Sports

Commodore boys’ soccer edges Mount Abe

VUHS MIDFIELDER JACK Wyman flies through the air to win this ball in front of Eagle Neil Guy. Wyman assisted both goals in the Commodores’ 2-1 home victory, while Guy set up the Eagle score. Independent photo/Steve James

VERGENNES — In a Tuesday boys’ soccer game that ramped up in intensity as it progressed, host Vergennes Union High School did just enough to get past rival Mount Abraham, 2-1.

On a surface still slippery from weekend rain that forced postponement from Monday, the Eagles had an edge in possession fairly reflected in their 8-3 advantage in corner kicks.

But the 9-2-2 Commodores’ quick-strike capability and reliable defense ultimately carried the day as they picked up a result that was critical to earning a high seed for the Division III playoffs.

Coach Kevin Hayes credited the Eagles’ effort.

“They came with more of a purpose. They came to play,” Hayes said. “They put a lot of pressure on us in the first half.”

Hayes said the Commodores defended better in the second half, and the transition game, something his defensive setup is designed to produce, became more effective. Striker Shamus Rooney’s game-winning goal was produced on a counterattack, with an assist from midfielder Jack Wyman, after the Commodores disrupted an Eagle thrust.

“Win it there (on defense), and then it’s out with speed,” Hayes said. “That’s how we got the goal. Part of the system is that.”

Eagle Coach Rider MacCrellish was pleased overall with his 4-7-1 team’s play. They outshot the Commodores, 12-9, kept pressure on the VUHS midfield, and possessed the ball more effectively.

“I was honestly pretty happy with how it went. We moved the ball pretty nicely, and our goal was in the run of play,” MacCrellish said. “And we had a lot of really nice opportunities.”

EAGLE STRIKER JAKE Lucarelli tries to cut between Commodore defender Michael Serpico (13) and midfielder Jade Edwards, but Serpico gets a foot on the ball during the Commodores’ 2-1 home victory on Tuesday. Independent photo/Steve James

The Eagles set the tone early, forcing a corner kick in the first minute. In the seventh minute the VUHS defense had to block a close-range shot by Eagle striker Jake Lucarelli.

Play evened for a while, but the Eagles began to press again in the final 15 minutes of the half. Lucarelli had a golden chance on another of the Eagles’ five first-half corners, but his shot from close range glanced high off the crossbar in the 25th minute.

The Commodores had one great opportunity. Wyman maneuvered past four Eagles into the box in the 28th minute, but fired high and wide right with Eagle goalie Creed Stillwell coming out to meet him.

Hayes moved senior center back Jonah Mahé into the attack late in the first half, and early in the second Mahé forced Stillwell to make two of his four saves.

VUHS broke through on a goal by middie Ethan Gebo in the second half’s eighth minute. Wyman served a direct kick from the left sideline high to the far post, and Gebo bodied it into the net.

The Eagles began to pressure, and striker Eli Burgess equalized less than three minutes later. Middie Neil Guy sent a diagonal ball from the right side to Burgess cutting into the box from the left, and Burgess, to the left of the penalty strike from about 15 yards out, left-footed a low shot into the lower right corner. VUHS goalie Abram Francis had no chance.

Two minutes later Francis made a chest save on a long shot then skidded on the wet turf. The rebound bounced to Lucarelli, but Francis held his ground at the left post to deny Lucarelli’s close-range bid, probably the best of his six saves.

With 18 minutes to go, VUHS countered the Eagle attack and took the lead. The Commodores had spent much of the game trying to spring Rooney and Gebo with long or through balls, without much luck.

This time, Wyman’s through ball found Rooney at midfield, and a defender also slipped on the wet grass. The speedy Rooney broke in alone on Stillwell and from about 15 yards out hit a low, right-footed shot that pinged off the right post and in.

The VUHS back line of Oakley Francis, Hayden Bowen and Michael Serpico, with help from good defensive work by the midfielders, did not allow serious chances the rest of the way.

EAGLE DEFENDER CHANCE Denecker stretches for the ball as VUHS midfielder Alisdair Chauvin moves in during Tuesday’s hard-fought boys’ soccer game in Vergennes, won by the Commodores, 2-1. Independent photo/Steve James

MacCrellish acknowledged the VUHS tactics had paid off, while still praising his team.

“That’s the thing about the long ball. Sometimes it doesn’t look pretty, because you’re not holding the ball all the time. But when it works, it works,” he said. “But I feel good about our progression, and that’s all we’re going to work on, just trying to get better. And that was better.”

Hayes agreed with that assessment.

“We didn’t move the ball the way we can. But credit to them,” he said. “They won the midfield quite a lot.”

The Commodores have only a Saturday game at undefeated D-II power Milton remaining.

As much as anyone can tell with this fall’s failure by the Vermont Principals’ Association to provide accurate standings, their record should be good for a No. 3 seed even if the Commodores don’t upset the Yellowjackets. Defending champion Peoples and one-loss Green Mountain Union seem to have the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds locked down.

That’s fine with Hayes, who is proud of the Commodores’ season regardless of what happens moving forward, especially after heavy graduation losses from the group that earned the 2020 top seed.

“Overall, the season, 9-2-2 after losing nine seniors, I’m happy with that,” he said “The record, if you asked me if we’d have this at the beginning of the season, I’d say absolutely.”

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