Sports

MUHS boys’ soccer bulldozes its way to D-II semifinal

HAVING JUST WON the ball in the MUHS defensive end, Tiger junior midfielder Oliver Choudury hurdles a tackle attempt by Lake Region’s Liam Oliver during the Tiger boys’ 4-0 D-II quarterfinal triumph.
Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — The No. 2 seed Middlebury Union High School boys’ soccer team opened the Division II playoffs with a pair of victories last week.

After they defeated No. 15 Spaulding and No. 10 Lake Region, the Tigers now have season record of 12-2-2 and will play semifinal game against No. 3 Harwood (11-1-4) on Wednesday at Fucile Field at 3 p.m.

TIGER FRESHMAN ELLINGTON Patterson battles for the ball with Lake Region’s Tristan Blay during the Tiger boys’ soccer team’s 4-0 D-II quarterfinal victory on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

To reach the semifinal, the Tigers on Saturday had to get past No. 10 Lake Region, which upset No. 7 Green Mountain Valley in the first round.

Lake Region came to Fucile Field with an 8-6-1 record and a scrappy attitude that kept the Tigers off balance for the first 10 minutes or so. But the Rangers ultimately left with a 4-0 loss courtesy of their hosts’ superior ball movement, playmaking and finishing.

The Tigers outshot the Rangers, 27-7, and earned nine corner kicks to none for their visitors.

“I’m proud of the work the boys did today,” said MUHS Coach Chris George. “We were focused and did exactly what we needed to be successful. Good performances from all of our guys.”

But early on the Rangers pressed the Tigers at midfield, and one Lake Region shot from about 22 yards found its way to MUHS goalie Jonathan Kafumbe. But Kafumbe only had to make three saves, although at least a half-dozen times he smartly came out to pick off crosses or pick up through-ball attempts.

Before long the Tigers started to turn the screws. Rangers Ben Thompson and Beren Lovejoy both made defensive saves in one sequence, and the Tigers earned four corner kicks in the first 16 minutes.

The first MUHS goal came in the 13th minute. Leading scorer Eddie Fallis (his two goals and two assists Saturday gave him 25 goals and 20 assists for the season) carved out space on the left flank and drove the ball across the goal front. It rolled just out of striker Sam Weenk’s reach, but Caleb Burrows had time to catch up with the service and knock the ball inside the right post with the outside of his right foot.

TIGER SENIOR FORWARD Caleb Burrows tucks the Tigers’ first goal home in their 4-0 D-II playoff win on Saturday as teammate Sem Weenk, who just missed doing so himself, looks on.
Independent photo/Steve James

Four minutes later Fallis cashed in a breakaway. Weenk broke up an attempted Ranger clearance at midfield, and Fallis picked up the loose ball about 45 yards out. He outraced two defenders into the left side of the box. Lake Region goalie Lincoln Racine came out to cut down the angle, and Fallis touched the ball by him and left-footed it into the vacated net.

Soon afterward Racine, who made a dozen stops, denied Burrows, and a defender made a kick save on Oliver Choudhury’s bid on the rebound. Another defensive save denied Fallis in the 24th minute on at Tiger corner kick. Lake Region had one more shot in the half, a long direct kick by Liam Oliver that Kafumbe hauled in.

The Tigers were a little slow out of the gate in the second half, and Lake Region had two chances. Kafumbe handled one shot from just inside the 18, and Ranger Owen Rogers shot high from close range near the left post.

But the Tiger defense of Eddie Hodde and Milo Rees in the middle and Ben Longman and Jake Mitchell on the flanks allowed nothing more except a few speculative looks from long range.

TIGER LEADING SCORER Eddie Fallis touches the ball past Lake Region goalie Lincoln Racine on his way to a breakaway score in the first half of the Tiger’s 4-0 D-II quarterfinal victory on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

“Lake Region is a good team” George said. “When a good team feels like they need to take shots from 25 to 30 yards out to create chances, that says a lot about the work our guys in the back did today.”

Midway through the half Fallis sent a long ball to Weenk at the top of the box to the left, and Weenk touched to the middle before finding the lower right corner. With about five minutes left Fallis also maneuvered from left to right across the 18 and right-footed the ball into the right side to create the 4-0 final.

CALEB BURROWS, FRONT, gets a flying hug from teammate Sem Weenk after scoring the Tiger boys’ soccer team’s opening goal in a 4-0 D-II quarterfinal win over visiting Lake Region on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

This past Wednesday afternoon, the Tigers allowed only two shots on goal in a 5-1 first-round victory over No. 15 Spaulding (1-14). Fallis picked up three assists, all on corners, to Mitchell, midfielder Iver Anderson and Weenk. Ellington Patterson found the net with an assist from Anderson, and Weenk capped the scoring with an unassisted strike.

“All season we’ve been talking about playing our best soccer when it matters most, and we’re doing that,” George said. “We did have a great regular season, but we’ve found that extra something that making a deep playoff run takes.”

LOOKING AHEAD

This is the fifth straight season that MUHS boys’ soccer has made it to the semi-final round of the Division II tournament.

The Tiger program will be seeking to take its next step toward a first-ever state title when it hosts No. 3 Harwood (11-1-4) on Wednesday. The winner of that game advanced to the final, which is scheduled for either 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. on Saturday at Hartford’s Maxfield Sports Complex.

The Tigers and Harwood tied 2-2 in September on the Highlanders’ field, and Wednesday’s game is a rematch of the 2022 semifinal won by Harwood on Fucile Field, 3-2 in overtime.

At the same time on Wednesday No. 12 Milton (7-7-2), the defending champion, is scheduled to visit No. 9 Rice (9-6-1), both of which defeated two higher seeds to reach the other D-II semifinal. Rice upset No. 1 Montpelier in the quarterfinal round.

This season the Tigers split two games with Rice, losing at home, 1-0 in overtime, but winning at Rice, 4-1. The Tigers won at Milton, 5-1, and topped the Yellowjackets at home, 2-1, in overtime. They are undefeated on the road this season.

MUHS SENIOR MIDFIELDER Iver Anderson moves the ball up the field during the Tiger boys’ soccer team’s 4-0 D-II quarterfinal victory on Saturday over Lake Region.
Independent photo/Steve James

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