Sports

Tiger boys’ soccer whips Wasps; No. 1 Milton is up next

Tiger striker Alex Bleich, who scored twice in Friday’s Division II quarterfinal game, battles with Woodstock defender Charles Greene in the first half. MUHS won the home game, 4-1.

MIDDLEBURY — The No. 4 Middlebury Union High School boys’ soccer team dominated No. 5 Woodstock in a quarterfinal game this past Friday, controlling the ball and outshooting the Wasps, 31-4, in a 4-1 victory.
The 7-2-1 Tigers, reloading after heavy graduation losses from the group that reached the 2019 final, are happy to be gelling in the playoffs despite the team’s new identity and the pandemic-shortened season.
Senior co-captain Alex Bleich, whose two goals late in Friday’s first half broke the ice, summed up.
“This team is amazing. The way that we were able to rebound after losing all the seniors from last year and be in the place we are now, I’m really proud of everyone. I’m very happy to be here. I love these guys to death,” Bleich said. 
Bleich and classmate Andy Giorgio, who dropped a pair of long-range second-half scoring bombs on the Wasps, took care of the finishing on Friday, but it was a proverbial team-wide effort.
Goalie Owen Lawton (two saves) returned from an injury and allowed only a second-half Andrew Gubbins penalty kick past him.
The all-new defense of converted midfielder Lucas Nelson and Eddie Hodde in the middle, Trey Bosworth on the left, and Greg Wilhelm on the right broke up plays at midfield, rarely let anyone behind them, and moved the ball with purpose.
At center mid Henry Carpenter, Oliver Anderson and Giorgio ruled the field offensively and defensively, while on the flanks Owen Connelly and Ben Seaton pressed relentlessly. And when Coach Reeves Livesay subbed there was little drop-off.
Livesay described the Tigers’ play.
“It started with just our energy and really our defensive effort. We were quicker to get them under pressure and created some turnovers, and we had some good quick movement off the ball,” Livesay said. “We were generating some good looks from a number of different spots on the field. We were generating some plays from out wide, and our center mids had a really nice game.”
Before Bleich found the twine in the final four minutes of the first half, the Tigers came close several times — notably Oliver Robinson hit the crossbar twice, once with help from Wasp goalie Thomas Bissaillon’s fingertips.
The first goal started with a Seaton run down the left side. His serve bounced through the box to Robinson to the right of goal. Bissaillon stopped Robinson’s short shot from a sharp angle, but couldn’t control the ball. It popped out front, where Bleich popped it high into the net from close range in the 36th minute.
A couple minutes later the Tigers earned a corner kick. Bosworth took it from the right side. Bleich, apparently wearing a cloak of invisibility, was alone at the penalty stripe. He chested the ball down to his right foot and shot low into the right side of the goal at 0:57.
The Tigers kept up the pressure in the second half. In the fourth minute a loose ball came to Giorgio outside the box, and he left-footed the ball hard inside the right post. Gubbins’ penalty kick came in the half’s 27th minute, and in the 37th minute Giorgio lofted a long right-footed shot over Bissaillon (10 saves) to complete the scoring.
Next the Tigers have No. 1 Milton on Wednesday (this story will be updated on addisonindependent.com on Thursday morning).
Milton, 9-0, has defeated the Tigers, 3-2 and 5-0; and has outscored its opponents 49-4. Those number also mean half the goals the Yellowjackets have surrendered came in their 3-2 win at MUHS.
Livesay and Bleich were asked what it will take to win this time around.
Livesay: “We need to be ready to play a more physical game. I think that put us back on our heels a little bit the first two games. But I think we know what to expect, and if we bring the energy we had today, I think it should be a good match.”
Bleich answered, “Our mindset going into that has to be, ‘They got us twice. Let’s beat them this one time.’ This is the only game that matters. Those other two games are behind us. We’ve learned what we’ve learned. We need to bring it to them right out of the gate and bring it to them the entire 80 minutes.
“I honestly think playing the way we played today we can beat them.”

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