Milton bests Tiger boys’ soccer in tournament

MIDDLEBURY — All three local high school boys’ soccer teams emerged with something positive out of the annual J.P. Carrara eDoc Innovations Tournament this past weekend.
Host Middlebury (2-5) earned a 2-0 first-round win on Thursday over Mount Abraham to reach Saturday’s final before falling to champion Milton, 3-1. MUHS won two out of three last week after an 0-3 start, with senior Drew Barnicle scoring four goals and setting up a fifth and junior goalie Wilder Perera playing well.
Coach Bret Weekes said having his team healthy again helped its improved play.
“The chemistry we saw in the preseason, we’re starting to get some consistency to that,” Weekes said. “We’ve got a very young team, but we’re learning and growing every day in practice and in every match. I think there are more good things ahead.”
Vergennes tied the 4-1-2 Milton Yellowjackets on Thursday, 1-1, before the Commodores and the Eagles battled for a 100 minutes to a 0-0 tie on Saturday. Those ties moved VUHS to 0-3-2 after three one-goal setbacks, and they carried an edge in the play vs. the Eagles.
Coach Kevin Hayes is disappointed VUHS lost a lead vs. Milton and then couldn’t score vs. the Eagles despite a 21-8 edge in shots, but said his team is improving and its record is misleading.
“The Milton game shows who we are. I thought we played much better against them, had our chances to win it and led until 12 minutes to go,” Hayes said. “I feel like we’re going in the right direction.”
For the defending Division II champion Eagles, that tie snapped a two-game skid and left them at 2-2-1. The losses and the tie have come since senior central defender and co-captain Whit Lower hurt his knee; his chances of returning this fall, unfortunately, are uncertain at best.
Despite heavy graduation losses, Coach Mike Corey said he likes the spunk his young and not physically imposing team has shown. He was happy a defense led by senior Gus Catlin and junior goalie Nick Sczcecinski held up under the VUHS pressure on Saturday.
“Our guys have a lot of grit,” Corey said. “We’re going to have to grit it out, tough it out in some matches that we may be overmatched athletically. So I’m real pleased that we got the points.”
TIGER SENIOR ROBERT Avery knocks Eagle junior Charlie Meyer off the ball during boys’ soccer action in Middlebury last Thursday. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Backed by a strong wind, Milton dominated Saturday’s opening half in the title game against Middlebury: Perera made 12 of his 17 saves in the first 40 minutes.
Some were routine, thanks to the Tiger defenders: junior Nick Holmes and Nick Wilkerson in the middle, senior Bob Avery on one side and the combo of senior Luke Benz and junior Cole Gregory on the other. But Perera also did well to tip a Ryan Brown shot over the bar and snare another Brown tip from close range.
The Yellowjackets took the lead on the last of their 18 first-half shots. Brown took a free kick from just outside the Tiger box, and Perera dove to stop it. But he could not control the rebound, and Jack Battistoni tapped it home at 1:41.
Play evened for the first 20 minutes of the second half, and a Tiger corner kick in the 14th minute pinballed around the box before Milton cleared. But that clear turned into a counterattack, which Eric Menard converted at 26:00 to make it 2-0.
Barnicle put the Tigers on the board at 21:30. The Yellowjackets botched a clear on their left sideline, and Barnicle pounced on the ball behind the defense, finishing from inside the box with a blast angled inside the far left post.
The only other Tiger shots came from senior midfielder Jerry Staret, who was twice denied from long range by Milton keeper Hunter Goodwin. Milton regained control — especially when the wind died down — and scored again at 7:34, when Cam Goodrich flicked the ball past Perera, who came out to cut down the angle.
The Tigers showed flashes of good ball movement, and Weekes said more of that will be necessary.
“We had a tough time in midfield today. Some of it was the wind, and they were physical with us,” he said. “We need to build up through the central, and exploit the pace we have up top.”
The half of the consolation game was fairly even, but that was with the wind at the Eagles’ backs. Even then, the VUHS defense of seniors Elan Hugo and Chris Leach, junior Tyler Kepes and sophomore Aaron Gaines allowed just three shots, only one of which senior goalie Dylan Raymond had to stop.
At the other end, the Eagle defense of Catlin in the middle and juniors Tucker Paradee and Andrew Cloutier were already busier, allowing five shots, three of which Sczcecinski had to save.
Meanwhile, the Commodore midfield — seniors Dana Ambrose, Liam Hayes, Jake Dombek and Ryan McEntee all had strong games — began to take control and set up runs by senior forwards Liam Godfrey and Luke Paquin and sophomore Adrian Petri. The best first-half chance came when Hayes picked off a pass at midfield in the 20th minute and raced in on Sczcecinski, who knocked his shot over the bar.
But especially in the second half, when the Commodores outshot the Eagles by 13-1, Coach Hayes said those midfield set-ups could have been more precise.
“They did good. They were going to the ball,” he said. “If we had possessed there and distributed to feet, we would have been in better shape. We just got a little antsy knocking the ball over the top.”
In that second half, VUHS earned 12 corner kicks, and Sczcecinski earned his keep. The Eagle goalie tipped an early Godfrey bid over the bar, and then on the corner that followed stopped Godfrey again. In the 15th minute he stopped Petri on a corner kick.
In the 31st minute Sczcecinski denied what looked like a sure goal, a point-blank Paquin one-timer set up by Godfrey, and with four minutes to go the right post helped out by blocking a Petri header. With a minute left, Sczcecinski snatched a ball deflected on net by a defender.
Both Hayes and Corey praised Sczcecinski.
“Today he demonstrated he can be a real big-time keeper,” Corey said, “and it gives his team a lot more confidence.”
Mount Abe outshot VUHS in 20 minutes of OT, 4-3, but neither team put any of those shots on net.
Corey was pleased that the Eagles at times tried to play its possession game, that they held up under the pressure from the athletic Commodores to earn a tie, and that they reasserted themselves in OT.
“As much as they were under the gun in that second half, they came back and had some opportunities,” he said.
Hayes said he hopes for and expects more production from his veteran midfielders and forwards, and that he was been pleased with a defense that was rebuilt after starters graduated.
“The back line is new, but it’s doing its job,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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