By Tris Wykes
WOODSTOCK – Ever ridden a roller coaster in the rain? The Woodstock High boys lacrosse team endured that experience Tuesday, losing 9-8 in overtime to Burr & Burton in the Vermont Division I semifinals.
Woodstock junior midfielder Corey White posted a hat trick, Andrew Gubbins and Keaton Piconi each scored twice and Riley Shepherd also tallied for the second-seeded Wasps (12-3). Burr & Burton will face the winner of Wednesday’s Champlain Valley vs. Essex semifinal.
Under a steady rain that began literally seconds before the opening faceoff, the Wasps and third-seeded Bulldogs (14-3) staged a fantastic battle that will be remembered for years by those involved. Burr & Burton scored the contest’s first five goals before surrendering seven consecutive tallies.
The Wasps pulled ahead, 8-6, with 6 minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter but the visitors struck twice to force overtime, then scored the winning goal 1:46 into the fifth stanza.
Peyton Gray charged at the right post and fired with his stick over his head to beat goaltender Ethan Mello under the crossbar and leave the Wasps still searching for their first state title since 1999.
“I was trying to push off the (defender) to get my hands free,” said Gray, whose team split its two regular-season meetings with Woodstock. “I’m pretty sure my stick was hidden so (Mello) couldn’t see what was happening. I don’t even know that he could expect that I was shooting.”
Woodstock’s fourth semifinal appearance since 2011 featured 11 penalties, including unsportsmanlike conduct fouls on one coach from each team. It was a hard-hitting but generally clean affair, and watched by a gathering of approximately 200, including raucous student sections from each side.
“That second half was intense and we were all pretty worried,” Gray said. “It was just who wanted it more.”
Said 12th-year Woodstock coach Brandon Little: “It was an amazing game, but not our best game.”
An early leg injury to Woodstock attackman David Field Willis hampered the Wasps’ overall mobility and passing speed around the perimeter. The senior limped on gamely, but the Bulldogs led, 3-0, after a quarter and 5-1 at halftime.
The hosts’ comeback began in earnest when Burr & Burton goaltender Jack Morrision received a locked-in penalty, meaning he would remain sidelined for its entire one-minute duration, no matter how many goals Woodstock could score during that time.
Morrison “is a strong goalie and our backup is not that strong, so we were anxious about that,” Grey said.
The Wasps got tallies from White and Shepherd and Parker Kuhnert had the entire top half of the net open but missed from a sharp angle, leaving Woodstock down, 5-3, early in the second half.
“We moved the ball the best that we did all game there,” Little said.
Gubbins and Piconi scored within two minutes to pull Woodstock into a 5-5 tie with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter. Gubbins struck again, this time by firing the ball off the ground as if it were a hockey puck, and White scored on a long run directly off a faceoff. The Wasps led, 7-5 after three quarters.
The Bulldogs finally answered midway through the fourth quarter, but White scored again to give Woodstock an 8-6 advantage with six minutes remaining in regulation time. However, Burr & Burton cashed in a back-door chance and then a man-up opportunity to forge an 8-8 deadlock. Woodstock won the overtime faceoff but Morrison saved the hosts’ only shot.
“It was a battle; so competitive,” said an emotional Little, his voice faltering at times. “I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a team that did a seven-goal comeback and it was going our way. There were some pivotal moments, one where we lost possession of the ball because of an (unsportsmanlike conduct) call, that was tough.”
The Wasps coach said he thought his players battled early nerves, which affected their ability to move the ball swiftly and without poor passes or drops. Woodstock has long made its living off turnovers and resulting fast breaks and the Bulldogs denied them many of those chances by maintaining possession for long stretches.
White was dominant on faceoffs and was recently voted the best at that skill by Vermont’s Division I coaches. He won 17 of 19 draws, keeping Woodstock in the game when it could have dug a hole too deep for escape.
“He’s the best in the state, hands down,” Little said. “Ball possession is the name of the game and he gets us the ball all the time. He’s arguably the most valuable player on our team. You can’t understate what he does for us.”
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