BURLINGTON — A second-half surge by the top-seeded Mount Anthony Union High School girls’ lacrosse team in the Division-I final on Saturday gave the Patriots their first-ever title and denied Middlebury its eighth crown.
The Patriots trailed early in the second half in a game played at Burlington High School, but they knotted the score at 6-6 at 15:42 and outscored the Tigers the rest of the way to win, 12-7.
MUHS coach Harriette Brainard said the 17-1 Patriots’ greater depth and the game’s fast pace, which played into the Patriots’ preferred transition style, gave them the edge over her 14-4 Tigers. Those factors also led to 24 MUHS turnovers to 15 for MAU, the most significant difference in the stat sheet.
“Our second half we (usually) kick it in really strong, and I think we just put so much out there from the very beginning, and we don’t have the numbers they do,” Brainard said. “He (MAU coach Tom Otero) has a lot of speed and a lot of numbers and he subbed freely. And that pressure all the time puts a lot on our midfield and a lot on our defense, both of them, so I think that definitely had an impact.”
Despite the pace, the Tigers outplayed the Patriots in the first half, which ended with MUHS on top, 3-2. The Patriots scored twice in the first 6:35: Kristen Carra set up the first of Courtney Saheim’s six scores and Alyssa Porter tallied the first of her three.
But then senior goalie Alex Sears (seven saves, five in the first half) and the defense of seniors Kaitlyn Kirkaldy and Kayla Whittemore and junior Rachel Scholten slammed the door until halftime. Sears made one outstanding save on Saheim and got help from her defenders, who forced the Patriots to rush their shots.
The Tigers got on the scoreboard at 17:39, when sophomore middie Brandi Whittemore curled from behind the net; at 16:33, when junior middie Katie Ritter bounced in a free position; and at 8:40, when sophomore middie Chrissy Ritter spun and fired from the slot.
But MAU goalie Kayla Morse (11 saves, seven in the first half) made some fine stops, including twice denying senior attacker Emma McDowell from point-blank, one with four seconds left in the half. The Tigers also had an apparent goal by junior middie Liz Kelley called back on a crease violation.
Brainard said the Tigers could have created some separation from MAU if they had converted their chances, had not gotten caught up in the Patriots’ style, and had taken better care of the ball.
“In the first half we had a chance to take control. We let the pace get a little crazy,” she said.
Still, things looked good for MUHS when the Tigers scored on a transition feed from Katie Ritter to Kelley out front 19 seconds into the second half.
But the Patriots scored three goals in the next 2:08, on curls from Porter and Saheim (Saheim’s was fluky; she shot from behind the net and it bounced in off sophomore goalie Maria Ploof, who made one save in 10:28) and one by Alyssa Amos, who beat her mark and went in alone and picked a corner.
The Tigers regained the lead. Katie Ritter picked off a clear and raced in and scored at 20:37, and senior attacker Shelby Laframboise powered in at 17:33 and beat Amos.
But Amos also made big saves on Kelley and Chrissy Ritter in that stretch, and when Saheim found a wide-open Melissa Schramm out front at 15:42, the game was tied at 6-6. At 14:32, Paige Levesque converted a free position, and the Patriots had the lead for good.
At that point, Brainard put Sears back in. But she did not believe the goals were Ploof’s fault. Rather, she said, the Patriots were taking advantage of overworked Tiger midfielders to create high-percentage shots.
“He (Otero) was picking the midfielders out ... to go in on,” she said.
MUHS won the draw, but Katie Ritter hit the post, and then Saheim scored in transition. After Morse denied Brandi Whittemore, Sears stoned Schramm, but a Saheim free position made it 9-6 at 6:50. Saheim scored on the break at 5:27, and it was 10-6.
At 5:00, Katie Ritter, who scored her 100th goal earlier this year, scored her third of the game to make it 10-7. The Tigers then won the draw, and Katie Ritter and Kelley worked a nice play, but Morse denied Kelley and the last real chance for a comeback.
Down the stretch, Porter and Saheim, both seniors, added goals. Saheim’s was the 100th of her career.
The game was the last for three seniors who played major roles in the Tigers’ 2008 title, tri-captains Kirkaldy, Laframboise and Kayla Whittemore. Sears was also on that team. Five other seniors will graduate: attackers Saige Twombly, Kayla Quesnel-Cousino and McDowell; midfielder Molly Clarke; and midfielder Eliza Carver, whose season-ending knee injury was a major blow to the team’s depth.
The Tigers also suffered other injuries during the season, but played well enough to earn the No. 2 seed and a trip to the final.
“Considering our numbers, considering our injuries, these guys kept it together. They had a great season,” Brainard said. “They have nothing, absolutely nothing, to regret here.”
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at email@example.com.