BRANDON — After a hard-fought, scoreless first-quarter on Friday, the visiting Mount Abraham Union High School boys’ lacrosse team began to earn the edge in play in the second quarter, and took a 3-1 halftime lead over Otter Valley.
In the second half, that edge became decisive as the Eagles bounced back from an 11-goal loss in their opener earlier last week to pull away for a 15-2 victory.
Eagle senior middie Myles McGowan said the sharper ball control the Eagles displayed as the game progressed bodes will for the rest of their season.
“We can be a much better team,” McGowan said. “This is just the start.”
But first they had to overcome the Otters, who had worn down Vergennes in their opening, 12-11 win earlier in the week. The Otters worked hard to disrupt the Eagles in the slug-it-out first quarter, when OV earned a 5-2 edge in shots on goal.
Before the second period, Mount Abe coach Tim McGowan reminded his team that finesse and skill are also parts of its arsenal.
“It was time to say are we going to play their game, or are we going to play our game?” he said. “That was the challenge I put to them.”
In the second period the tide turned: The Eagles peppered OV goalie Elyas O’Classen (who finished with 20 saves) with 11 shots, while the Otters put just four on Eagle goalie Mark Flowers.
“We started to have better ball control, and that allowed us to do some of the things we wanted to achieve,” Coach McGowan said.
OV first-year coach Randy Stewart was not happy with his team’s effort, at least after the first quarter.
“They wanted the ball more than we did. They outhustled us,” Stewart said. “They had ground balls all over the place, and that’s where we beat Vergennes. We outhustled them (VUHS) for the ground balls, and today, we just didn’t show up. We didn’t show what we could do.”
Flowers (16 saves in 44 minutes) made five first-period saves to keep OV off the board early, including stops on attacker Matt Miller and middies Zakk Williams and Jeff Corbett.
At the other end, OV’s starting defense of Rob Fjeld, Cart Gutzmann and James Greeno protected O’Classen well, and he had to make only two of his 20 saves in the first quarter.
Much of the action was on the ground, thanks in part to strong checking and in part to the teams being out of synch.
“It was a hard-fought battle, but a lot of silly mistakes,” Coach McGowan said. “There was a bit of sloppy play on both sides.”
The Eagles began testing O’Classen early in the second, when he denied middie Andy Dubenetsky from point-blank range. But the Eagles maintained possession, and at 11:18 McGowan bounced a 25-footer home for the first of his four goals.
O’Classen twice denied Dubenetsky, and then stopped Gus Yost. Then OV equalized on a strong move by Miller, who swept in from the right side and bounced a shot into the upper right corner at 8:17.
The Eagles kept pressing, and at 4:35 Yost dodged in from the left side and picked the near corner for the first of his five goals. OV won the faceoff, but Flowers denied Williams and cleared quickly, leading to a Parker Thompson transition goal at 3:35.
It was more of the same in the third quarter, when the Eagles earned a 9-4 edge in shots on goal. The OV shots also tended to be less threatening, as defenders Nat Marsters, Mark Jipner and Devon McClendon and the Eagle middies kept the Otters on the perimeter.
“I was pleased with our man-to-man,” Coach McGowan said, adding that Flowers played “a tremendous game.”
The Eagles added four goals in the quarter. McGowan scored twice, once from Yost and once after picking off a clearing pass, and Yost and Dubenetsky each converted curls from behind the goal.
In the fourth, the Eagles added three more goals before OV broke through. McGowan added one, and Yost scored twice, once with an assist from Forrest Wallace.
At 8:47, Williams made a nice pass from the left to a cutting Miller, who picked the lower right corner from 15 feet out to make it 10-2.
But the Eagles just kept rolling, with two goals each from Travis Bachand and Wallace and one more from Yost. Eagle backup goalie Edgar Sherman saw action and made one save.
Myles McGowan agreed that patience and ball movement led to the turnaround for the Eagles.
We just got flustered in the beginning. We came out and slowed it down, passed the ball around. The offense just turned it up,” he said.
Stewart praised O’Classen’s effort, and hopes the Otters will learn from Friday’s setback.
“I’ve been telling these guys you’ve got to hustle, you’ve got to work hard in practice,” he said. “Hopefully this is a learning lesson for them and we can move on with the rest of the season.”
He is optimistic better things lie ahead for a young team.
“It’s still early in the season,” he said. “I’m excited with what we’ve got, and I know we can build on it.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]