By ANDY KIRKALDY
MIDDLEBURY — The No. 2 Middlebury Union High School girls’ lacrosse team was held to a season-low offensive output by swarming Mount Anthony midfielders and defenders and lost a home Division I semifinal Tuesday to the No. 3 Patriots, 6-4.
The fewest goals the 14-5 Tigers had scored this season were seven at Rutland on April 13. They had scored eight and 14 goals in their two earlier games vs. MAU, and 15 goals four days earlier in their quarterfinal win vs. Woodstock.
The 16-3 Patriots will face No. 1 Rutland (17-1) in a D-I final between two teams making their debuts in a championship game.
The defending champion Tigers, who will lose only four players to graduation, will wait until next year to seek the program’s eighth title after what MUHS coach Harriette Brainard called “one of those days.”
Brainard said she kept waiting for her team — which had been resilient in pulling out late-season one-goal wins over South Burlington and MAU and against Woodstock — to snap back to life, but it just never happened on Tuesday.
“I felt at halftime we were going to come back, and they realized a lot of the things that were going on, and it was going to change ... but we just made a lot of mistakes, and the thing is they were crucial mistakes ... A lot of people didn’t play as well as they usually do,” Brainard said. “All season we’ve known we could rely on each other on the offense, for example, and people got frustrated and they felt they needed to take it in and force it themselves, and they’d turn it over.”
Certainly, goalie Alex Sears (11 saves) held up her end of the bargain.
“She just played phenomenally. She played a huge game for us,” Brainard said.
And defenders Kayla Whittemore, Kaitlyn Kirkaldy and Rachel Scholten worked with the Tiger midfielders to hold the high-powered Patriots in check — MAU had scored 26 goals in two games vs. MUHS.
“The defense has a phenomenal reputation right now,” Brainard said.
But the Tigers had trouble mustering shots on MAU goalie Kayla Morse (two saves) and moving the ball up the field. MAU forced many turnovers, but at times the Tigers had trouble passing, catching and getting open.
“They (MAU) were pressuring well. But we weren’t getting free the way that we can ... People just weren’t doing the things they know they should do,” she said.
Things started well for the Tigers, as they pressured early and earned free positions that were converted by Katie Ritter and Shelby Laframboise for a 2-0 lead 2:42 in.
But the Tigers then missed a wide-open net, and after Joey Kelley hit the crossbar, she got her own rebound and threw it in past Morse. But the referees not only waved off the goal, but also sent Kelley off for three minutes for a “dangerous follow-through.”
MAU began to press. Sears stopped a Stephanie Butterfield free position, and Abby Scholten checked the ball loose from MAU leading scorer Chloe Griffin on another free position. But MAU’s Courtney Saheim broke the ice at 14:57, and it was 2-1.
The Tigers had three more chances: Morse stopped Ritter and Casey O’Donohue, and officials waved off another Tiger goal, this one by Ritter. Ritter went in and scored after a foul, but the call required her to pass unless she was checked, they said, and although three Patriots tried to check her, they failed.
In the final 1:19, MAU scored twice to take the lead. Paige Levesque scored from Griffin, and Kristen Carra converted a free position.
Sears limited the damage with a fine save on Carra as the half ended, and opened the second half by stoning Levesque.
That meant Liz Kelley’s free position at 22:08 tied the score, and when Laframboise curled from behind the net and whipped home a Joey Kelley feed at 19:25, the Tigers were on top, 4-3.
But that was all the shots on goal MUHS could muster, and MAU earned a 7-3 edge in draw controls that helped their edge in possession.
Saheim tied the game at 17:23 after a long run following a Tiger turnover, and at 13:15 Alyssa Porter set up Griffin in the slot for the go-ahead goal.
After another draw loss, Porter finished from Butterfield, and it was 6-4 at 11:42. The Tigers got the ball back five more times, twice when Laframboise and Kirkaldy forced midfield turnovers. But they managed just one shot, a Ritter bid that went wide. MAU stalled most of the final four minutes.
Afterward, Brainard told her team to reflect on the positive even after its off day.
“Everybody in Vermont thinks we have this really wonderful team on and off the field. We have a great, beautiful game,” she said. “They should be really proud. They have a really good reputation.”