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Tiger boys’ soccer thumps St. J; on to semi-final

MIDDLEBURY — On Friday it became official: 2012 is the best season for the Middlebury Union High School boys’ soccer program since the 1970s.
And after the top-seeded Tigers’ 3-0 win over No. 9 St. Johnsbury in a Division I quarterfinal, the program is two victories — granted in games that no one in Chittenden County will expect the 14-1 Tigers to win — away from the school’s first soccer title.
Senior midfielder and tri-captain Marrott Weekes, whose two goals sealed the Tigers’ win, said the team really didn’t care about making a statement on Friday, and now doesn’t care about what anybody else thinks about their chances against two Metro Conference powers this week — No. 5 Burlington on Tuesday and most likely No. 2 Champlain Valley after that.
“It’s whatever people want to think it is. We came in here wanting to win, and that’s what we’re doing,” Weekes said. “We set our goal that we want to go all the way, and if not we want to leave everything on the field. So we go into every game thinking we’ll do our best, and just having a mindset of wanting to win, and that carries us through.”
St. Johnsbury came in at 8-6, including 5-2 vs. D-I teams, and started strong. The Tigers held their own in possession for the first 25 minutes, but St. J. launched six of the first seven shots on goal.
And one, a dipping long-range shot by Martin Puig in the third minute, required Tiger keeper David Burt (six saves) to race back and jump high to tip over the bar. Two minutes after that St. J earned one of its four first-half corner kicks, and Tiger senior back Nick Leach blocked a bicycle kick by Natzu Friebel just off the left post.
Then, as they have often this season, the Tigers took charge as the game went on. In the final 15 minutes of the half, they launched five unanswered shots.
Although none were on goal, there were near misses: Sweeper Connor Collins headed just high on a corner kick; St. J keeper Solomon Zaga snared another corner kick, but not before striker Akeem Pottinger missed a header by inches; and St. J. back Moises Nurko made a defensive save on a Weekes header and denied middie Morgan Ingenthron in the box.
Coach Doc Seubert said moving senior Shaw McCabe from striker to central midfield to team up with Weekes helped the Tigers create threats, and Weekes said the Tigers simply started playing better.
“I thought we picked our heads up and started finding people instead of playing it into space,” Weekes said. “Possession is really the key for us.”
Early in the second half, St. J had two chances on shots by Puig. Burt tipped another long bid over the bar, and stopped a deflection on one of the five Hilltopper second-half corner kicks.
“David, he’s like the last defender times 10,” Weekes said.
Then the Tigers rolled. The first goal came from striker Nico Mackey at 34:25 on a well-struck McCabe free kick from the right flank. Mackey won the ball in a crowd, turned to goal just inside the penalty stripe and buried a shot in the right side.
At 30:10, Weekes made it 2-0. Pottinger won the ball in the right corner and sent in a cross that deflected to Weekes at the top of the box. Weekes drilled a rocket that deflected in high off the right post.
The Hilltoppers managed six shots in the second half in all, but all from long range except the early deflection. Collins at sweeper, both Leach and Oliver Clark at stopper, and right back Max Livingstone-Peters and left back Connor West kept the skilled Hilltoppers outside, with good support from middies Christian Higgins, Rio McCarty, Will Koller, Weekes and Ingenthron, especially on corner kicks.
At 18:16 Weekes made it 3-0 after another well-struck free kick, this one by Livingstone-Peter from near midfield. Weekes got position inside the penalty stripe and headed the ball over the onrushing Zaga.
In Wednesday’s first-round game, the Tigers got past No. 16 Spaulding, 3-1, scoring three second-half goals to erase a 1-0 deficit. McCabe knotted the score on a penalty kick, and Weekes put the Tigers on top by netting a penalty-kick rebound. Burt made a key stop to preserve the lead before Collins ran in from midfield and scored an unassisted pad goal. Kevin Fritz made a dozen saves for the 3-10-2 Tide.
On Friday, Seubert said the Tigers’ carried over their momentum from late in the first half, and that all of his team contributed.
“It was just a total team effort,” Seubert said. “The kids deserved this one. This is kind of what the season was all about. Let’s get to the next-to-the-last step and see where we are. Nobody expected us to be here except us, and that’s all that really matters.”

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