Tiger boys’ lax earns D-I title berth

MUHS ATTACKER TOBY Draper, defender Charlie Bowen and the ball are all in midair during Friday’s D-I quarterfinal, won by the host Tigers. Draper scored his 100th career goal in the game. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School boys’ lacrosse team is going to the Division I championship. 

The No. 3 Tigers made that happen by defeating No. 2 Champlain Valley in Hinesburg Tuesday by a score of 9-2. This will be the Tiger’s first championship game since 2015.

In the final, MUHS will face No. 1 South Burlington, which squeaked past No. 4 Burr & Burton, 13-12, in the other semifinal. The final will be played at the University of Vermont on Friday, June 9, at 7 p.m. The Tigers lost twice to the Wolves this spring, but only by two goals at SB. 

In Tuesday’s game vs. CVU, Middlebury never trailed and built a 7-3 halftime margin in knocking off nine-time defending D-I champion CVU.

Logan McNulty led the Tigers with three goals, with strong offensive contributions from Toby Draper, goal and three assists; Owen Lawton, goal and assist; Evan Kurizo, two goals; Gus Hodde, goal and two assists; and Angus Blackwell, goal. Tiger goalie Kegan Brown backstopped his teammates with 10 saves.

To get to Tuesday’s showdown, MUHS controlled most of its Friday quarterfinal, but had to stave off a rally by visiting No. 6 Essex to prevail, 13-10, in the fourth straight Division I playoff battle between the two programs.  

In the runup to Tuesday’s game, MUHS Coach Matt Rizzo said the Tigers were confident knowing they had won at CVU earlier in the season.

“We’ll be ready. We beat them last week because we played hard and played our game,” Rizzo said. “We like our chances. We’ve now beat them two years in a row on their field.”

In last Friday’s quarterfinal, Rizzo said the Hornets almost wore down his team because several Tigers were playing, but nursing injuries, notably midfielders Eddie Hodde and Angus Blackwell. Also, middie Jackson Gillett had to sit out for the first game of a two-game suspension for an illegal hit, a decision the Tigers believe was unjustified and unsuccessfully appealed.

Rizzo wanted to take nothing away from the determined Hornets.

“Give them a ton of credit. They always play really, really hard,” he said. 

But Rizzo believes the Tigers’ tank was nearing empty in the fourth quarter on a day with temperatures in the high 80s.

“We were running out of steam,” he said. “We’re totally banged up. We’ve got a lot of guys hurt. We’re down to like four midfielders.” 

On Friday the Tigers took a 2-0 lead with first-period goals from attackers Toby Draper (his 100th career strike) and Owen Lawton 14 seconds apart. Draper buried a Willem Berry feed from behind the net at 7:04. After Cam Stone won the faceoff (he helped the Tigers earn a 17-7 faceoff edge), Lawton curled behind the net from the left and found the far corner at 6:50.

At 3:12 Hornet defender Charlie Bowen scored in transition. Draper responded at 2:47 by burying a 12-yard shot. At 1:48 Hornet Joe Hofman hit the lower right corner, and before the quarter ended Tiger middie Angus Blackwell took a man-up feed from Berry and found the left side from eight yards, and it was 4-2 after one period. 

Tiger goalie Kegan Brown made four of his 14 saves in the quarter; Hornet goalie Mason Marckres made four overall.

Essex surged early in the second period and two solo goals by middie Tanner Robbins tied the score at 4-4 at 7:57. 

The Tigers then went on a 7-1 run that lasted midway into the fourth quarter. Defender Fynn Whitlock gave MUHS the lead at 4:24 of the second period, bolting in from midfield and bouncing a shot high into the net. A minute later Draper added a score assisted by Berry, and it was 6-4 at the half. 

The Tigers added three goals in the third. Logan McNulty capped their first possession by cutting left across the top of the box and finding the lower right corner at 9:32. At 5:48 Hodde curled from behind the net and deposited a Berry feed, and at 4:16 Lawton whipped in a long-range bomb to make it 9-4. 

Robbins cut the lead to 9-5 at 9:38 of the fourth quarter, but Lawton crashed through the Hornet defense at 7:58 to made it 10-5. At 6:02 Blackwell rolled in from the right side and picked the lower right corner: At 11-5 an Essex comeback seemed unlikely. 

After four Hornet goals in the next 1:14, it looked possible. The Hornets started winning the draw, and after a Tiger penalty Hofman scored at 5:34 to make it 11-6. Robbins then scooped the draw and fed Hofman, who cut the lead to 11-7.

Robbins then won the draw twice in a row, bolted to goal and found the net twice, and the Tiger lead had dwindled to 11-9 at 4:48. 

Over the next 2:48 Brown twice denied Hornet Harrison Hutton, and the Tigers bought time when middie Henry Hunsdorfer broke up a play and cleared the zone. 

Finally Whitlock caused an Essex turnover and triggered the Tigers in transition. He moved the ball to middie Charlie Stone, who fed Lawton out front for the strike at 1:27 that made it 12-9. But a Tiger penalty gave the Hornets hope, and Nathan Serrantonio netted a Hofman feed at 0:41 to make it a two-goal game. 

Essex won the draw again but turned the ball over, and the Tigers pushed into the Hornet end. There, Draper iced the Tigers’ cake by winning a ground ball in front of the Essex net and firing an insurance goal home at 0:11, and it was on to Hinesburg.

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