MIDDLEBURY — The heartbreak and bad luck continued for the Middlebury Union High School field hockey team on Saturday, when undefeated defending Division I champion Champlain Valley scored with 25 seconds left in overtime to deal the Tigers a 2-1 loss.
The Tigers are just 4-6-2 despite outshooting every opponent except Champlain Valley twice. They have four one-goal losses, two in overtime, and have come out on the short end of two controversial calls that took away apparent game-winning goals.
And on Saturday, they trailed at the half, 1-0, despite allowing only one shot on goal in the first 30 minutes. CVU’s KK Logan — who also netted the OT game-winner — scored on a penalty corner when her shot apparently somehow deflected in at 15:47.
But MUHS coach Kelley Higgins said what is important for the Tigers to focus on is that they are a good field hockey team that could go far in the upcoming playoffs.
“Today, we proved we could play with anybody, and I don’t even think we played our best game today,” Higgins said. “We were a little sloppy at the beginning of the first half. We fixed that and it showed in the second half.”
In that first half, the Tigers held an edge in territory fairly reflected in their 4-2 advantage in penalty corners before intermission. Midfielders Tiffany Audet, Ashley Bishop and Kayla Whittemore consistently outplayed their CVU counterparts, and the ball went toward the CVU goal more often.
But although Tiger forwards Shelby Laframboise, Kali Trautwein, Katie Ritter and Chrissy Ritter did create some pressure, the CVU defense held up well in the circle and did not allow any shots. At the other end, with the exception of Logan’s deflected goal, Tiger defenders Kaitlyn Kirkaldy, Alex Sears and Nina Edson did not allow the dangerous Redhawk forwards any room to maneuver, and the score stood at 1-0 at the break.
Then the Tigers came out on fire in the second half. Almost immediately, Katie Ritter carried into the circle and fired on goal. CVU goalie Elizabeth Goddette made the pad save, and then stopped Trautwein on the rebound. Goddette (seven saves) also stopped Laframboise on a penalty corner.
Then MUHS cashed in on a fast break. Laframboise threaded a 30-yard pass to Ritter breaking into the circle from the right side. She fired from 15 yards, and Chrissy Ritter tipped it home at 21:49.
A minute later, the Tigers nearly took the lead on a penalty corner. Laframboise stopped the ball for Katie Ritter at the top left of the circle, and Ritter drove a bullet toward the right corner. But Goddette flashed her left foot to knock it wide.
The Redhawks then came on strong for most of the rest of the half. Sears and Kirkaldy made key defensive plays, and Whittemore (11 saves) made some sensational stops, including a kick save on Kelsey Jensen, a reflex stop on a deflection in a crowd with 12 minutes left, and a glove save with 10 minutes to go.
“That was the best game, I think, she played this year,” Higgins said of her senior goalie. “She was the reason we went to overtime.”
CVU carried most of the play in OT, and Chrissy Ritter, Edson and Kirkaldy did well to defend runs by Logan early on, and Higgins called for time.
Audet made a run at the other end, but CVU soon tested Whittemore again, and she denied Jensen and made a spectacular glove save on Logan. The Tigers then countered and Laframboise set up Chrissy Ritter for a bid at the left post that she couldn’t get good wood on. The Tigers also just missed netting the rebound of an Audet free hit with a minute left, before the ball went the other way and CVU earned a penalty corner.
And the Redhawks executed perfectly. They sent the ball in quickly to Jensen, who fired before the Tigers could interfere. Whittemore did well to stretch and make the save with her right foot, but Logan swooped in and chipped the rebound home.
The Tigers will look to finish strong with home games on Wednesday and Friday against Mount Mansfield and Colchester. Wins in both will sew up the No. 8 seed and a potential quarterfinal rematch with CVU, one that Higgins believes is winnable.
“We can absolutely, positively play with anybody, and I think they know that. It’s just hard when the scoreboard is not showing that at the moment,” Higgins said. “But I think in their hearts they believe that is the case. I hope that they come back even stronger next game.”