MUHS boys ground Cougars; Redhawks next

MIDDLEBURY — Sometimes statistics can be misleading. But when a high school boys’ lacrosse team earns advantages of 29-9 in shots on goal and 43-19 in ground balls those numbers usually show it is carrying play and probably outhustling its opponent.
And in its first-round Division I playoff game on Tuesday, No. 8 Middlebury Union High School racked up those stats against No. 9 Mount Mansfield on the way to a convincing 11-5 victory, one that could have been bigger if not for the 18 saves racked up by senior Cougar goalie Ben Mutolo.
The win gives the 8-8 Tigers another shot against No. 1 Champlain Valley (14-1) this Friday. CVU is the defending champion, the team that has knocked them out of the playoffs each of the past three years, and the Tigers’ most recent opponent before Tuesday — on May 26 in Hinesburg MUHS took the Redhawks into overtime before falling, 7-6.
The same kind of effort as Tuesday’s will be critical against CVU, said senior co-captain and four-year defensive starter Fyn Fernandez.
“It’s going to take a lot of grit. We’re a more blue-collar team, and we always have been. I think that’s the big difference, getting the ground balls and really fighting for it,” Fernandez said.
Coach Brian Carpenter was pleased with the effort on ground balls vs. the 6-10 Cougars, but also pointed out other areas of improvement that will be vital if the Tigers are to continue to advance in the postseason. Carpenter said the Tigers showed better poise on offense, and after struggling to clear the ball, particularly in a recent home loss to St. Albans, really clicked in that department against Mount Mansfield.
“Patient offense, we’ve been preaching that all year, and one time we had a five-minute possession,” Carpenter said. “I think we missed one clear all day, and that was one thing midseason when we were slumping we had real problems with.”
MIDDLEBURY UNION HIGH School senior Jack Donahue moves in on Mt. Mansfield goalie Ben Mutolo Tuesday afternoon. Donahue scored two goals in the 11-5 Tiger win.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Early on in Tuesday’s game Mutolo kept the Tigers at bay, and MMU took the lead on the first of three Jared Elsinger goals, this one with the Cougars a man up. Tiger senior co-captain Jack Donahue broke loose from the tight checking of MMU defender Bryce Dinardo to equalize from close range at 2:02, and Kolby Farnsworth (four goals, one assist) whipped a shot home from the left side in the first period’s final minute to put MUHS on top.
Elsinger equalized early in the second, but the Tigers pulled away to lead at the half, 7-3, with help from middie Lane Sheldrick’s faceoff dominance. Donahue’s angled shot from the right, assisted by Fernandez, put the Tigers on top for good at 10:26, and unassisted goals by Farnsworth and Bode Rubright made it 5-2.
Cougar Eamon Heaney interrupted the run at 3:47, but Farnsworth, from middie Ben Crawford, made it 6-3, and then the Tigers beat the halftime horn to take a four-goal lead: Middie David Peters set up Crawford out front at 0:2.9.
In the third period Sheldrick whipped home a loose ball at 6:53 before goals by Ryan Peoples and Elsinger made it 8-5 and gave MMU some hope. The Tigers answered with three goals between 2:15 and 1:08 of the third: Kam Bartlett went behind the back on a nice Crawford feed, Sheldrick picked up another ground ball and found the net, and Farnsworth wrapped up the day’s offense with a solo move.
Tiger goalie Cam Devlin made four saves as defenders Fernandez, Quinn Berry, Derek Felkl and long-stick middie Tyler Giorgio limited the Cougar shots. Senior middie Sam Holmes scooped eight ground balls to lead MUHS, and Giorgio and Sheldrick added seven apiece.
Carpenter said he was proud of the Tigers’ effort against a team they defeated on the road, 12-10, not long ago.
“They came out and played a full four quarters. They might have made a couple mistakes, but you look at the stats and they didn’t make a whole lot of mistakes,” Carpenter said. “When we played them up there the game was a lot closer because we lost the ground-ball battle. Today we had two-to-one ground balls over what they had. We were killing it.”
TIGER SENIOR LANE Sheldrick scored two goals in Middlebury’s 11-5 win over Mt. Mansfield Tuesday afternoon.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Fernandez called it a true team victory.
“It was a really good game from everyone, and the bench support was there,” Fernandez said. “That’s something that’s been present throughout the season.”
Now the Redhawks loom, and Carpenter said the Tigers will need more poise and ground balls.
“They are a very talented team and are used to winning. But I think the guys are peaking at the right time. I think the big thing is if the guys come out and make those good decisions and don’t try to do too much individually, play as a team,” he said. “We’re just hoping the guys bring it on Friday.”
Fernandez said that’s the plan.
“It’s by far the most confidence we’ve ever had going into the playoffs against them,” he said. “I’ve been kicked out the last three years by them, so it’s certainly a chip on our shoulder to get that final win.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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