BRISTOL — The Middlebury Union field hockey team earned a hard-fought, 1-0 win at Mount Abraham on Friday in a game that saw both sides take turns carrying play.
The difference proved to be the first 15 minutes of the second half, when the Tigers dominated and got a goal at 23:46 from senior forward Chrissy Ritter.
In the first half the shots were roughly even, but the Eagles earned more penalty corners, 6-3, including the final three of the half in the last 4:00. And just before that, Tiger senior goalie Heather Ploof (11 saves) had flashed her right hand to knock just wide a waist-high drive launched by Eagle senior Sara Sayles.
Ritter said the Tigers then talked at halftime about taking the game over.
“We realized we were really lackadaisical, waiting for the ball to come,” Ritter said. “We really wanted to go into the second half and play hard and get a goal and get momentum going.”
The Tigers also had extra motivation — they were coming off an opening 8-0 road loss to defending Division I champion South Burlington, a game Ritter missed with an illness.
Ritter said the Tigers wanted to show they were better than they played two days before.
“We wanted to prove to ourselves, our coach and everyone else we were not an 8-0-loss team,” she said. “We had to get basically our pride back.”
Eagle coach Mary Stetson saw things to like in her team’s opening loss, including good passing, solid transition up the wings, depth, and junior goalie Lizzie Huizenga’s 19-save performance.
But, Stetson said, when the Tigers turned up the intensity, the Eagles did not match it.
“We had plenty of chances. We moved the ball well. We just didn’t put a lot of good pressure on the ball. They outhustled us,” Stetson said. “They came to play a little bit better than we did. They won 50-50 balls more than we won 50-50 balls, and they sustained more pressure.”
The Eagles controlled early play, with Sayles, younger sister Hailee Sayles and senior Saddie Roy up front threatening, often on balls sent by senior middie Nicky Shandrow and sophomore middie Madi Wood. The Eagle all-senior defense of Hillary Ryan in the middle and Lydia Stearns and Lane Russell on the flanks held its ground well.
The Tiger midfield of seniors Brandi Whittemore and Maria Ploof in the middle and on the right, respectively, and freshman Sophia Peluso on the left began to take charge, however, and the Tigers began to threaten. The Tigers earned the next three corners, and Ritter, senior Hannah Quinn, sophomore Kate Knowles and Ploof all had scoring bids before the Eagles’ late-half surge.
Then the Tigers rolled after the break. Huizenga denied Quinn and Knowles before the Tigers broke through on their third corner of the half. The ball went to Ritter at the top of the circle. Huizenga came out 10 feet to make a pad save on Ritter’s first shot, but the Tiger followed the play and poked it home.
Huizenga then stopped Whittemore on one of several setups from Ploof, whose stickhandling posed problems for the Eagle D, and denied Ritter again.
But the Eagles fought back, starting at the 14-minute mark, when Heather Ploof did well to beat Eagle junior Taylor Farnsworth to a Wood drive.
Down the stretch, Shandrow, Wood, Roy and Sara Sayles created the best chances for the Eagles. But Ploof repeatedly kicked the ball away, Tiger junior sweeper Tiffany Danyow made a series of good defensive plays, and Whittemore also made two key plays, breaking up one corner and carrying the ball away from the goal as time expired.
Ritter said the Tiger defense and goaltending excelled, and praised the two-way play of the MUHS middies.
“Our midfielders are all over the field,” she said.
Stetson said the Eagles would learn from the game, and as the season progressed would play together better. She was happy that her bench performed well, something that she believes will also boost the Eagles’ prospects.
“We kept a lot of fresh feet in there, so that way I think we’re going to be able to run a lot of people down,” she said. “I’m confident in everybody’s skill.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.