Tiger boys’ lax stems the Tide

MIDDLEBURY — The No. 5 Middlebury Union High School boys’ lacrosse team coasted in its first-round Division I playoff game against winless visiting No. 12 Spaulding on Tuesday, 16-2.
The victory sets up what should be a competitive quarterfinal on Friday at 7 p.m. at No. 4 Brattleboro (12-4). The 11-5 Tigers and the Colonels have two common opponents, Spaulding and Woodstock.
The Colonels defeated the Wasps, 9-5 and 9-6, this spring. MUHS topped Woodstock, 8-6 and 8-7. Brattleboro tamed the Tide, 10-4, while the Tigers have now stopped Spaulding twice, 12-3 and 16-2.
MUHS junior tri-captain Sam Usilton, who led MUHS with four goals and three assists on Tuesday, said the Tigers would be confident after Tuesday and last week’s season-ending wins over St. Albans and Burlington.
“It’s good to start off with a solid win, and we came off the regular season with some solid wins, too,” Usilton said. “So we can hopefully keep this rolling Friday night.”
Coach Dennis Smith said he also believes his team is again playing better, in part because it is once again healthy and in part because the coaches have tweaked its midfield rotation to ensure the best offensive and defensive players are on the field at the right times.
“I was feeling very good at the beginning of the year, and then through the middle we ran into some snags, we lost to some good teams that we had beaten before. Then it was kind of a midseason lull,” Smith said. “Now I think we’re gearing back up and hopefully starting to hit our stride again.”
It did take a little while for the Tigers to get rolling against the Tide. Spaulding took three of the game’s first four shots, and MUHS sophomore goalie Nathan Lalonde (seven saves) did his best work in the opening moments. Meanwhile, Tide goalie Jay Palmisano made a half-dozen of his 14 saves in the opening quarter to slow the Tigers.
Two sophomores who missed time in the midseason got MUHS on the board at 6:05. Middie Bobby Ritter fed attacker Connor Quinn on the left side, and he picked the far corner from 25 feet. With 20 seconds left in the period, Usilton found Quinn again on the left, and he bounced a shot into the near corner.
Sixteen seconds into second period, Quinn (three goals, two assists) completed his hat trick by curling from behind the net and converting. Then the Tigers put the game out of reach with five goals in the final 5:47 of the half.
After the Tigers forced a turnover, Usilton set up senior attacker Christian Higgins (three goals, assist) out front at 5:47. At 4:41, senior middie Nick Leach found Usilton alone in transition; at 3:43, Higgins assisted Usilton; at 2:26, sophomore defender Austin Robinson went coast-to-coast; and at 2:05, junior middie Nick Audet fed Usilton on the break to make it 8-0.
Early in the second half, Higgins’ behind-the-net set-up for junior middie Keenan Bartlett made it 9-0. Then, with MUHS down a man due to a penalty, the Tide finally dented the Tiger defense and Lalonde with two long-range bombs by middie Garrett Kelty.
The Tigers responded with five more goals by the end of the third period, by junior Christopher Ewell (from senior Nathan Wulfman), senior Will Koller, Usilton (from senior Nathan Herrmann), and two from Higgins (from junior Max Livingstone-Peters and Quinn).
Junior Nick Felkl, from Quinn, and Wulfman tacked on fourth-quarter goals while Lalonde and the defense snuffed out the occasional Tide threat.
Usilton said the Tigers have high hopes for a deep playoff run, but that the season has already been enjoyable.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I think it kind of put Middlebury back on the map with a couple big wins early in the season, and then progressing, and still in some battles, but coming out on top of those battles.”
Smith agrees the program has made progress, and he’s happy with greater numbers at the JV and youth levels.
But like his team, Smith is not satisfied with just taking a couple steps forward. 
“Well, I’d like to win the next three,” he said. “But one at a time.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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