MIDDLEBURY — An opportunistic No. 2 U-32 squad topped the No. 3 Mount Abraham Union High School field hockey team, 1-0, in overtime in a Wednesday Division II semifinal played at Middlebury College, ending the Eagles’ quest for the program’s first title since 2007.
The 11-5-1 Eagles earned more territory throughout the game, especially in the first half, but the 14-1 Raiders’ speedy forwards created just as many chances, and their pressure paid off 4:09 into overtime.
“They outplayed us in the second half, and we outplayed them in the first half,” said Eagle coach Mary Stetson. “It was a nice even game on a great surface.”
In the first half, the Eagles outshot the Raiders, 5-1, and earned a 5-0 edge on penalty corners. But U-32 goalie Bailee Hudson (seven saves, five in the first half) was equal to the task, especially when she denied Eagle senior forward Sarah Heffernan from point-blank range on a feed from Sam Driscoll.
The Eagles continued to move the ball into the Raider end in the second half, and midway through center middie Madi Wood made a run to the top of the circle and fed wing Hailey Sayles cutting in from the left. But Sayles’ strong one-time tip sailed just wide to the right.
But more often, a Raider defense led by Austen Gillen-Keeney stopped rushes by Heffernan, Sayles, Driscoll and senior wing Danielle Norris before the Eagles could threaten Hudson.
At the other end, the Raiders began to get deeper into the Eagle defense of seniors Ariana Perlee, Sarah Acker, Taylor Farnsworth and junior Anna Thompson, and Eagle goalie Lizzie Huizenga (10 saves) got busier.
Huizenga kicked away several strong bids, came out to break up another, and made an outstanding stick save on a Stacy Woolaver shot from the penalty stroke stripe that was ticketed for the left corner.
But the Eagles bounced back in the final few minutes and earned three penalty corners in the last 2:44 of regulation. On the second, a shot by middie Sam Reiss from the top of the circle appeared to be ticketed for the right corner, but Hudson got just enough of it to keep it out before her defense cleared it.
Stetson could only lament the missed chances, not only at the end but in the Eagles’ dominant first half.
“We just didn’t convert, and you have to convert those opportunities,” she said. “And that’s usually the difference in the playoffs, when you don’t take advantage of your opportunities.”
Play in overtime was even until a turnover at midfield allowed the Raiders to counterattack with numbers, forcing the Eagles to dump the ball out over the end line and creating only the third U-32 penalty corner.
And the Raiders cashed in. They dumped the ball back out front, and Huizenga properly came out to deny Woolaver, who could only flip the ball to her left. But Abby Daniels was there to thump the ball home for the win.
Stetson said the Raiders were dangerous.
“I have to give them a lot of credit. They’re a good team,” she said.
The game was the last in an Eagle field hockey uniform for Heffernan, Acker, Perlee, Farnsworth, Norris, reserve goalie Julia Quattrocci, and Huizenga, a four-year starter in the cage.
This season, they helped the Eagles bounce back from four losing seasons and become the only team to defeat D-I top seed South Burlington.
“They’ve brought our name back with good, tough hockey,” Stetson said. “We knew this group of kids were going to be real good competitors, and they proved it all season. I couldn’t have asked for anything more, and it was a pleasure to coach all of them.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.