Mount Abe-VUHS lacrosse outlasts Otter Valley

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative boys’ lacrosse team on Monday earned its first win, 16-10, at home over stubborn Otter Valley, which repeatedly fought back from deficits in what was the Otters’ opener.
The Eagles evened their record at 1-1 after a disappointing 17-15 loss to visiting Montpelier on the previous Wednesday.
Eagle Coach Ed Cook said he expects continued improvement on fundamentals as his team enjoys more full-field practice time now that the weather is finally cooperating, and that he already sees progress since the Solon setback.
“We played much better having a week of practice on the field,” Cook said. “Our defense stayed home much better today. We still need to work on passing and catching. But our midfielders really stepped up.”
OV Coach Jesse Milliman’s team fell behind by 8-3 late in the second period and then by 11-4 early in the second half. But the Otters, sparked by senior midfielder Tyson Cram’s five goals and sophomore goalie Alec Stevens’ 10 saves, several of them point-blank, fought back to make it 13-9 early in the fourth quarter and had possession of the ball twice with a chance to cut the lead to three.
“We’ve got a team of competitors. They play hard. They never give up,” Milliman said.
Milliman said the Otters also need to work on the basics, but that as Monday’s game wore on started to move the ball better and run their offensive sets more effectively.
“We’re going to get there,” said Milliman, whose team was scheduled to visit Randolph on Wednesday after our deadline and host the Ghosts on Friday at 4 p.m. “We’ve got to go back to practice tomorrow and work hard and work on some of the fundamental stuff.”
But on Monday the Eagles had a little more firepower. Nine Eagles scored, led by senior attacker Max Ratti-Bicknell’s four goals and four assists and senior middie Owein LaBarr’s three goals and three assists. LaBarr also helped the deeper Eagle midfield control most of the play by scooping a game-high 10 ground balls, while senior long-stick middie Sam Paradee provided a steady defensive presence and played a key role moving the ball up the field. 
“On attack, I think Max Ratti-Bicknell is settling into his leadership role a little bit more,” Cook said. “We’ve got six or eight middies that can run with anybody.”
Early on, the Eagles took a 3-0 lead as LaBarr scored and then set up a Bicknell strike, and junior attacker Phoenix King came out of a scrum with a ground ball near the OV goal and converted at 5:25 of the first.
OV notched the game’s next two goals. Sophomore middie Hayden Gallo found the lower left corner past Eagle freshman goalie Patrick Davidson (seven saves) late in the first, and Cram went coast-to-coast and buried a high shot early in the second.
LaBarr and Gallo traded goals to make it 5-3, and then the Eagles went on a 4-1 run over the final 3:31 of the half, and it was 9-4 at the break. Sophomore attacker Jack Halpin ran in from midfield and found the left corner, junior middie Nick Catlin connected from long range, and Paradee tossed a pass from the sideline to senior attacker Addison King open at the left post to make it 8-3.
Cram netted a feed from senior Noah Smith to break the run, but as time wound down Ratti-Bicknell hit LaBarr curling counter-clockwise from behind the net, and LaBarr found the upper far corner for the five-goal lead.
The Eagle momentum continued after the break. In the first 1:29 Ratti-Bicknell netted a right-to-left feed from LaBarr, and then from behind the net he fed sophomore middie Nate Wojciechowski to make it 11-4.
The Otters fought back with better ball movement and help from two Eagle penalties.
“There were glimpses, times when we ran our offensive sets,” Milliman said.
Senior Collin Parker buried a long-range bomb at 9:21, and at 6:08 Cram curled from behind the net and stuffed the ball home, and it was 11-6.
The Eagles answered with goals from Paradee and Ratti-Bicknell; at 13-6 they seemed to have control. But at 4:33 Cram bounced a 15-yard shot into the upper left corner, and with 20 seconds left in the period Gallo found sophomore Ethan Sulik-Doty alone out front, and it was 13-8. The Eagles committed a foul on the play, and 25 seconds into the fourth Parker hit Sulik-Doty again on the Eagle doorstep, and things were getting interesting.
Davidson then made a key stop on Cram, but an Eagle foul gave the Otters another chance to cut the lead to three. Instead, Eagle junior Will White Pifer picked off a pass, raced the length of the field and whipped home a 12-yard sidearm shot. With less than nine minutes to go it was 14-9, and the mountain was finally too high for OV to climb.
Down the stretch Halpin scooped a ground ball and whipped it home, Cram netted his fifth for OV, and Ratti-Bicknell converted a LaBarr feed.
Cook pointed to the fact that nine Eagles scored as an encouraging, praised the play of his midfielders, and said his defense would gel as a unit given more full-field time in practice and games. And he believes depth will be a strength.
“We got everybody in today and got them some great experience that we’re going to need down the road,” Cook said.
Milliman has a smaller roster, but believes the Otters’ character and drive will help them improve and compete this spring.
“This is a great group,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of numbers, but we have a lot of heart, and that’s a great place to start.”

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