Sports

Eagle field hockey outlasts Middlebury

EAGLE AND TIGER players buzz around the Middlebury cage as Tiger midfielder Lois Alberts, right, moves to clear the ball during the first half of Thursday’s Division II quarterfinal in Bristol. Mount Abe won, 2-0, and will play No. 3 Hartford in a Wednesday semifinal in South Burlington.

BRISTOL — The defending Division II champion Mount Abraham Union High School field hockey team on Thursday cleared its first playoff hurdle, but visiting No. 7 Middlebury set the bar high for the No. 2 Eagles.
Ultimately, the Eagles created more pressure that translated into 23 penalty corners, and two of them paid off with Molly Laurent and Sydney Perlee goals as they came away with a 2-0 victory.
The veteran Eagle defense of Maizy Shepard in the middle and Camille Lyons on the flanks also excelled in disrupting the Tigers’ transition attack as Mount Abe (9-3-2) posted its third shutout in four games.
Despite the Eagles’ territorial advantage, the Tigers created chances on the counterattack and forced Eagle senior goalie Kira Murray to make six stops, including key saves early in the second half with Mount Abe nursing a 1-0 lead.
Eagle Coach Mary Stetson praised both teams and said she expected a tough battle from the Tigers.
“We knew it was going to be this way,” Stetson said. “They anticipated well.”
But after the first 15 minutes the Eagles’ began to take over, in part because central midfielders Madison Gile and Abigail Reen began to assert themselves.
“I think the difference-maker was our pressure in the circle was a little more sustained,” Stetson said. “As the game wore on that we owned more of the midfield and could keep the ball on the offensive half.”
Tiger Coach Chelsey Giuliani — whose team took a step forward this fall with a 5-9-2 record  — had kind words for both teams.
“I’m really pleased with the way they (the Tigers) played, and they had some great scoring opportunities,” Giuliani said. “But they’re (the Eagles) are a strong team, and … they played a complete game.”
The Tigers threw five attackers forward in a new formation and moved center back Lydia Deppman up into the midfield, leaving Katie Berthiaume and Sarah Nicolai to hold the fort on defense. The two Tiger backs held up well, especially Berthiaume.
“To start the game I think they were on their heels a little bit, which was what we wanted to do. We wanted to attack, not just play D, which we ended up doing a lot today,” Giuliani said. “But I thought my defense did really well today.”
Lexi Bartlett, Phoebe Smith, Viviana Hammond and Maeve Hammel all created threats for the Tigers in the first 12 minutes, including two corners that the Eagles scrambled to defend.
Then the Eagles began to live in the Tiger circle, finishing with 13 first-half penalty corners. Deppman in particular defended them well, and shots were few as the Tigers kept breaking up plays. The Eagles finished with just a 9-7 edge despite their 23-4 advantage in corners.
Finally, Mount Abe converted a corner with 59 seconds left in the half with outstanding passing. Txuxa Konczal inserted to Reen at the top of the circle, and she slid the ball to her right to Gile. Gile shot from angle at about 20 feet, and Laurent tipped the ball inside the right post. Tiger goalie Ileigh Aube (seven saves) had no chance.
The Tigers earned two corners in the second half’s first five minutes. But Murray denied a point-blank Clara Wolff tip on the first and blocked Bartlett’s 15-foot wrister on the second.
Aube made a kick save on Reen to keep the Tigers close, but at 17:27 the Eagles struck on another corner. Aube padded away a Laurent tip of a Gile drive, but the rebound rolled to Perlee at the right post, and she tapped it home.
Shortly afterward Bartlett, who has been dealing with a painful nagging injury all season, left the game after an inadvertent collision. Despite Thursday’s strong effort and her team’s progress this season Giuliani noted that sad moment afterward.
“Lexi exiting in so much pain, that’s hard to watch. And she was such a critical component of our success this year,” she said. “That was kind of the bittersweetness of today.”
The Tigers had one last good chance with four minutes left, but Murray blocked a Wolff flick, and soon the Eagles celebrated.
They will next face No. 3 Hartford (11-3-1) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at South Burlington.
After recent wins against top D-I teams, Stetson said the Eagles should be ready.
“We took advantage of our opportunities and played our game and did well,” Stetson said. “Good competition like that is really important for us before you go into the playoffs.”

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