Mount Abe boys’ soccer outlasts Commodores, 2-1

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Union High School boys’ soccer team on Tuesday picked up a key win for the Eagles’ playoff positioning, but a shorthanded Vergennes group made it difficult for them before falling, 2-1.
The 9-2-2 Eagles controlled much of play, especially when taking the lead on a Tucker Paradee free kick during the first half, during which they outshot the Commodores by 16-2.
Then the 2-10 Commodores equalized late in the half on their first shot of the game. The Ezekiel Palmer strike seemed to level the playing field — VUHS saw a second-half bid for the lead hit the crossbar.
But the Eagles still managed more shots, a 12-5 edge after the break, and Jack Willis finally put one away with 10 minutes to go for the victory, one that Coach Mike Corey said could give the Eagles a top-four seed regardless of how they fare at home vs. Rice in their Friday regular season finale.
They will find out for sure on Monday, when the Vermont Principals’ Association releases Division II playoff pairings.
“I’m very happy we got the result. It was a very important result for us,” Corey said. “My team knew that.”
Meanwhile, Coach Kevin Hayes’ Commodores are hobbled as they prepare to host Middlebury on Friday in their finale. The latest casualty is senior Aaron Gaines, who will not return from a leg injury. After the other injuries and the transfer of the team’s leading scorer to Middlebury, a roster of 21 is down to 16, including a JV call-up.
Hayes said the Commodores, as they did on Tuesday, have kept competing and being willing to shift positions — he noted the effectiveness on Tuesday of former striker Nathan Rowell at right back, for example.
“They keep digging deeper, and I can’t be more proud of them,” Hayes said.
Early on during Tuesday’s game, it looked like the Eagles would break it open. With Charlie Meyer and Nick Catlin setting up a lot of the Eagle attack, VUHS sophomore keeper Ethan Sausville (nine saves) stopped headers from Meyer and Eli Rickner, the second one a tough save after a dangerous serve by Sebastian Durante, and on the third of four Eagle first-half corner kicks denied an Igor Grecmal drive. Midfielder Tinder Kiely also blocked a Catlin shot.
But at 11:25, Sausville could not handle Paradee’s 40-yard, wind-aided free kick from the left sideline. The high blast tipped off the goalie’s fingertips and in for the Eagle lead.
Suddenly the Commodores had chances. Eagle goalie Caleb Bonvouloir came out to beat Ben Kayhart to a serve from Zeke Palmer a couple minutes after the goal, and then, at 5:45, the game was tied.
The Commodores worked the ball to Lance Bergmans in the right side of the Eagle box, and he found Palmer near the penalty stripe. Palmer drilled it into the upper right corner, and the Commodores had life. Notably, VUHS midfielders Max Ratti-Bicknell, Tyler Kepes, Kiely and Bergmans began to make more of an impact.
“The boys again showed a lot of resolve, and worked their way back into the game,” Hayes said. “Our equalizer definitely helped our confidence, and that is what we talked about at halftime, being more aggressive and taking the game to them.”
VUHS had two great chances. With 17 minutes to go, VUHS central defender Lathrop Brownell, who played a strong game, lofted a free kick from the right sideline into the Eagle box. Ratti-Bicknell headed it near the far post, where an onrushing Kepes banged a shot off the top of the crossbar.
With 12 minutes left, Kepes sent Kayhart into the box, where he won position on a defender for a left-footed, 10-yard bid, but fired high. Bonvouloir made both of his two saves in the second half, but neither challenged him.
At the other end, Sausville made four second-half saves on the 12 shots as the Eagles had difficulty translating territory into threats. Corey said Tuesday’s game typified his team’s play in that the Eagles outshot their foes in a close win.
“I like our midfield play. I think we possess well and play smartly,” Corey said. “We just struggle at times even to create opportunities, and when we do, we have a hard time putting the ball on frame.”  
But they cashed in on one of their chances. Shortly after Sausville beat forward Dylan Weaver to a Lucas Richter feed, the Eagles regained possession. Weaver sent Grecmal down the left wing, and he served to Willis near the stripe. Willis left-footed ball into the left side of the goal at 10:02 to give the Eagles the lead.
Corey praised his backline of Owein LaBarr in the middle and Jackson Counter and Paradee on the flanks.
“I’m really pleased with our defense as a whole this year,” he said. “Our backs have played with tremendous poise and consistency.”
The key for the upcoming D-II playoff will be the attack, an area that Corey said will see some tinkering in upcoming practices.
“We will live or die on our ability to score goals going forward,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hayes will look for more of the same positive approach from the Commodores.
“Every one of them is showing amazing heart and a willingness to improve,” he said. “Today, we progressed a little further, and the belief is starting to come.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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