Tiger boys' lacrosse falls in overtime

TIGER MIDFIELD TOBY Draper (28), backed by Bode Rubright (10) and Mason Kaufmann (4) outruns the Essex defense in the first quarter of Tuesday’s 6-5 overtime home loss in Middlebury. Independent photo/Steve James

MUHS SENIOR GOALIE Jack Rizzo pulled off a string of saves in the first half to keep the Tigers in the game. Although the Tigers tied the score with six seconds to go, visiting Essex won 6-5 in overtime. Independent photo/Steve James

A PHALANX OF Tigers send Essex High School defenseman Jeffrey Del Trecco flying as he charges downfield in the third quarter of Tuesday’s game at Middlebury Union High School. Independent photo/Steve James

ESSEX HIGH SCHOOL goalie Benjamin Russell saves a shot from MUHS attacker Owen Lawton as the Tigers press to tie Tuesday’s game in the fourth quarter. Middlebury later scored with six seconds left, but lost, 6-5, in overtime. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY’S BODE RUBRIGHT sees his shot blocked by Essex goalie Benjamin Russell in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s game on Fucile Field. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — Sometimes losses can be both painful and hopeful.

On Tuesday a Middlebury Union High School boys’ lacrosse team with just four returners from its 2019 squad and five upperclassmen on its roster squared off against Essex, with 13 seniors and eight juniors.

And the Tigers fell behind early as nerves and youth showed. Only the outstanding goaltending of senior Jack Rizzo, who made eight of his 18 saves in the first quarter, kept the Tigers in the hunt.

But then, slowly, the home team settled in. Essex maintained an edge in play, but the Tigers began to mark more carefully, transition out of their own end, and possess the ball on offense.

They crept back into the game.

And with six seconds left in regulation, after MUHS forced a turnover to get the ball back, senior Bode Rubright launched a laser from the top of the box into the net and tied the score at 5-5, capping a comeback from a 4-1 halftime deficit.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter. The Hornets won the overtime faceoff and worked the ball to junior attacker Carter Frankenhoff with 48 seconds gone and room to shoot from close range. His bounced shot found the net’s left side, and Essex, a Division I contender, improved to 2-1.

MUHS Coach Matt Rizzo told his 1-1 team not to be discouraged by the result, especially considering that only four players had ever played varsity before this spring. 

“The freshmen and sophomores, who make up 90 percent of the team, have never played a game of varsity lacrosse, and it showed. They were tight. They were nervous. And naturally that’s what happens when you don’t have experience. But they hung in there. They played aggressive, but under control,” Rizzo said. “They did a fine job.”

Certainly, the Tigers were fortunate to escape the first 12 minutes trailing by just two. They managed just one shot on goal, with Essex goalie Ben Russell making a strong save on Rubright.

That was on a rare foray, as the Hornets repeatedly disrupted Tiger clearing attempts and attacked their back line of junior Matt Kiernan and sophomores Fynn Whitlock and Penn Riney — and Jack Rizzo, whose eight saves in the period included several point-blank stops, including on attacker Keane Mahoney and standout middie Christopher Davis.

But Rizzo couldn’t stop Davis in transition at 13:32 or Frankenhoff from long range at 5:34, and it was 2-0 after one period.

The Tigers defended a little better in the second, and managed their own long-range goal, by middie Cam Stone. But by then Davis had scored again, and Essex attacker Tobias Martin made it 4-1 in the half’s final minute.

In the second half the save and goal totals reflected more even play: six stops for the Tigers’ Rizzo, with one goal against, and four saves for the Hornets’ Russell, with four goals against.

Coach Rizzo noted the improved effort by his team.

“They relaxed a bit. They started playing with a little more poise. I think the nerves shook out a little bit, and they got better as the game went on,” he said.

The Tigers made it 4-2 at 7:57 of the third, when attacker Zach Jette went low from the doorstep to beat Russell after a feed from the left from middie Willem Berry.

At 3:11 Mason Kaufmann dodged counterclockwise from behind the net and whipped the ball home to make it 4-3. With a minute left in the period, attacker Owen Lawton’s bid to tie the game hit the post.

Essex made it 5-3 at 10:13 of the third, when Frankenhoff converted a Sam Bowen feed. The Tigers answered at 7:58. Berry hit the crossbar, but Jette won a goal-front scramble for the rebound and tucked the ball home.

Shortly afterward it looked like Rubright tied the game, but officials waived it off for a crease violation. The Tigers had a golden chance with 4:24 left to tie or win the game with a two-minute locked-in penalty, but the Hornets blocked a shot, won the ground ball, and possessed.

But the defense forced the late turnover, and Rubright equalized — only to see the OT heartbreak.

Coach Rizzo didn’t dwell on the loss afterward.

“The future is bright,” he said. “It stinks to lose, but I am really encouraged by the mental discipline and the heart they showed.”

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