesday.

ASHLAND — Her postseason career is all of two games old, but Mansfield Christian’s Abby Little plays like a tournament-savvy veteran.

A freshman forward, Little scored on a rebound with 3:39 remaining and the Flames upset state-ranked Crestview 2-1 in the Division III district semifinals at the Ashland soccer complex.

Third-seeded MCS (11-6-1) avenged two regular season losses to the Cougars (16-2-1) and will tangle with top-seeded Findlay Liberty-Benton for a district title at 3 p.m. Saturday at Findlay High School.

In two postseason games, Little has scored four goals. She had a hat trick in Mansfield Christian’s sectional final victory over Van Buren.

Her game-winner came after senior midfielder Olivia Bekeleski sent a shot into the box from the left side that pin-balled in front of the goal. Little gathered the rebound and snuck a shot past Crestview goal keeper Madalyn Aumend.

“I was supposed to be playing outside mid(field) but I kind of strayed away from my position,” Little said. “I’m not sure what happened. I think Liv took the shot and it rebounded out and I just took it.”

It was Bekeleski who jump-started Mansfield Christian’s rally midway through the second half. Her high arcing shot from well outside the box found the back of the net with 19:22 remaining.

“It was pretty much luck,” Bekeleski said. “When it hit the back of the net I was in awe. … It was getting close to the end of the game and I was getting nervous.”

So was MCS coach Ariel Dials.

“That shot from Olivia, I was not sure that was going to go in,” Dials said. “That was the spark that we needed because we were starting to talk about doing some other strategies right before that.”

The Cougars, who were ranked sixth in Division III in the final coaches state poll, struck midway through the first half when senior midfielder Kathleen Leeper scored off a Carley Campo assist. Crestview, which beat MCS by scores of 3-1 and 3-2 during the regular season, managed only a handful of scoring opportunities as the Flames utilized a crisp short passing game to maintain possession much of the evening.

“I felt like in all three games we out-possessed them,” Dials said. “Of course, you’ve got to put more goals in the back of the net. We were finally able to do that tonight.”

The Cougars reached the district championship game last year and has won 16 games each of the past two seasons.

“I told the girls not to base their season on the last five minutes of this game,” Crestview coach Lee Hunt said. “We had 16 wins and two losses. We only had two losses last year.

“Their success this season shouldn’t be overshadowed by this one game.”

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I have covered high school sports in Richland County since 2000. Email him at curt@richlandsource.com or follow him on Twitter: Follow @curtjconrad on twitter.

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