Tiger boys’ lax sting Wasps with last-second goal

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ lacrosse team got a last-second goal from senior attacker Christian Higgins on Monday to cap a rally from a 6-3 second-half deficit and give the Tigers an 8-7 victory over rival Woodstock.
The win also moved MUHS to 8-3 heading into a game scheduled for Wednesday against 8-3 South Burlington as the Tigers battle for a top-four seed in Division I.
As of Tuesday morning, Essex (11-2) had distanced itself in first place, but there was a logjam after that: Mount Anthony (9-2) stood in second, Brattleboro (9-3) in third, Champlain Valley (9-3) in fourth, and the Tigers and South Burlington were tied for fifth.
Higgins — whose Monday game-winner was his fourth goal of the day — said the victory over the Wasps was also important considering a disappointing 6-0 setback at CVU late last week.
“It was definitely a big win,” Higgins said. “We were coming off a slump, losing to CVU, and I think it’s what we needed to get back on track.”
Certainly, Higgins said, the Tigers knew what was stake after they fell behind, 6-3, at 5:05 of the third period, when Wasp attacker Hunter Schmell netted the fourth of his five goals.
“It took some motivation from our captains and the rest of our team that we needed to do it,” Higgins said. “And we hadn’t been able to execute before, but we came out and did what we needed to do.”
Senior middie Will Koller played a key role in the rally. After Wasp goalie Ben Orr (13 saves) denied a Tiger attack, Koller broke up a Wasp clear at midfield and broke straight toward goal. He dished to Higgins to Orr’s left, and Higgins converted at 2:28 to make it 6-4 after three periods.
Koller then made it 6-5 at 11:15 of the fourth. The Tiger defense knocked the ball loose out in front of goalie Nathan Lalonde (seven saves, including a couple gems), and Koller emerged from the scrum — and went coast-to-coast and beat Orr with a bounce shot.
Coach Dennis Smith said Koller was one of several Tigers who raised their level of play down the stretch.
“We had some people just stepping up, ones like Will Koller today,” Smith said.
At 8:21, junior attacker Sam Usilton rolled in from the right side and stuffed a shot home to tie the game at 6-6.
Two ill-advised penalties on the same play allowed Woodstock to take the lead back at 7:23, when Schmell converted a slick move curling from behind the net.
The Tigers were still not firing on all cylinders offensively, but kept working and tied the game with a sweet transition goal at 3:51. Junior long-stick middie Nick Felkl carried and set up sophomore attacker Connor Quinn cutting in from the left side.
As time wore down, Lalonde made a key save on Schmell, and the Tigers survived a 30-second offsides penalty in the final minute. They got the ball back with 20 seconds to go, and called time with 0:13.6 on the clock.
Usilton picked up the ball on the right side when play resumed and drove in, but his pass for junior middie Nathan Herrmann bounced loose past the far post.
But Higgins was there, and his bounce shot beat Orr as the horn sounded.
“That’s not how it was supposed to go,” Higgins said. “I just cut across and it was a last-minute look at the goal, and luckily it got by the goalie. It was down to the wire, definitely. It’s a great feeling.”
The Tigers had taken a 2-0 lead in the first period on a goal by Usilton assisted by Higgins and a Higgins solo move. But Schmell scored twice, once with the Wasps shorthanded, and set up a James Durand goal to make it 3-2 after one period.
Each team scored once in the second. Quinn, just back from missing two weeks with a hand injury, set up Higgins in transition at 10:12, and Wasp Connor McCarthy later put his team up, 4-3, at the half with an unassisted score.
Despite the Tigers’ edge in play — they outshot the Wasps, 36-23, and scooped more ground balls, 25-14 — Woodstock stretched its lead in the third period on two Schmell scores, one set up by Durand and one a behind-the-back beauty in transition.
But the Tiger defense — sophomores Justin Stone and Austin Robinson and juniors Sam Smith and George Mulcahy were the low defenders, and junior Max Livingstone-Peters and Felkl were the long-stick middies — and Lalonde continued to play well and allowed just the one man-up goal in the final 17 minutes.
“We really owe it to them,” Higgins said. “They were able to shut down their scorers and stay tight.”
As for the team’s recent inconsistency on offense, Smith said Quinn’s return and the impending return of junior middie Bobby Ritter from a knee injury should help iron out the wrinkles.
“Connor’s been out two weeks, and now we get him back, so we can start moving the ball again and get things happening,” Smith said. “And we’re thinking (Ritter’s back) if not by Wednesday, probably by Saturday. That would help us out. Then we can get everybody back to where they were in their lines and working together. And then hopefully we can have a good stretch run here.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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