In girls' soccer, Eagles topple Tigers with overtime strike, 1-0

BRISTOL — Saturday’s clash in Bristol between Addison County girls’ high school soccer teams with strong Division II résumés almost predictably went into overtime.

And that’s when senior Eagle midfielder Stephanie White headed home junior defender Morgan Pratt’s high, bouncing cross to give her team a 1-0 win that was Mount Abe’s sixth straight — and deal visiting Middlebury its first loss.

Mount Abe opened with two close losses to top D-I teams, and since then have run the table, shutting out five straight foes.

But MUHS — now 6-1-1 — was the first D-II team with a winning record the Eagles had faced, and White said they wanted to make a statement.

“It means so much to the team. We’ve been preparing for this all week,” White said. “We knew they were going to be tough competition, but just coming out with the win shows that we are the team to beat.”

The Eagles earned advantages of 12-5 in shots at goal and 6-0 in corner kicks. To be fair, the Tigers played without injured senior captain and center midfielder Katie Holmes, and three other starters left during the game due to injury — sophomore Kess Moulton, who filled in for Holmes, and starting backs Claire Armstrong and Annina Hare, although Armstrong and Hare were eventually able to return.

And Coach Wendy Leeds said her team, which had struggled in a 0-0 tie at D-I Rice on Wednesday, played better than it had vs. the Green Knights.

“I was really happy to see us come off that Rice game that was basically 100 minutes of defending and generate some offense,” Leeds said. “Our weakness was just the finish. But I’m very proud of them. Certainly a disappointing outcome, but if you just look at the process, which we’re focusing on, it was good. It was good soccer. It was a good test, and I think we’ll be readier next time.”

The Eagles particularly dominated the first half. The Mount Abe midfield — notably Ernesta McIntosh, Amy Nault and Juniper Nardiello-Smith — won the 50-50 balls, disrupted Tiger passing lanes, set up runs by the Eagle forwards, and stepped into the attack.

After the Tigers’ only shot of the half, a hard shot by Payton Buxton, but one from a sharp angle that Eagle keeper Zoe Cassels-Brown handled fairly easily, Mount Abe pressed hard.

At the other end, Tiger goalie Molly Campbell (seven saves overall) made two excellent stops, denying McIntosh at the left post following a series of Eagle passes in the 21st minute, and ranging out near the top of the box three minutes later to thwart striker Lydia Pitts on a through ball from Nault.

Defense by sweeper Kelsey Smith, probably the Tigers’ player of the match, helped minimize other Eagle threats, and stopper Jesse Hounchell and reserve flank backs Jesse Wulfman and Lauren Turner held up well.

“I am definitely happy with the big picture, and really psyched about how some of the folks who came off the bench stepped up,” Leeds said. “They just really did awesome back there. It’s good to have a deep bench, especially as we get into the second half of the season and playoffs coming.”

At the other end, however, the Eagle defenders, particularly Jesse McKean and Reed Martin in the middle, excelled at protecting Cassels-Brown (three saves), although Buxton, Faith Isham and Andi Boe did create threats for the Tigers.

 All six Eagle corner kicks came in the second half. McIntosh and Nardiello-Smith just missed connecting on several, and Smith cleared away a couple more. Campbell also dove to knock a long-range Nault bid wide left.

Finally, with 4:15 gone in OT, the Eagles converted. Pratt lofted a ball from the right sideline. Pitts made a run down the middle, drawing the Tigers’ attention, but the ball bounced over her to White about 10 feet off the left post. White headed the ball high back into the right side.

White said she felt stunned.

“I didn’t believe it happened at first. I thought it was a dream. I saw the ball coming across from Morgan, and then I saw Lydia miss it, and I was like, this is my chance,” she said. “And I was pretty happy when it went in.”

Eagle coach Dustin Corrigan was happy his team rose to meet the Tigers’ challenge.

“They’re a good team. I thought their keeper was really good. She made some strong saves,” Corrigan said. “They’re athletic. I think they have pace.”

Corrigan believes his team is ready to make a deep playoff run after disappointing quarterfinal losses in each of the past two seasons.

“There’s a core of them that are back, and they want to be there again and they want to go further,” he said. “They would like to win a championship. They’ve never won one at Mount Abe, and this group is capable.”

White said the Eagles will believe in themselves even more after Saturday’s win, but would be careful to remain focused.

 “We’re going to be pretty confident. We’re not going to be over-cocky, because we want to be the team to beat,” White said. “We want to play our best.”

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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