Commodore boys' soccer comes off the ropes to defeat Eagles
BRISTOL — It’s not that often that a team outshot by 14-0 in a first half pulls out a victory.
But that is what the resilient Vergennes Union High School boys’ soccer squad did at rival Mount Abraham on Friday, scoring twice in the second half on a penalty kick by junior Ben Kayhart and a direct kick by senior Max Ratti-Bicknell to stun the Eagles, 2-1.
Even in the second half, Mount Abe (2-6-1) held advantages over the Commodores in shots, 7-6, and corner kicks, 6-0, but could not put away VUHS.
VUHS Coach Kevin Hayes made lineup changes that helped, inserting freshman Josias Salamao at striker and moving sophomore Ezekiel from forward to midfield to help the 5-4-1 Commodores in an area where they were struggling.
But probably most credit goes to the Vergennes defense of freshman Jeffrey Stearns in the middle, senior Klass Vorsteveld and Kayhart on the flanks and junior Ethan Sausville (five saves) in goal.
“I got the combination of players I needed to get out there on the field,” Hayes said. “And the back line was pretty solid.”
Ratti-Bicknell, whose late restart snapped a 1-1 tie, agreed the Commodores’ second-half revival started in the back — VUHS survived four Eagle corner kicks in the half’s first 10-minutes before Kayhart’s penalty kick at 29:10 put the Commodores on top.
“Our defense stepped up. Jeffrey (Stearns) and Ethan, our goalie, started getting a little louder, kind of riled everybody up,” he said. “And then Zeke won the penalty kick and Ben converted. That’s how our team works. We get a little something and we go from there.”
The Eagles were coming off two one-sided losses, and Coach Mike Corey was happy with almost everything he saw on Friday except the score.
“We’ve had a couple games where we haven’t played well. We’ve been without players. We’ve struggled,” Corey said. “We are a work in progress. We are a young group. We did everything we tried to do in training in that game today except score goals, and that’s what it boils down to. I was really pleased with our play. We took a big step forward. I think that’s almost all a coach can ask, that a team is getting better.”
In the first half, with the win behind the Eagles, the ball rarely reached their side of the field. Defenders Owein LaBarr and Jackson Counter stepped up to break up many VUHS clearing attempts, while at midfield Owen Maille, Eli Rickner and Sam Paradee set up strikers Jack Willis and Silas Burgess and made dangerous runs.
But the ball wouldn’t go in, and only four of those 14 shots were on target. Early on Sausville snared on a corner kick and denied Eagle middie William Wright on a run set up by Burgess. Paradee couldn’t quite reach a Burgess serve in the 23rd minute, and the VUHS defense blocked shots by Willis and Rickner a minute later. In the 31st minute a 24-yard Maille blast from the right side pinged off the far post.
After the flurry of Eagle corner kicks in the second half, the Commodores finally mounted a threat, and it paid off. A long Stearns direct kick sent Palmer into the right side of the Eagle box, and a defender tripped him up. Kayhart drilled a left-foot penalty shot inside the left post, and VUHS led with just its second shot on goal.
Two minutes later, Palmer missed wide on a feed from junior middie Lance Bergmans, but the Eagles struck next.
Counter, a threat with long throw-ins, tossed one to the goal from the right sideline, and Burgess bodied the ball inside the near post at 21:21.
A minute later Ratti-Bicknell found junior Nathan Wojciehowski cutting alone to the Eagle penalty stripe. But Eagle back Foster Collette came across to block his shot away from the open right side. LaBarr also blocked a shot by junior Cam McLaughlin in the 25th minute as the Commodores carried the action.
A pass from Salamao to junior Samir Kadric in the left corner set up the winning goal. Kadric beat a man and drew a foul just outside the box. With a low sun at his back, Ratti-Bicknell shot over the wall and high into the net past Eagle goalie Ethan DeWitt, who later said he didn’t see the ball until the final half-second.
Ratti-Bicknell said he used the sun to his advantage.
“I had it in the back of my mind,” he said. “I was thinking if I could put on goal, somewhere high, it might go in.”
Vorsteveld, Palmer and Sausville then made defensive plays in the final nine minutes to ice the win, the Commodores’ first over the Eagles in six years.
Ratti-Bicknell said the Commodores enjoyed winning what has become a friendlier rivalry game
“I was like, this is it, playing at Mount Abe against all my old Addison United friends. And I really wanted to come out and win this with all these guys,” Ratti-Bicknell said. “This team has definitely gelled together. I’m really, really happy we got to pull out a win against Mount Abe.”
Hayes hopes for an 80-minute effort as the Commodores head back home and think about a playoff run, but he appreciates their ability to get better as games move along.
“It’s like a cliché, but in the second half we get stronger,” he said.
Corey has seen both fortunate wins and unlucky losses in his many years at Mount Abe.
“You just hope in the grand scope of life it comes out even in the end,” Corey said.