Tiger boys' soccer wins key game vs. Eagles
BRISTOL — In a regular-season high school boys’ soccer finale in which both teams hoped to establish playoff momentum as well as nail down higher seeds, visiting Middlebury achieved those goals on Saturday with a 2-0 victory over rival Mount Abraham.
The win allowed the Tigers to bounce back from Wednesday’s 3-1 loss at Milton, their first all season to a Division II team, — and it clinched the No. 2 seed for them in the D-II playoffs that begin this week.
With that seed the 11-3 Tigers, if they can keep winning, can host games through the semifinal round.
The Tigers also returned to their defensive form, with pressure all over the field and careful marking in the back. Goalie Owen Lawton made three saves, one of them challenging, as MUHS posted its ninth shutout in 14 outings.
Tiger senior tri-captain and center back Spencer Doran — he teams up on defense with sophomore center back Eddie Hodde and seniors Devon Kearns and Hunter Munteanu on the flanks — said the Tigers were determined to play better on Saturday.
“We definitely had a lot to think about the last couple of days,” Doran said. “Today we just wanted to focus on playing how we do best, moving the ball well, talking, communicating, being aggressive, and just going out to compete right from the beginning.”
Coach Reeves Livesay said the Tiger coaches and players talked things over after the Milton loss.
“We came off a game where we didn’t quite have the energy and focus we like to see, so this was a really good way to get the intensity we need to play with,” Livesay said.
The 8-4-2 Eagles had won three out of four. But despite their record the loss dropped them all the way to No. 10 in the D-II standings, costing them a home playoff game.
Eagle Coach Bob Russell credited the Tigers, whose 20-7 edge in shots fairly shows their advantage in the run of play.
“They’re a strong team,” Russell said.
He also noted the Eagles started quickly. In one early sequence the Tiger backs blocked two shots in their box after a nice serve from Eagle forward Branden Reynolds.
But not long after that sequence the Tigers countered and drew a foul. Tiger left-footed striker Eben Jackson took the restart from near the right sideline and bent the ball into the far corner, out of the reach of Eagle goalie Ethan DeWitt (eight saves).
In the sixth minute, the Tigers suddenly led, and in Russell’s view the game turned from there.
“The run of play was all ours for the first six minutes or so. They got a counterattack, got a free kick that looped in,” he said. “Ii just kind of changed the game. The momentum switched.”
The Tigers then settled into their possession game, with central midfielders Owen Palcsik, Andy Giorgio and Oliver Poduschnick setting up Jackson in the middle of the wing midfielders down the flanks for dangerous runs.
Eagle defenders Griff Paradee and Sam Schoenhuber and midfielder Neil Guy made good plays to disrupt the Tigers, and DeWitt several times came out to pick off services.
The Eagles had few threats. In the first half. Silas Burgess sent Neil Guy into the box, but Lawton alertly came out to just beat him to the ball. In the 33rd minute, Guy worked open out front of the Tiger goal to head a Reynolds cross from the left, only to see the ball strike the top of the crossbar.
A crossbar helped the Eagles early in the second half, when Palcsik’s 32-yard free kick bomb bounced off the frame.
The Eagles did not allow a goal in the run of play, but Jackson added an insurance score on a penalty kick in the second half’s 22nd minute.
Mount Abe pressed late. Schoenhuber stepped into the attack in the 34th minute and drilled a shot at Lawton from the right side of the box that he could only deflect. In a scramble another Eagle shot hit the Tiger defense.
Russell believes the Eagles are capable of winning on the road, apparently beginning with a game at U-32 on Tuesday or Wednesday. Regardless, he said, they have had a good season.
“We challenged and were competitive in just about every contest,” he said.
The Tigers, finally in D-II after years of D-I playoff frustration, are looking forward to the postseason, possibly first against Green Mountain Valley. Doran said Saturday’s game was an important steppingstone.
“It meant a lot. We definitely wanted to turn it around from our game on Wednesday going into the playoffs,” he said. “We’re ready to go forward.”