Sports

Tiger boys’ soccer pulls away from Eagles

MUHS SENIOR DEFENDER Devon Kearns heads away a first-half corner kick in front of Mount Abe’s Silas Burgess (10) and Tanner Harris (6) during the first half of the Tigers’ 3-0 win over the Eagles at Fucile Field in a Division II quarterfinal Friday. The second-seeded Tigers will host a semifinal on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

MIDDLEBURY — Friday’s Division II high school boys’ soccer quarterfinal saw No. 2 Middlebury host No. 10 Mount Abraham in the fall’s third meeting of the two teams.
Like the first two times, the 13-3 Tigers prevailed, this time by 3-0. But it wasn’t easy against the 9-5-2 Eagles, who battled MUHS to a scoreless first-half stalemate.
Statistically, Mount Abe had a slight edge in the first half: Shots (four apiece) and saves (one each) were even, while the Eagles earned more corners (3-1).
But the ball rolled the Tigers’ way after the break. Pressure keyed by the Tiger midfield led to goals by Alex Bleich and Owen Palcsik in the first 15 minutes, and Bleich added another score in the late going.
Palcsik, a senior tri-captain who worked well with fellow center midfielders Oliver Poduschnick and Andy Giorgio to help turn the tide, said the Tigers played with more purpose in the second half after a halftime discussion.
“We talked about doing the same thing we do in practice, but bringing more energy,” Palcsik said. “And just once we got the first goal, we could feel it.”
MUHS Coach Reeves Livesay credited the Eagles.
“They played hard the entire 80 minutes, and they’re a dangerous team,” Livesay said. “Particularly in the first half they did a good job neutralizing our midfielders.”
He said his team raised its play after the break.
“We just came up with a couple more tackles and started winning a few 50-50 balls that allowed us to get a little better possession,” Livesay said. “And then when we got the ball we started finding feet a little bit more and sort of got into the flow of our game.”
Eagle Coach Bob Russell said his team played hard, but didn’t create enough chances against a tough opponent.
“They move the ball well and they defend well. They’re a terrific team. They deserve the win,” Russell said.
The Tigers had the best early chances. After Eagle goalie Ethan DeWitt’s only first-half save, off Eben Jackson from the 18, and the ball bounced away on the wet turf, and the Eagle defense had to knock it way. Bleich also had a bid on a miscued clearing attempt, but shot wide.
At the other end Jackson, Palcsik and wing back Devon Kearns cleared out the corner kicks, but the Eagle best chance came when the Tigers failed to handle a long ball into the box. It bounced to Eagle striker Branden Reynolds on the left side. Reynolds fired, but Kearns bolted over to knock the bid wide.
Then came the second half. Middie Anthony Garner handled a throw-in deep down the right side, beat a defender to the end line, dribbled toward goal, and sent a short pass to Bleich about six yards out. Bleich one-timed it home at 29:22.
At 26:25 Jackson fed Palcsik on a short corner on the left. Palcsik moved toward the middle and hit a hard, low shot toward the near side. It got a fortunate bounce off an Eagle and nestled inside the near post.
The Eagles threatened late. With 18 minutes to go Tiger goalie Owen Lawton came out to snare a strong cross from the right from Eagle senior middie Eric McKean. With 11 minutes left a shot from middie Eli Burgess sailed wide. Down the stretch the Tiger defense blocked a Neil Guy header, and the Eagles couldn’t get shots on frame following a direct kick and a corner kick.
At 2:15 Bleich picked up a long clear at midfield, raced in, and left-footed the ball in off the right post past Eagle backup goalie Will Vichi, who made one save while DeWitt (three saves) took the field at striker.
Overall, Sam Schoenhuber and Griff Paradee in the middle of the Eagle defense did well, as did the Tiger defense of Spencer Doran and Eddie Hodde in the middle and Kearns and Hunter Munteanu outside.
The Tigers will host No. 3 Harwood (13-2-1) on Tuesday at 3 p.m. The final will be played at South Burlington on Saturday. More play like Tuesday’s second half will go a long way if the Tigers are to keep winning, Livesay said.
 “Right now we have a good understanding of who we are and how we like to play,” he said. “It’s just can we bring 80 minutes of intensity and energy to the game.”
Palcsik had a similar take.
“We have what it takes to win the game,” he said. “It’s just doing exactly what we know what to do, what we do in practice, what we’ve been doing all year, what we did in the second half today.”
Russell said nine wins and the many positives that went the Eagles’ fall made it a success.
“We had a great season. It’s not just about soccer. It’s about the relationships and building life skills and just enjoying the sport we love together,” he said. “So it was a terrific season, all and all.”

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