MUHS boys’ lacrosse falls to CVU in D-I state final
CASTLETON — Ultimately, just like both Division I boys’ lacrosse semifinals had earlier last week, Thursday night’s final between Middlebury and two-time defending champion Champlain Valley at Castleton State College came down to one dramatic late goal.
This time, it came from the stick of Redhawk attacker Matt Palmer.
Palmer capped a furious flurry that saw the Tigers and the Redhawks each score twice in the final 2:19 by whipping home the game-winner with 20.2 seconds to go, giving CVU an 11-10 victory and their third straight title and sixth overall.
Palmer’s strike, his fourth of the game, denied the 15-4, top-seeded Tigers their first crown since 2002 and eighth overall. They had reached the final by defeating No. 4 Essex, 13-12, on senior Connor Quinn’s overtime goal two days before.
The 13-6 Redhawks had earned their trip to Castleton by defeating No. 2 South Burlington, 6-5, on Monday, when middie Dylan Schaefer scored the game-winner with two minutes to go.
MUHS Coach Dennis Smith said he believed all along the difference between the semifinal teams was paper-thin.
“These four teams at the end, I thought anybody could win,” Smith said. “And these two teams tonight, it was just back and forth. It was just which team made the little mistakes. And we started making a few mistakes at the end, and they capitalized on it. But that’s what happens in these big games. I give my team credit, and I give them credit. It was just two great teams that played their hearts out, and one team is going to lose.”
With both teams playing tough, the Redhawks and Tigers did make mistakes. The Redhawks took nine penalties to the Tigers’ three, although two key fourth-quarter calls went against MUHS, while the Tigers struggled with turnovers, especially after taking leads of 6-3 in the second quarter and 7-5 in the third.
Smith said although the Tigers’ face-guarding tactics held the Redhawks to fewer goals than in either of their 13-10 and 13-9 regular-season losses to CVU — and the Tiger defenders did also force their fair share of turnovers — there were still a couple breakdowns in the back by a defense that has been a team strength all season.
“We did some things different than we did in the past against them, and we held them in check, but we also made some mental mistakes,” Smith said. “It’s just a little ball-watching here and there.”
Although CVU took an early 2-1 lead on goals by Palmer and Charlie Bernicke, MUHS took a 4-2 lead after the first period, scoring twice with a man advantage after CVU penalties. Senior middie Cullen Hathaway, from freshman attacker Jack Donahue, and Donahue, from junior attacker Jack Hounchell, scored man-up goals. Senior middie Bobby Ritter scored unassisted from long range, and Hounchell also set up a Quinn goal.
TIGER SENIOR JUSTIN Stone chases down a loose ball near center field during last Thursday’s state championship game played at Castleton State College.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Despite turnovers in the second quarter, the Tigers stretched the lead to 6-3. Hathaway, from the top of the box, twice found Hounchell on the doorstep for man-up goals. The second came at 3:09 and established that three-goal lead. To that point in the period, MUHS had allowed only an Owen McCuin goal, thanks in part to Tiger senior goalie Nathan Lalonde’s back-to-back stops early in the quarter on Palmer and Elliot Mitchell.
After Hounchell’s second goal, Palmer’s solo move at 2:50 made it 6-4. The Tigers won the draw, but turned the ball over. Ritter won the ball back, but the Tigers coughed up the ball again. Lalonde (six saves) stopped Palmer and snared the groundball, but the Tigers were flagged for a penalty on the play, a call that MUHS coaches disputed. Regardless, CVU got the ball back again, and McCuin made it 6-5 with a man-up goal, a score that stood at the half.
The Tigers restored their two-goal lead at 10:19 of the third, when Hounchell found the lower right corner after curling from the left side. But Mitchell and Palmer scored goals 34 seconds apart, with Palmer’s coming at 9:05, and it was 7-7.
At 4:47, the Tigers took their last lead, courtesy again of Hounchell, who whipped home a behind-the-net feed from Quinn. Hounchell finished with a game-high six points on four goals and two assists. “Hounchell had a great game,” Smith said.
But with 20.9 seconds left in the period, Griffin DiParlo finished off Palmer’s feed from the left side, and the score stood at 8-8 entering the fourth.
It remained that way for almost six minutes, in part because Lalonde stuffed Bernicke’s man-up bid at the nine-minute mark. But at 6:23, Bernicke won the duel, stuffing in a curl move from the right side, and CVU had its first lead since 2-1.
At 2:19, Ritter drew a CVU foul while winning a ground ball, and seven seconds later Quinn made it 9-9 with a 20-yard bullet high into the net. But CVU won the draw, and at 1:34, DiParlo bounced a shot into the net’s right side to make it 10-9.
Thirteen seconds later, the score was tied. Junior middie Ali Abdul Sater won the draw, raced down the middle of the field and found Donahue cutting in from the right side. Donahue beat CVU goalie Matt Murikami (five saves) to the far corner for his second of the game, at 1:21.
Then came a wild scramble for the next faceoff. The Tigers had chances to scoop the ball as it rolled toward the CVU end, but eventually a Redhawk defender controlled and CVU called for time at 1:05.
The Redhawks worked the ball down the field successfully, and the Tigers were called for a hold. Palmer wandered loose for a second on the right side, and made no mistake when he received the ball from the far side, firing a bullet just inside the right post.
The Tigers won the draw, but had no time to get a potentially tying shot on goal as the program’s best spring in 13 years came to an end.
“It’s been a good season. We came here, but we just came up short,” Smith said.
He remains hopeful for the future of the program, although a senior class that includes Quinn, Ritter, Hathaway, Lalonde, middies Ashton Bates and John McAninch, reserve goalie Lucas Plouffe, and defenders Austin Robinson, Justin Stone and Sam Killorin will be missed.
“We’ve got a great senior group. They’ve been together for a long time, and it all started with the feeder program,” Smith said. “As long as we can keep numbers, we can compete at this level.”
Andy Kirkaldy is at andyk@
MIDDLEBURY UNION HIGH School goalie Nathan Lalonde faces a point-blank shot by CVU’s Charlie Bernicke during last Thursday’s Division I state championship game.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
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