Tiger field hockey rides late surge

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School field hockey team started and finished strong on Tuesday, and that was more than enough to carry the Tigers past visiting Burlington, 6-3.
The Tigers took a 3-0 lead early in the second half, but watched the Seahorses erupt for three unanswered goals. After a timeout by Coach Megan Sears, MUHS countered with three goals in the final 7:01, including two by junior wing Makayla Foster.
The victory moved MUHS to 5-3-1 and gave the program as many wins this fall as in the past two seasons combined — and all three 2014 losses have come in overtime.
“They’ve been doing well,” Sears said. “We want this momentum to carry us into the playoffs as far as possible, hopefully all the way to the end. I think this group really believes in themselves enough to go far, and I believe in them.”
At the same time, the Tigers know they have a tough schedule the rest of the way: Essex (8-0-1), Champlain Valley (7-1-1), South Burlington (5-4) on the road, home on this Friday vs. Mount Mansfield (3-5-1, with the tie vs. the Tigers), and an always dangerous rivalry game vs. 4-5 Mount Abraham.
Foster said the Tigers would be confident against all their opponents, but she and Sears both talked of composure.
“We have to go in, coach says, every game like we’ve never played these teams before,” Foster said. “We’ve got to stay composed.”
Sears said they might not be able to afford stretches like that during Tuesday’s second half against the 1-8 Seahorses.
“We have a huge task ahead of us,” Sears said. “So I think it’s going to continue to be all about keeping our composure, not having those frazzled moments offensively and defensively and staying composed under high pressure.”
Offensive outbursts like Tuesday’s and the previous Saturday’s vs. Colchester, when the Tigers scored seven times, will help. The Tigers pressured BHS for most of the first half, earning five penalty corners to one for the Seahorses while the defense of Alli White, Alex Whipple and Monroe Cromis allowed just three shots on goalie Baily Ryan.
Key to the pressure was the work of MUHS midfielders Tajah Marsden, Harley Downey-Teachout and Emma Snyder-White, both setting up the Tiger forwards and disrupting the Seahorses.
Forward Lily Smith put the Tigers on the board at 12:31, rapping home the rebound of linemate Sara Kelley’s shot. Kelley made it 2-0 at 9:01, tapping home a goalmouth feed from Foster in a scramble.
Foster made it 3-0 with the first of her three goals, which came 1:05 into the second half. Left wing Lauren Bartlett sent the ball across the cage from the left side, and Foster tipped it home out of the air.
But then the Seahorses came on strong, earning five straight penalty corners and scoring three straight goals. The first came on a reverse-stick pass from Katherine Becker to Molly Higgins across the goal that allowed Higgins to tuck the ball inside the right post. Following a corner, at 18:16 Ava Simonds rapped a rebound of one of Ryan’s five saves into the lower right corner, and it was 3-2.
At 15:02, the game was tied. Molly Driscoll slid the ball to the right to Hannah Schirling, and she one-timed it inside the post.
The Tigers began to revive, as Marsden and Downey-Teachout forced a corner and Seahorse goalie Devin Libby made a kick save on Foster before Kelley shot wide on the rebound. At 11:09, Sears decided to call for time.
Sears said she emphasized positioning to allow the Tigers to reestablish their passing game.
Foster said Sears told her team “just to stay composed and regain that fire we had at the beginning of the game, and that’s exactly what we went out there and we did.”
Shortly afterward, Marsden forced a corner. BHS cleared, but Marsden sent it back in. Bartlett relayed to Foster out front, and she rapped it home at 7:01.
At 5:08 it was 5-3. Smith and Foster worked a perfect give-and-go in the right side of the BHS circle, and Foster one-timed the final pass into the lower left corner to complete the hat trick.
“I got really pumped up and excited, but I was really thankful my teammates set up those passes,” Foster said. “Everything was just really smooth, and that’s how we won.”
Bartlett added the final goal at 2:49, netting a rebound after Libby stopped Kelley twice.
Overall, Sears said she would have preferred a smoother ride on Tuesday, but liked the way the Tigers reasserted themselves.
“I would have liked it to be cleaner from start to finish,” Sears said. “But the girls really rose to the occasion.”
 Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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