Stowe’s second-half surge stops Tigers in final
SOUTH BURLINGTON — For the scoreless first 50 minutes of Saturday’s Division II boys’ soccer final at South Burlington, No. 2 Middlebury Union High School was arguably the better team than No. 1 Stowe.
The Tigers outshot the Raiders in the first half, 7-5; forced Stowe goalie Isaiah Shaefer-Geiger to make three of his four saves; and moved the ball purposefully.
“I thought we played a really good first half,” said MUHS Coach Reeves Livesay. “We created three or four very dangerous opportunities. Unfortunately we weren’t able to capitalize on them.”
The last half hour proved to be a different story. After Raider Rai Bleda-Vilalta popped a loose ball into an open corner in the 51st minute, top-seeded Stowe looked like the team that had won seven straight D-III titles and entered the game with a 16-0-1 record.
Bleda-Vilalta added another goal in the game’s 66th minute, and the 14-4 Tigers saw their hopes for the program’s first-ever championship evaporate in a 2-0 setback.
Livesay acknowledged the Raiders controlled once they broke through for their score.
“After their goal I thought they won a few more of the 50-50 balls, and the ball started getting more up in the air, where they are certainly stronger than we are. And we weren’t able to get the ball on the ground and move it the way as we like to,” he said.
Certainly, the Tigers played well. After a first 10 minutes in which the teams appeared to be feeling each other out, the Tigers began to link up at midfield. Center midfielders Owen Palcsik, Oliver Poduschnick and Andy Giorgio in particular set the tone there, and Eben Jackson and Alex Bleich began to probe the Stowe backline.
In the 14th minute Jackson ran down the left side and served to Giorgio, who fired high. Right back Devon Kearns saw his header also sail high on a corner kick in the 24th minute, and Henry Carpenter put a well-struck left-foot bid in on Shaefer-Geiger from outside the box.
Then came the golden chance. On a long serve into the box a Raider defender pushed Tiger Oliver Anderson to the ground from behind, and the referee justifiably pointed to the penalty stripe at 6:53.
After a delay to attend to Anderson, who was shook up on the play, Palcsik took the penalty, and took it well. But Shaefer-Geiger guessed correctly that Palcsik was shooting right, and dove to block the solidly struck, waist-high shot and preserve the scoreless tie.
Shortly afterward Bleich had a good look, but his left-footed bid missed the frame. At the other end Tiger goalie Owen Lawton (two saves), came off his line smartly to break up a threat after a late long throw-in, but Kearns, center backs Spencer Doran and Eddie Hodde, and right back Hunter Munteanu made sure Lawton was largely untested in the first half.
Early in the second half Munteanu had a chance on a Tiger corner kick, but then things started going wrong. After a Tiger foul on the left sideline about 30 yards out from the end line, Alex Reichelt served well toward the far post. The ball bounced back to the near post for Bleda-Vilalta’s easy tap-in at 28:55, and the Raiders began to come on strong.
At 13:45 Bleda-Vilalta made it 2-0, with a higher degree of difficulty. Jules Gershman led him into the left side of the box, and Bleda-Vilalta held off a defender and found the lower left corner from just inside the 18.
The Tigers had one last wonderful chance. Jackson won the ball near the penalty stripe with four minutes to go and the goalie out of position, but a defender deflected his shot wide left.
Soon afterward the clock ticked down on the game, the Tigers’ season, and the career of a dozen seniors that Livesay described as the heart of the team.
“This group probably over-performed throughout the year. We have 12 seniors that really brought this team together, and they played very well together,” Livesay said. “I think when you look at our team, soccer talent-wise, I don’t think we’re the strongest team. But I think we play together well.”
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