MUHS lax falls in D-I heartbreaker

TIGER TOBY DRAPER defends against Redhawk Jacob Bose in front of the CVU bench during Sunday’s D-I lacrosse final at UVM’s Virtue Field. Independent photo/John S. McCright

BURLINGTON — Recent history between the No. 2 seed Middlebury and No. 1 Champlain Valley union high school boys’ lacrosse teams heading into Sunday evening’s Division I championship game on UVM’s Virtue Field showed the margin between victory and defeat would likely be razor thin.

It’s man on man as CVU’s Peter Gilliam meets MUHS’s Gavin McNulty.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

The Tigers had prevailed in the 2023 semifinal by 12-10, and the teams had split during the regular season. CVU, 14-1 entering the contest, had prevailed early in the season on neutral turf, 9-8, by repelling a second-half Tiger rally. The Tigers answered by beating CVU on Fucile Field, pulling away late to post an 11-5 victory. 

And ultimately the final margin this time couldn’t have been tighter.

The Redhawks took a 6-0 lead on the way to an 9-3 advantage at the half. The Tigers early on struggled to hold onto the ball and get clean looks on goal. 

But then they rallied to force overtime as Tiger senior attacker Toby Draper scored four of his six goals in the second half, and the Redhawks didn’t quite maintain that same intensity. 

TIGER SENIOR ATTACKER Toby Draper gets past the CVU defense to score one of his game-high six goals during Sunday’s D-I boys’ lacrosse final at UVM’s Virtue Field.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

Draper finally tied the game with 14 seconds to go, and it was on to golden-goal overtime — guaranteeing an outcome with the slimmest of margins.

CVU controlled the draw and called time to make sure its most dangerous player, Peter Gilliam, got the ball. 

No one else touched it. Gilliam ran down the right side, circled the net counterclockwise, bounced off a defender, found a sliver of room, and fired a low 15-foot shot into the net. Thirty seconds into overtime, the 16-2 Redhawks had won their eighth title in nine years, and the Tigers’ outstanding season had come to a close with a 14-3 record. 

The final score was 13-12.

Redhawk defenseman Trevor Stumpff reaches his long stick into Toby Draper’s face to slow the Tiger attack.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

MUHS Coach Matt Rizzo said the game might have been lost much earlier, when the Redhawks blitzed the Tigers with four goals before some fans had found their seats and then pushed their lead to six early in the second period. 

“You can’t spot a team six goals. But I think you have to give them a ton of credit. They came out, and they were awesome,” Rizzo said. “They beat us in the first five minutes. They were great. And then we played great for 41 minutes. But in a championship game you’ve got to play great for 48.”

Rizzo said before the game one factor was the Tigers would have to take care of the ball. And early on CVU forced turnovers, while the Tigers were also at times less than careful possessing the ball. 

“You’ve got to give them (the Redhawks) a lot of credit with the way they played the first five minutes. They made it hard for us to take care of the ball,” Rizzo said. 

TIGER JUNIOR FACEOFF specialist Callan Boulanger battles CVU’s Raymond Hagios for the ball during Sunday’s D-I boys’ lacrosse final at UVM’s Virtue Field.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

But he also credited his team for battling back. 

“The fight was awesome. This team has had that all year long. It’s very resilient,” he said. “We talked about it after the game. A lesser team when they’re down 6-0 folds. And they didn’t fold. They should be proud of that.”

CVU’s first four goals came in the opening 4:02. Gilliam (three goals, two assists) opened up the scoring, and Jacob Bose (three goals) was next. Matias Williams (four goals, assist) made it 3-0, and Aiden Andres buried a Gilliam feed at 7:58. 

Tiger freshman goalie Levi Nuceder, who finished with 10 saves, denied Gilliam and Luke Buehler in that stretch to limit the damage. 

The Tigers had a man-up advantage midway through the period, but CVU goalie Will Kearney (also 10 saves) denied Tiger sophomore attacker Logan McNulty. With a minute left in the period Williams netted his second goal to make it 5-0 after one, and Gilliam made it 6-0 a minute into the second quarter.

The Tigers and Redhawks traded goals for the rest of the period. For the Tigers, Draper broke the ice with a low bid from the right and also threw a shot in from the top of the box on a feed from senior middie Gus Hodde. And senior middie Gavin McNulty won a late draw and bolted in to score. Answering for the Redhawks were Brian Rutherford, from Williams; Connor Malaney; and Bose, whose late goal created the 9-3 halftime score. 

MUHS SOPHOMORE ATTACKER Logan McNulty probes the CVU defense during Sunday’s D-I lacrosse final at UVM’s Virtue Field.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

In the first six minutes of the second half, Logan McNulty and Bose traded goals, and it was 10-4. Then the Tigers got a huge momentum boost when the Redhawks were penalized at 5:21 with a two-minute infraction for an illegal hit to the head. It came, unlike most lacrosse penalties, with a “locked in” provision — the offender has to stay off the field even if the other team scores.

And that other team, the Tigers, took full advantage with three goals in 40 seconds. After a Tiger turnover Draper stole a clearing pass and raced in and converted from close range. CVU won the faceoff, but Gavin McNulty forced a CVU turnover, and Draper scored in transition on a feed from junior middie Luke Nuceder. 

The Tigers won the next faceoff, and Draper found junior attacker Angus Blackwell open on the left side. Blackwell took a step toward the middle and fired a shot home, and it was 10-7 at 4:00.

At 1:20 it was 10-8. Senior middie Jackson Gillett found Blackwell open at the left post and threaded a pass to him, and Blackwell made no mistake. The Tigers maintained that momentum entering the final period as Levi Nuceder made a point-blank stop on Malaney, and Gilliam pinged a shot off the crossbar at the horn. 

Soon the game was tied at 10-10. At 11:02 Draper swept through the box from the left and fired a shot inside the left post. At 8:37 Logan McNulty came across from the other side and tossed home a lefty bid. 

FRESHMAN GOALIE LEVI Nuceder makes one of his 10 saves for MUHS during Sunday’s D-I lacrosse final at UVM’s Virtue Field.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

Williams answered with two strong efforts for CVU. At 7:59 he rolled in from the left and made it 11-10. As time began to wind down, he scored a similar goal, curling in from the left and sneaking a shot inside the left post to put the Redhawks up by two with just 2:56 remaining. 

The Tigers fought back. Junior Callan Boulanger won the draw. The Tigers worked the ball to Draper, and Kearney denied him. But the Tigers controlled the

A Redhawk player tries to get the ball on the move but Tiger George Devlin guards him.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

rebound, and Hodde, from the left, found Gillette open in the middle of the box, and he whipped a shot home — 12-11.

Boulanger again got the Tigers the ball. The Tigers turned it over, but so did CVU. The Tigers gave the ball to Draper. He bolted into the box and bounced a straight overhand shot past Kearney with 13.6 on the clock. 

It was on to overtime. This time Redhawk Raymond Hagios controlled the faceoff, CVU called time, and 30 seconds later by the thinnest of possible margins it was the Redhawks, not the Tigers, who were celebrating. 

Marshall Eddy is backed up by a corps of Middlebury teammates and threating CVU defender as he goes after a loose ball during Sunday’s D-I lacrosse final at UVM’s Virtue Field.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

As well as Draper, Gillett, Hodde and Gavin McNulty, classmate Brady McDonough also played his last game for the Tigers on Sunday. 

Rizzo said the Tigers had an outstanding season despite Sunday’s disappointment.

“We’re really proud of what we’re building. There is a really deep and rich tradition of lacrosse in Middlebury. And we feel like we should be here every year. So we had a great season because of that,” he said. “It didn’t finish how we wanted it to, but we’re really proud about the way we play lacrosse, and the future is bright for us.”

Tiger Defenseman Gavin McNulty brings some justice to the Redhawk rebellion.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

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