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Last-second heroics lift Tiger field hockey to a win

MIDDLEBURY — With no time left on the clock in Saturday’s Division I quarterfinal against No. 5 South Burlington, the No. 4 Middlebury Union High School Tigers trailed the Rebels, 2-1, on Middlebury College’s Kohn Field.
When 4:09 more time had elapsed, the Tigers had won, 3-2, and earned a semifinal against undefeated No. 1 Essex on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the same site.
In between, Tiger senior defender Alli White tied the game on a penalty corner called against the Rebels with seconds left in regulation. The rules allow corners to be completed even after time expires, and the Tigers took advantage.
And after another Rebel foul gave the Tigers a penalty corner in overtime, junior Sara Kelley shot from the top of the circle into the lower left corner to give MUHS the dramatic win.
Kelley, whose first-half goal put MUHS up, 1-0, said the call on the corner was for the ball to come to her. She stopped the ball, touched it inside the circle, and let it fly to trigger a joyful celebration.
“I just hit it as hard as I could,” Kelley said. “I was excited. I just looked back at my teammates to see it all come together.”
White’s goal created almost as much excitement. All 10 Tiger field players surrounded the scoring circle. Play continues until a foul, the ball is cleared, it goes out of bounds — or into the goal. Two or three Tiger shots were blocked before White rapped the ball into the left corner. Rebel goalie Liz Sargent (six saves) had no chance at either goal.
The Tigers improved to 8-4-2, and 5-1-1 in their past seven games, with the only setback 1-0 at Essex. Coach Megan Sears said the Tigers have learned how to win.
“They have worked so hard all season to finish games, and that showed today,” Sears said.  
Sears said the Tigers’ teamwork and trust in another has made a difference.
“They in the second half of the season have gelled together to compete against these higher level teams,” Sears said.  
Kelley agreed.
“We all decided to come together, because we knew what was at stake and we knew what we were capable of doing,” Kelley said.
The rival 8-6 Rebels also were on a mission, having lost to MUHS at home in their season finale playing without longtime coach Anjie Soucy due to the South Burlington teachers’ strike. With Soucy back on Saturday, the Rebels gave MUHS a battle.
They earned three corners in the first half to none for MUHS, and forward Madi Grabowski had a couple good early looks.
But the Tigers took the lead on a counterattack. Right middie Tajah Marsden sent Kelley into the circle, and she shot from the right side. With left wing Lauren Bartlett crashing the cage, Kelley’s shot beat Sargent at 14:58.
The Rebels fought back pressed the Tiger defense of White on the left, Mikayla Robinson in the middle and Alex Whipple on the right. Marsden broke up a corner, and Tiger goalie Baily Ryan (four saves) cleared one ball and saved a Joan Vera shot. But at 5:01 Grabowski tucked a rebound home.
In the second half, the Tiger midfield of Harley Downey-Teachout, sophomore Lily Smith and Marsden began to create more chances for the front line. Makayla Foster, Mikayla Humiston and Kelley had bids, and SB defender Melissa Valgoi made one of her three defensive saves on Bartlett.
After an SB timeout, play was back and forth. Ryan stopped a deflection at one end, and Valgoi denied Marsden at the other before SB took the lead at 10:53 — Vera’s drive from the right side found the left corner.
Then the Tigers took charge. Valgoi made another defensive save, this one on Kelley; SB sweeper Casey Johnson cleared a Marsden serve away; and Sargent denied Bartlett. But the late pressure paid off, and the Tigers have a shot at Essex and standout Kathleen Young.
“The game that we did play was a really hard-fought game by both teams, and I think we surprised them by our efforts,” Sears said. “I think we also know what it takes to get past them. And it will be composure while carrying the ball, and it will be careful shots on goal, and it will be shutting down their No. 1 player.”
Kelley said more of the same Tiger formula could go a long way.
“I think we’re capable of beating anyone if we work together as a team,” she said. “That’s all we need to do.”
 Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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