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Tiger boys’ lax works extra to reach D-I state final

MIDDLEBURY — With 8:19 to go in Tuesday’s Division I boys’ lacrosse semifinal on Middlebury College’s Alumni Field, Essex attacker Henry Adams bounced home his third goal of the game to give his fourth-seeded team a 10-8 lead.
The Tigers then made a series of clutch plays that culminated with senior attacker Connor Quinn’s strike with 2.8 seconds left in the first overtime period that gave top-seeded Middlebury an 11-10 win and the program its first berth in a title game since 2005. That year marked the last of 13 straight appearances in D-I finals for Tiger teams.
The 15-3 Tigers will take on No. 6 Champlain Valley (12-6) on Thursday at Castleton State College. Game time is at 7 p.m. The MUHS vs. CVU game will follow the D-II final featuring No. 5 Burlingt vs. No. 3 Burr and Burton; that game starts at 4:30 p.m.
On Thursday, MUHS will be seeking the program’s eighth title. CVU — which defeated the Tigers twice this spring, 13-10 on April 29 and 13-9 on May 22 — will go after its third straight crown and sixth overall.
Quinn said the Tigers are thrilled to help bring the program back to prominence. The appearance in the final comes after two straight semifinal visits, but as recently as 2011 MUHS won just once all season.
“We definitely wanted to get it back to where it was, and to be able to do that is awesome,” Quinn said. “Now we just have to go get the championship.”
To reach the final, the Tigers had to get past a talented 11-6 Essex team they had defeated twice, but only by one goal each time.
And the Hornets three times on Tuesday — after lightning delayed the game by about an hour — took two-goal leads, including the first two scores of the game. Attacker Brendan Gleason (three goals, two assists) started with a sensational behind-the-back solo effort, and at 8:23 freshman Jordan Hines scooped a groundball and tucked it home.
Both senior goalies, the Tigers’ Nathan Lalonde (18 saves in all) and the Hornets’ Andrew Lounsbury (11 stops) did superb work in the period, denying point-blank bids.
Essex had a chance to extend the lead when the Tigers were assessed a two-minute penalty at 4:57, but Lalonde stopped one shot and then Essex committed a foul. The Tigers took advantage at 4:00, when junior middie Ali Abdul Sater dumped a clever Quinn feed inside the left post. At 2:26, senior middie Cullen Hathaway set up Quinn for a similar goal, and the period ended at 2-2.
Quinn (three goals, three assists) set up Jack Donahue early in the second to make it 3-2, MUHS, but Essex controlled the ball and went on a 3-0 run. Adams and Gleason — he dueled all game with Tiger standout senior defender Austin Robinson — made strong moves to give Essex the lead, and Sean Vanzo intercepted a Tiger clear with the Hornets a man-up and went in alone at 4:19 to make it 5-3.
The Tigers then erupted for four goals in less than three minutes to take a 7-5 halftime lead. Hathaway triggered the outburst with a highlight-reel, behind-the-back shot from a sharp angle.
Junior attacker Jack Hounchell tied the game at 2:32 after senior middie Bobby Ritter sent him in alone after a Hornet offsides foul, and then Ritter picked a corner from long range. Quinn capped the surge by converting a cross-crease feed from Hounchell at 1:37.
Then came the third quarter: Essex controlled possession and scored four unanswered goals while the Tigers struggled to hold onto the ball.
MUHS Coach Dennis Smith said at times this spring the Tigers have simply not played their best after the halftime break.
“Sometimes we come out ready in the third, and other times we play like this,” Smith said. “We rode it out and got to the fourth, and we started playing again.”
In the third Essex’s David Forbes scored an early man-down goal in transition at 10:15, Adams scored a man-up goal to make it 7-7, Gleason tucked a long shot just inside a post, and at 1:25 Forbes won a groundball and went in alone to make it 9-7.
At 11:13 of the third, Abdul Sater broke the ice for MUHS, finding the right corner with a 25-foot lefty shot. But at 8:19 Adams bounced home a shot after taking a Gleason feed to make it 10-8; again, the Tigers were a man down.
At the five-minute mark, Lalonde made a key save on Vanzo, and the Tigers controlled the groundball that followed.
The Tigers appreciated the work of Lalonde and the defense of seniors Robinson, Justin Stone and Sam Killorin, and freshman Fyn Fernandez, who held the Hornets scoreless after that final Adams score.
“It’s been that way all year,” Smith said. “We’re strong back there. We feel that is one of our strong suits. They held on.”
After that stop and groundball win, the Tigers struck quickly: Quinn, again under pressure from standout Essex defender Liam Donahue, found Jack Donahue off the right post, and he made it 10-9 at 4:47.
The Hornets held strong for the next four minutes, and Liam Donahue forced a Tiger turnover. At 1:40, Essex called time to get Gleason the ball. And Robinson promptly knocked the ball loose to give the Tigers a chance to tie.
After a couple misses, Ritter controlled at the top of the box and made a move, faking right and heading left, and then unloading a lefty bullet. It nestled into the right side of the net at 0:10.3, and it was 10-10.
Quinn almost won the game in regulation after sophomore middie Andrew Gleason won the faceoff, raced down and fed him out front, but his shot sailed just wide at the horn.
In overtime, the Tigers won the faceoff, but fired wide twice. Essex then had a chance, but Lalonde stopped Vanzo. Essex took a penalty with 0:40 to go. Quinn missed with 11 seconds left, but got the ball back, with seconds to go, on the left of goal. He rolled out front and bounced the game-winner home. That triggered a rush of Tigers to the middle of the field, where they jumped into a noisy pile.
The Tigers hope to recreate that moment in Castleton on Thursday, but understand the Redhawks won’t be an easy foe.
“We know they’re going to be really good,” Quinn said. “We feel really pretty good going into it. We feel we can make adjustments. But we’re in for a battle.”
Smith said regardless of Thursday, the Tigers have put on a show for their fans this spring.
“We’ve been in the semifinals the past two years, and now the finals. And it’s just good to see, because there is support for this sport, just like there is for football in the fall,” Smith said. “We just want to put a good show on for the community, is what it comes down to.”

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