Tiger win paves way to semifinal

MIDDLEBURY — The second-seeded Middlebury Union High School girls’ lacrosse team outworked and outscored visiting No. 7 Brattleboro in a Division I quarterfinal on Friday, taking a 16-5 second-half lead on the way to a 16-10 win.
Sisters Chrissy Ritter (a sophomore with six goals) and junior Katie Ritter (five goals, two assists) grabbed the scoring headlines.
But the real keys may have been the team-wide efforts on ground balls and defense. The Tigers earned a 24-10 advantage on ground balls as Katie Ritter and senior defender Kayla Whittemore scooped four each to lead the Tigers, and on defense the Tigers created 11 forced turnovers, led by senior defender Kaitlyn Kirkaldy (four) and Whittemore (three). 
Whittemore, a tri-captain with Kirkaldy and senior attacker Shelby Laframboise (one goal) said the Tigers focused on the effort categories.
 “We talked about it before warm-ups. We said play like there’s two seconds left in the game. Every ground ball is yours and just hustle to it,” Whittemore said. “So that was in everyone’s head. No matter what happened we just kept hustling, because we didn’t want to get outhustled.”
Coach Harriette Brainard said maturity also made a difference in the hustle categories.
“I don’t think we’ve picked up those grounders all season like that,” Brainard said. “Part of it is wanting the game, and part of it is finally realizing that every little thing on the field matters … I feel like they’re starting to play smarter.”
Brainard was also happy with the ball movement and decision-making on the attack, which produced a 10-4 halftime lead.
“They were excellent today. It was the first day I felt they weren’t forcing the passes,” she said. “They were being so much smarter taking care of the ball.”
Starting defenders Whittemore, Kirkaldy and junior Rachel Scholten and senior goalie Alex Sears (five first-half saves) and sophomore goalie Maria Ploof (three second-half saves) allowed only five goals in the first 40 minutes, after which Brainard substituted freely and Brattleboro tacked on five late scores.
“They did a great job today,” Brainard said.
The Colonels’ Erin LeBlanc scored first, and after each Ritter scored, a free position goal by Colonel Kelsey Guarino (two goals, two assists) made it 2-2 at 18:50.
The Tigers then scored five straight goals in the next 7:56. Katie Ritter netted the rebound of a shot off a post, and then she set up the first of junior Liz Kelley’s two scores. At the other end, Kirkaldy knocked the ball loose and triggered a fast break that ended with another Katie Ritter score.
Chrissy Ritter scored the next two, dodging in for the first at 13:53. The second came at 10:54 and followed a Sears save of a free position shot and a long battle for a ground ball finally won by Kirkaldy. She threw an over-the-top pass to Ritter at midfield, and Ritter raced in to make it 7-2.
In the next few minutes, Colonel Sarah Clark next scored twice to offset goals by each Ritter. At 0:14 seconds Colonel goalie Kali Roberts (seven saves) stopped a bid by senior attacker Saige Twombly, but Twombly stuffed the rebound home. Colonel Karley Fortier launched a point-blank shot at the halftime horn, but Sears denied her to preserve the 10-4 score.
The Tigers scored four quick second-half goals to ice the game. Sophomore Brandi Whittemore set up Twombly, Laframboise and Katie Ritter each hit the lower right corner after strong runs, and Liz Kelley converted a Katie Ritter feed at 18:55 to make it 14-4.
Chrissy Ritter added the final Tiger scores. For Brattleboro, Mariah Lesure tacked on two goals, and Guarino, LeBlanc, Carli Gossard and Ella Young also found the net.
Kayla Whittemore said all the Tigers contributed.
“We played really well as a team and we came out strong. They scored the first goal, but we didn’t let that stop us. That got us fired up. We worked together,” Whittemore said. “Our attack did a great job running when they should and slowing it down when they should. And we were really bodying up on defense. It was just an overall team effort.”
Friday’s other results leave a final four with top-seeded Mount Anthony (15-1) and the three previous champs, Rutland (2009), MUHS (2008) and South Burlington (2007).
In Tuesday’s 4:30 p.m. semifinals, the 13-3 Tigers will host the No. 4 Rebels (11-3, including two losses to MUHS), while the Patriots will host the No. 4 Raiders (13-3-1), with whom they split two games. The final will be played at Burlington High School on Friday or Saturday.
Whittemore would like to return to BHS, where the Tigers won the 2008 title, the program’s seventh. But the Tigers know the Rebels come first.
 “We have a big group of seniors, so we’re definitely looking to get the championship,” she said. “We’re definitely not looking past Tuesday.”
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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