Wasps Overpowered By Essex in Quarters
Woodstock High goaltender Ben Orr eludes Essex opponent Brendan Gleason yesterday during the visiting Wasps’ 12-5 loss in a Vermont Division I quarterfinal. Orr made nine saves and also scored a goal. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock High’s Hunter Schmell prepares to fire a shot on goal yesterday after working free against Essex defender Joe Aiken. The visiting Wasps lost the teams’ Vermont Division I quarterfinal game, 12-5, with Schmell scoring twice. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock High boys lacrosse coach Brandon Little instructs his players yesterday during halftime of the visiting Wasps' 12-5 loss to Essex in a Vermont Division I quarterfinal game. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
Essex Junction, Vt. — Ben Orr did a little bit of everything yesterday for the Woodstock High boys lacrosse team. The junior netminder not only stopped nine shots, he delivered a few bodychecks and even ran the length of the field to score one of his team’s goals during a 12-5 loss to powerful Essex in a Vermont Division I quarterfinal.
One thing Orr wasn’t about to do, however, was sugarcoat his assessment in the game’s aftermath.
“We expected to come out and play a good game but it’s not a surprise that we didn’t win,” he said. “They’re a great team and I have to hand it to their skilled players.”
There were just too many of those for the underdog Wasps to overcome. Woodstock, with roughly 400 students, couldn’t keep pace with the Hornets, who draw from an enrollment almost three times as large. Vermont’s biggest high school is also the home of the Green Mountain State’s top-ranked boys lacrosse squad, and yesterday’s contest was all but over four minutes after halftime.
“We could have performed a little bit better, but we were close,” said Wasps coach Brandon Little, whose eighth-ranked team trailed 6-3 at halftime and received two goals from attackman Hunter Schmell. “There were some nerves for sure, and our warmup wasn’t the best, but I’m happy with how hard we worked and how far we’ve come this season.”
The campaign began with hopes that Woodstock could reach its first state title game since 2003 and win its first championship since 1999, but injuries and an influx of inexperienced varsity players scuttled that dream.
Essex (15-2), featuring multiple players headed to the college ranks later this year, was also a major roadblock.
“The difference was our inability to possess the ball on offense and to stop them in transition,” Little said. “We couldn’t stop their clears.”
Woodstock came out jittery, dropping balls and chucking errant passes. On defense, the Wasps seemed rattled by the polished Essex attack, allowing Hornets to pop open directly in front of Orr and have several seconds to receive a feed and find a shooting lane around the goaltender.
“We’ve fallen off towards the end of the season and that’s been happening quite a bit,” Orr said. “They were just a step ahead of us all day and got in front (of the net) a little faster than our defense.”
Said Little: “We didn’t want to slide too early and that left Benny out to dry a few times. Then their ride was shutting our clears down and I knew Ben had to get more involved and control the decisions on who was open and who got the ball.”
With two minutes left in the third quarter, that meant Orr called his own number. Woodstock had just stopped his Essex counterpart, Pat Abbott, with a stiff check about 20 yards from the visiting crease, when Orr sprinted out, plucked the ball off the grass and scampered across midfield, cutting to his right.
A Hornets defenseman stepped into his team’s empty net, but Orr beat him with a shot on the run.
“It’s nerve-wracking to face a shot from another goalie, because you want to save it so badly,” Orr said. “This one just bounced perfectly and I had a chance to go the other way and I took off. I always shoot those in Hunter’s backyard and they’re pretty goofy-looking, but I saw the defenseman in there with a small stick so I just let it rip.”
Schmell pulled his squad to within 3-1 at the end of the first quarter, curling out from behind the net, faking a pass and then firing in a low shot as he spun his body nearly 180 degrees. He struck again three minutes before halftime, cutting in front of Abbott and taking a Haven Lantz pass before leaping and beating the goaltender with another low shot.
That goal made the score 5-2 and when Woodstock midfielder Oliver Kaija, who saw limited time because of a lingering shoulder injury, put in another Lantz feed 33 seconds later, the visitors’ bench was alive with optimism. Essex, however, closed the first-half scoring 1:37 before intermission, then produced the third quarter’s first two goals to quash realistic thoughts of a comeback.
Schmell, who gashed ninth-seeded Rutland for five goals and two assists during a first-round game, was mostly held in check yesterday. He took half a dozen shots, but with big and agile Hornets defender Joe Aiken marking his every move, he rarely had time to tee up a shot or set his feet for a true rip at the twine.
“I just wanted to lead the team to victory, and so I took a few chances and hoped they’d turn out right,” Schmell said. “They didn’t, but credit to their defense. They were quick to slide if I beat (Aiken). I had my head up, but our guys are still young and they’re still trying to find the right spots (to get open for passes).”
Woodstock freshman Lucas Godfrey scored on a bounce shot with 5:23 remaining in the third quarter to make the score 8-4 and Orr’s mad dash made it 9-5, but Essex struck for the contest’s last three tallies and set up a semifinal date with fourth-ranked Brattleboro (13-4). Second-seeded Mount Anthony (14-3) faces fifth-seeded Champlain Valley (12-5) on the other side of the draw.
“It’s disappointing, but things didn’t go our way in the middle of the season,” said Little, whose team finished 9-8 a year after going 11-5 and losing at the same stage of the postseason.
“We had to get some personnel back and we kind of started the season over with three games to go in the regular season. We wanted to see Essex at the end and we got to do that, to match ourselves against the best.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.