By ANDY KIRKALDY
After his team on Monday earned an 8-6 road win over the Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative team, Otter Valley Union High School boys’ lacrosse coach Jesse Milliman said his Otters still had things to work on.
For the first time in many a year, one of those things might be learning to play with a lead: The Otters improved to 3-3, a record that includes a 3-0 mark against fellow Division II opponents like the Eagles.
OV has snipers (seniors Ethan Sulik-Doty and Hayden Gallo combined for seven goals), a compact zone defense that often keeps shooters on the perimeter, and a senior four-year starter in goal, Alec Stevens (24 saves on Monday), who gobbles up routine shots and can make big stops.
But Milliman said his team did relax too much after OV freshman Hayden Bernhardt found the net with OV playing a man-up at 7:28 of the second period, with senior Timothy Kittler assisting. That goal, the Otters’ fourth playing a man up, made it 6-1.
“We did (relax),” Milliman said. “It certainly wasn’t our prettiest game, but you’re going to have those. And when you have games like those and you come out with a W, it’s just all that much sweeter.”
Milliman also praised the Eagles for fighting back. Senior Neo Weaver’s two man-up goals 20 seconds apart midway through the fourth quarter cut the lead to 8-6 before Stevens and the OV defense righted the ship.
“They’re tough and scrappy and fought right until the end. So credit to them,” Milliman said.
From Eagle Coach Ed Cook’s point of view his team was too relaxed early on. But he acknowledged OV’s effort.
“Otter Valley’s come along. Give them credit. They played hard, and we didn’t play hard until the second half,” Cook said.
Cook said his defense has played well all season (only one team has scored more than eight goals vs. the 2-4 Eagles), even when a man down. And penalties have been the result of hard work by his defenders, senior Tom Carlton, junior Jonas Schroeder, sophomore Quincy Cook, and freshman Carmelo Miceli.
“Part of it is our defense is aggressive, and they start swinging sticks,” Cook said. “Our defense has carried us all season.”
But the Otters came out strong, scoring their first man-up goal at 10:27, when Gallo picked the left corner from the right side. At 4:59 Sulik-Doty took advantage of another penalty to hit the right corner from the left side, and 30 seconds later Gallo buried a feed from sophomore middie David Williams. After another penalty, Sulik-Doty made it 4-0 at 3:12 of the first.
The Eagles got on the board at 10:16 of the second, when senior Jack Halpin worked loose out front and whipped home a Weaver pass from the top of the box. But another Eagle penalty led to a Gallo goal set up by Kittler at 7:28, and Bernhardt made it 6-1 at 5:38 after winning a ground-ball battle in the defensive and finishing a coast-to-coast ramble.
Then Stevens denied shots by Weaver and two by sophomore Griffin Paradee. Finally at 2:49 Weaver bounced a shot by Stevens, and the 6-2 score held at the half.
Eagle senior attacker Ryan Rougier made it 6-3 with a drive from the right side a minute into the third period, but OV answered with two Gallo goals, the second at 4:45, to make it 8-3. In between Eagle goalie Grady Brokaw (nine saves) stoned Kittler from point-blank range.
A Rougier transition strike at 3:13 made it 8-4, and that score held after three periods when both Stevens and Brokaw both made strong stops in the final seconds.
Defense by Schroeder helped the Eagles survive two penalties early in the fourth, and then OV got hit with a two-minute penalty at 8:09. Late in the penalty Weaver struck twice from the left side, with assists from sophomore Liam Oxford and senior Nate Wojciechowski, and the Eagles were within striking range at 8-6.
But Stevens made saves on Paradee and Davis; the OV defense of senior Jacob O’Connell, sophomore Jakob Stevens and freshman Samuel Martin tightened up; and Williams and sophomore Parker Swain broke up plays as OV hung on.
Milliman praised his defense for keeping the Eagle shooters on the perimeter.
“We just try to keep the shots from the outside, and we trust our goalie to make saves. And I think Alec can save anything from 10, 15 feet out, certainly, that comes his way,” he said.
Milliman added the Otters still “certainly have some things to work on,” including a better effort on ground balls, but was confident they would focus on improving. “These kids are hard workers, and they’re self-motivated,” he said.