SOUTH BURLINGTON — Possessing skill up top, plenty of senior leadership and 11 wins with a difficult schedule, everything was aligned for this to be the Yellowjacket boys’ year.
But in last Saturday’s Division II championship game, top-seeded Milton ran into a team just as destined for greatness, facing an undefeated No. 2 Lake Region club that cut through everything Milton could throw at it.
Rangers junior forward Riley Urie scored three times in a 13-minute stretch midway through the second half, turning a narrow 1-0 halftime lead into a 4-0 championship romp for the Rangers, the first title for the program and head coach James Ingalls in his 35th season with the club.
“We scouted them. We knew what they were about,” Milton coach Glen Button said. “They’re a quality side that’s played together for a long time.
On the Munson Field turf at South Burlington High School, Milton set the pace early with a direct kick from 30 yards out that appeared to go in the net – ruled over the crossbar – and 15 seconds later, a diving penalty-kick save at the other end by Yellowjacket keeper Alex Dooley, who stretched to his left to stop a well-placed shot inside the goal post, smothered with no rebound.
But all it took were two mistakes and Lake Region was off in transition, led by Urie and midfielder Matt Lawlor.
“That would’ve been huge for us to jump out early,” Button said. “We did everything we wanted to do. We played quick. The bounces didn’t go our way, I guess.”
Lawlor scored the opening tally on an assist from Urie with 24 minutes left in the first half after Milton turned the ball over in the Lake Region end on an illegal throw-in. That set up a quick break the other way for the Rangers and Lawlor, who skillfully controlled the midfield all afternoon, made no mistake in the finish.
Milton pressured for the opening 10 minutes of the second half, firing five shots on goal from close range, working inside the 18 and controlling possession. But one breakdown at the other end was all Urie needed, and from there it was a firing range for the Rangers.
“We’re all blessed to have talented players,” Ingalls said. “We were fortunate that we were able to control midfield, especially the first 25 minutes. I think that helped dictate the game as far as the pace. And we got a goal.”
The match’s complexion could have been shaped much differently in a frantic opening 10 minutes. After the free kick, forwards Carson Bianchi and Ryan Brown were each a half step away from finally breaking through, and Milton frequently put Lake Region on the defensive.
But without Dooley’s monster early save, Lake Region’s rout could have started much earlier. Instead, he made 13 saves on 27 shots by the Rangers, including nine saves in the second half as Urie began to find more and more space inside the 18.
Three minutes into the second half, Jack Battistoni, Bianchi and Brown combined to nearly knot the game at one. Urie and Lawlor went the other way on a transition rush identical to the one that led to the first goal, but somehow Dooley made the stop on a wide-open Lawlor.
Minutes later, Milton midfielder and captain Cam Goodrich sent a ball to the corner for Battistoni, who sent a dangerous cross, just missing the leaping Brown and Bianchi at the far post.
But the frantic push for the equalizer ended with 26 minutes left in the match, on another defensive miscue that left Urie open long enough to make it 2-0.
“I thought we finally started to put a little pressure on them and good things were happening. Obviously it would’ve been nice to have knotted that thing up to see how things might’ve turned out differently,” Button said. “But a lot of credit to Lake Region. They played well today.
“They took us out of our game today,” he added. “We were a little too panicked on the ball, and, as a result, they were able to capitalize.”
Milton, which lost to Lake Region in the 2015 quarterfinals, last played in a championship match a decade ago in 2006. The team was searching for its first title win since 1991, when Button was a senior on that squad.
“You know, that hasn’t happened to us all year,” Button said about the miscues that led to the first two goals. “We picked a bad time to make mistakes today. The ball bounced the wrong way for us today, unfortunately. But again, you talk about the season as a whole, it’s been a great year.”
Milton finished with 20 shots, and Ranger keeper Liam Kennedy made 12 saves in the shutout.
“Hats off to Milton. They had a great season, they played a great match and we’re fortunate to walk off with a victory,” Ingalls said, “but my boys deserve it.”