Sports

UPDATED: Tiger boys’ soccer outlasts Eagles in first-round match

THE GRITTY BATTLES between the Mount Abe and Middlebury boys’ soccer teams is symbolized by mud-splattered Eagle Chance Denecker taking on equally muddy Tiger striker Zack Wilkerson during the host Tigers’ first-round Division II playoff win over the Eagles. Each team had earlier won games in the hard-fought series. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — The rubber match between the Middlebury and Mount Abraham boys’ soccer teams came on Oct. 28 in the first round of the Division II tournament, and the host No. 5 Tigers pulled away in the second half to claim the win over the 12th-seeded Eagles, 3-1.

During the regular season, each team had won by 1-0 scores on the other’s turf.

After that setback, the Eagles slipped to 5-9-1, while the Tigers went on to win a quarterfinal on Saturday before falling to Milton in a closely contested semifinal on Tuesday. They finished 10-6-1.

Vs. the Eagles, Tiger striker Ronen Silberman snapped a 1-1 tie at 20:36 of the second half. Silberman beat Eagle goalie Creed Stillwell to a long serve from Oliver Anderson, tapped it around the charging keeper, and popped a 15-yard shot into the open net from the right side of the box.

Forward Zack Wilkerson clinched the win at 7:50 when he lobbed a 35-yard shot from the center of the field over the goalie.

TIGER MIDFIELDER GREG Wilhelm makes a successful sliding tackle on dangerous Eagle striker Jake Lucarelli during the Tigers’ hard-fought first-round Division II playoff victory on Thursday.
Independent photo/Steve James

Both teams had their chances, and Mount Abe arguably carried play for a stretch in the first 20 minutes. Although the Tigers had their share of the ball, the Eagles piled up an early advantage of 10-4 in shots at goal, including one by striker Eli Burgess that rang the right post.

But others were off target, in part because of good work from Tiger backs Eddie Hodde and Toby Spackman-Wells in the middle and Trey Bosworth and Henry Hunsdorfer on the flanks. Despite those 10 first-half shots, Tiger goalie Luke Bleich — playing because of an injury to starter Owen Lawton — had to make only one first-half save; he finished with two.

First-year Eagle Coach Rider MacCrellish wasn’t unhappy with his team’s play, particularly the ball movement, but credited the Tigers for finishing

“They capitalized on some opportunities,” MacCrellish said. “Overall I thought we played a good possession game when we had it. They got the ball forward and they scored.”

He agreed that if the Eagles had been able to take a lead when they had more of the ball in the first half, things could have gone differently, but MacCrellish looked at it philosophically.

“That’s the game. It goes back and forth, and sometimes it goes your way, and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.

Instead, the Tigers gradually asserted themselves — they took the final six shots of the first half — and took the lead on a Henry Carpenter goal at 15:49 of the first half. Carpenter beat a defender on the left side and broke in on Stillwell, who came out to meet him and tried to knock the ball away. But Carpenter was bearing down and blocked the clearing attempt back into the net.

An Eagle defense led by Henry Cogswell and Chance Denecker limited the other Tiger chances, and the teams went into the break at 1-0.

In the second half, Mount Abe knotted the score in the fourth minute. On a ball send into the box, Bleich came out and called for it, and a defender tried to play it safe and clear it. But the ball went straight to Eagle midfielder Judah Jackson, about 20 yards out from the right post, and he one-timed it into the empty net.

TIGER STRIKER RONEN Silberman touches the ball past charging Eagle goalie Creed Stillwell. Two seconds later he knocked the ball into the vacant net for the second-half game-winner in Thursday’s first-round Division II playoff game at MUHS.
Independent photo/Steve James

But the Tigers had the better chances the rest of the way, outshooting the Eagles, 10-7 in the second half, with Silberman and Wilkerson doing the damage on the scoreboard.

Tiger first-year Coach Chris George praised the Eagles.

“They played us real tough. Credit to them. They came out and had a plan,” George said.

MacCrellish praised his team for showing steady improvement, consistent effort and a positive approach this season.

“I’m proud of the guys, and that’s all I care about,” he said. “They show up, and they have energy, and they have good character.”

George said his team proved it can be dangerous on the attack.

“We’ve got a ton of quality in the box. If we get it in there, we score,” he said.

He also praised his defenders for the quality of their play and for keeping their poise after miscues, such as the one that led to the goal.

“What it’s really about is what do you do after you make that mistake,” he said. “They believed in each other and they got through it.”

QUARTER AND SEMI

In a Saturday semifinal, the Tigers earned a 3-2 win over No. 13 Rice, which had upset No. 4 Stowe in the first round.

MUHS opened the scoring on an Ollie Anderson strike off a rebound. Middlebury went up 2-0 on a Carpenter free kick with around 10 minutes to go in the first half.

Rice got one back two minutes later on a Garret Micciche conversion of a Michael Pelletier free kick, and at 22:30 of the second half, the Green Knights equalized when Pelletier bent another free kick around the Tiger wall.

The Tigers responded quickly, however, with another Silberman game-winner about a minute-and-a-half later; he finished a Ben Seaton service.

Eliot Schneider played in goal for the Tigers and made six saves, and Nate Degraff-Murphy made seven for Rice (5-11).

But the Tigers’ season came to an end on Tuesday with a 2-0 loss at undefeated Milton. The Tigers have lost three times to Milton by two goals this season, and were the only team that have played the 17-0 Yellowjackets that closely.

Caden Button scored in the first half and set up Riley Zeno’s goal for Milton, and Milton goalie   Braeden Caragher made six saves.

Schneider stopped 10 shots for the Tigers.

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