Tiger girls' soccer rallies past Otters, 4-2

MIDDLEBURY — Visiting Otter Valley fairly earned a 2-1 halftime lead over the Middlebury Union High School girls’ soccer team on Saturday, but the Tigers took the game over in the second half to roll to a 4-2 victory.

OV senior striker Julia Eastman buried two feeds from senior midfielder Olivia White before the Tigers dominated the second half with strong midfield play.

Sophomore Sophia Larocque scored once in each half for MUHS, and senior Isadora Luksch and sophomore Ivy Doran knocked in a goal apiece. Sophomore middie Hannah Turner, senior middie Alice Ganey and senior striker Isabella Pistilli picked up assists.

MUHS Coach Wendy Leeds said in the second half her 2-1 team moved the ball better and stepped quicker to the ball.

“They are pretty good at self-assessing. I liked a lot of what they had to say about what they wanted to do differently in the second half, and it was really just about turning everything up a notch,” Leeds said.

Also in the second half Leeds reinforced the midfield by moving Doran up from stopper into the middle and played senior Merry Kimble more at midfield than striker, moves that paid off as the Tigers controlled possession and outshot OV, 19-2 in the second half after OV outshot MUHS, 8-6, in the first half.

Doran in particular worked well with Ganey, Turner and freshman Cadyn Pitner on the flanks and senior Annie Lapiner and freshman Lia Robinson in the middle.

“Getting Ivy into the midfield really helps. I think we look and sound different when that happens,” Leeds said.

The game also swung after OV freshman Bryn Blanchard left in an ambulance with an almost certain concussion after a late first-half collision. OV Coach John White said his 1-3 team was hesitant after that play.

“They got timid,” White said.

His defense — seniors Leah Pinkowski and Lauryl Blanchard in the middle and junior Mallory Lufkin and Brielle Mackey on the flanks —  held up reasonably well under the pressure, and Pinkowski excelled. And goalie Sophia Walker (11 saves) could not be faulted on any of the Tiger goals.

OV has also scored eight goals in four games with Eastman and Olivia White doing damage, but White said his team needs to develop its play at midfield.

“We’re not trying to go over the midfield, we’re trying to go through it. But we’re trying to find the continuity in there,” he said. “Middlebury did well having a nice presence at midfield.”

The Tigers took the lead in the seventh minute after a corner kick. Turner served from the left, but the OV defense cleared it back to her. Her second serve found Larocque in the box, and she left-footed the ball inside the right post.

The Otters then began to press, and Tiger senior goalie Carly Burger (four saves) twice did well to deflect strong White drives headed toward the upper right side. But in the 15th minute a White through ball sent Eastman into the right side of the box, and Eastman angled the ball inside the left post to tie the game.

With 6:15 left in the half White outfoxed three Tiger defenders along the right sideline and rolled the ball to an open Eastman in the box, and she banged the ball into the right side.

Luksch knotted the score at 32:55 of the second half. The play started when Tiger junior back Rhys Pitner broke up an OV rush and sent Ganey down the right side. Ganey relayed to Luksch cutting into the box, and she knocked the ball into the near side.

OV held tough until 17:21. Kimble served a corner kick from the right side. Pistilli controlled in a scramble and tapped the ball back to Doran just inside the box. Doran blasted a one-timer just under the crossbar. At 8:23 Larocque added the final goal, a 24-yard bomb after winning a loose ball.

The Tiger defense — playing without starting sweeper Gwen Stafford — of sophomores Zoe Noble and Larocque in the middle and juniors Mardi Horne and Pitner on the flanks did not allow a shot on goal in the second half.

Leeds was pleased with the teamwork and ball movement. 

“It felt really strong and team-like. It was just a great group effort,” she said, adding, “If we can keep building from here it’s going to be great.”  

White said it took time for his team to gel a year ago, and he expects the Otters to do so again this season, especially once they recover from nagging injuries. 

“Last year we didn’t really turn it on until midseason, and it looks like it’s going that way again,” White said. “And I’m sure they will, because they see what they’re doing wrong, and they’re pulling it together.”

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