VERGENNES — On Saturday in Vergennes, the first-ever varsity lacrosse game between Mount Abraham and Vergennes union high schools went to the first-year Eagle program, 9-6, over the third-year Commodore team.
The surprising Eagles improved to 3-3 with their second win in 24 hours — they defeated Milton on Friday, 4-2.
Senior long-stick middie Bela Dobkowski, part of a Mount Abe defense that has teamed with senior goalie Craig Camara to allow just 6.3 goals per game, said the Eagles are gaining confidence.
“We came out unsure of how we would compare to the other teams, and I think we’re definitely getting confidence with every win,” said Dobkowski. “It’s definitely a good feeling.”
Eagle coach Tim McGowan said his team’s depth made a difference on a hot day even though the Eagles had played the afternoon before and many took SATs on Saturday morning. McGowan, unlike VUHS, had the numbers to run three midfield lines, and the Eagles regularly won the battles for ground balls.
“We had a couple defensive breakdowns, but other than that, I thought our guys played strong. They hustled for the ball ... We also had a couple of good passing plays,” said McGowan, adding, “I’m proud of what they’ve done in two days back-to-back.”
VUHS coach Rory Cartwright acknowledged the numbers problem. His program has been hit hard by graduation in the past two years and also lost several players this spring to academic issues.
Also, the Commodores had not played a game since April 9, and several athletes had been stranded in Europe for more than a week on a school trip. Cartwright said he has not had a practice with more than 13 of his 17 players in two weeks, and that his team is not in game shape.
“We got gassed today. We’ve got six middies. Six middies on a 77-degree day is tough,” Cartwright said.
There were bright spots for VUHS, including freshman goalie Eric Averill’s 17 saves and a defense (Trevor Sampson, Aaron Desabrais, Zach Castillo and Stephen Sickles alternated) that allowed just two second-half goals. But Cartwright said moving forward the Commodores must find a way to pick up ground balls.
“Unless we start winning the ground ball contests, we’re going to be behind the eight ball. I thought we played them pretty even other than that, but if you don’t have the ball, you don’t score,” he said.
McGowan said VUHS did well, all things considered.
“I think we just had a leg up with more legs than they had on their side, but they played well. They had good ball control, a couple of easy goals,” McGowan said.
VUHS struck eight seconds in. Middie John Burke scooped the draw, raced down and set up attacker Brian Kilbride’s score.
But the Eagles took a 3-1 lead after one period. Middie Seth Low dodged in to tie the score at 7:54, and set up attacker Forrest Wallace’s man-up goal 1:20 later. At 3:33, senior middie Tyler Ask fired one home from long range.
Low made it 4-1 at 9:21 of the second by bouncing one in from the top of the box, but VUHS fought back. Middie Gary Grant picked up a ball on the left side, swept across and scored at 8:55, and at 6:11 he won another ground ball and found attacker Mitch Goyette out front to make it 4-3.
Camara (11 saves) then made a key stop on middie Morgan Stinchfield, and then the Eagles scored three times between 5:16 and 3:17 to make it 7-3. Connor McDonough and Myles McGowan each bounced shots into the lower left corner, and Connor McDonough picked up a missed shot and stuffed it home.
In the final minute, Stinchfield ran the length of the field and shot wide, but Kilbride snagged the ball and scored from close range at 0:17 to make it 7-4.
In the second half, the Eagle defense of Jake McDonough, Quinn McElwain and Niles Fromm clamped down on the Commodores. VUHS and Averill also played well in the back, as Ask broke in alone at 9:50 and for the only goal of the period.
“The defense did settle in a little,” Cartwright said. “Eric, our freshman goalie, stepped up and played better ... He’s going to be a good goalie. He’s aggressive and he likes it.”
The Commodores had a chance to get back in the game as the fourth quarter opened, when an illegal stick penalty on the Eagles gave VUHS a three-minute man-up edge, but the Eagles dominated possession.
With 2:18 to go, McGowan curled from behind to make it 9-5 and seal the win. Stinchfield scored at 1:26 for VUHS and also set up a Goyette goal at 0:13.
Cartwright said he sees signs of progress that more games and full practices will further help, but that the Commodores will have to keep working.
“We know what we’ve got to do,” Cartwright said. “We’ve got to get the ground balls. We’ve got to protect the balls. We’ve got to be a little more patient on offense. We’re starting to get a little more movement. We’re starting to get a few more cutters.”
Coach McGowan also just wants the Eagles to maintain focus.
“It’s about getting better and succeeding in every game going forward,” he said. “We want to keep trucking.”
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at email@example.com.