MANCHESTER -- With the two best goal scorers on the field being face-guarded into oblivion, Tuesday's Division I girls lacrosse semifinal between No. 1 Burr and Burton Academy and No. 4 Mount Anthony Union High School came down to a battle of the supporting casts -- and the Bulldogs won.
Behind multi-goal performances by four different players, the Bulldogs kept their season going by taking down their archrival, 15-9, to book the school's first-ever trip to a Division I final.
With the Patriots determined to stop BBA's Morgan Bazyk from scoring -- which they did, shutting out the senior -- the door was opened for players like Hayley Sabol and Katy Jones to make an impact, and they did just that.
"They did a nice job of face-guarding Morgan, so that is going to mean it's a trade-off," said BBA coach Dave Miceli. "They limited Morgan's opportunities to touch the ball, but now they are playing 6-on-6 with the other girls ... When you play 6-on-6, face-guarding an individual is great if that's the only [scorer] the team has. They ended up playing 6-on-6 and that allowed our offense to take advantage."
At the opposite end, BBA stuck senior Mary Leech on MAU's Emily Cross, and Leech held MAU's all-time leading goal scorer to just one goal and one assist.
"Mary Leech played a fantastic game," Miceli said. "Both athletically and emotionally and psychologically. It's tough to face-guard, to be keyed in on one thing the whole time.
Jones led the Bulldogs with four goals, while Sabol added three and Ryder Ferrone scored all three of hers in the first half to give BBA an early edge.
From the opening whistle, BBA took control of the draw through Jones and, just over 20 seconds into the contest, Jones found Lucy Bisselle for the opening goal. Off of the ensuing faceoff, BBA took control again and Sabol scored on an unassisted effort to put the Bulldogs up 2-0 inside the first minute.
"It speaks to the ability of this team to flick that switch and get going when the whistle starts," Miceli said. "I think we had a good warm-up today. But again, these girls have played in an awful lot of playoff games. So getting that quick start, getting that intensity, [it's] them knowing what they have to do to get the job done."
MAU responded to the early rush with a goal through Erica Hale at the 21:45 mark of the first half, but again draw control bit the Patriots as BBA took the next draw and proceeded to waltz down the field and score on a Jones effort. The Bulldogs would score three more before MAU found another answer. In total, BBA won the draw control 14-9.
"Draw control killed us," said MAU coach Tom Otero. "It gave them possession, gave them opportunities in the offensive zone. It put our defense on the field the entire time playing aggressively and wore them down. Our offense was dormant and just hanging out down there."
For Bazyk, who had the pesky Claire Taub deny her any points in the game, the draws served as a chance for her to make an impact for her team.
"It's more difficult being face-guarded. MAU did a really good job of face-guarding me," Bazyk said. "But in the end, I just have to work harder and push myself that much more. I try to focus on alternate things besides scoring. I like to focus on defense. Draws are huge. I really switch my focus and use the not-scoring to propel me in other areas."
Sabol scored BBA's fourth goal, then the next three all came through Ferrone -- including two on free position shots -- to put BBA up 7-2.
"Getting those free positions, I knew they were a good chance to get us up early," Ferrone said. "I was focusing on getting the ball in the back of the net. Our coaches told us that the goalie [Sam Mayer] is good and that we have to shoot low and really just see the back of the net. Really, it was just a whole team effort to get it to the open person to see the back of the net."
Going into halftime, BBA led 10-4.
"Our defense was on defense all the time, they didn't get a chance to rest. They were just going, going, going," Otero said. "We hardly got the ball up in the offensive zone in the first half. When we did, we were successful. Our percentages were good, we just didn't get it in there enough times."
The second half started exactly opposite of what the Patriots had hoped.
Sabol took control of the opening draw and promptly ran at the MAU defense, tucking the ball past Leah Olansky, who replaced Sam Mayer for the second half, to make it 11-4. MAU responded immediately with a goal by Emily Altland on a pass from Courtney Gabrus, but the Patriots couldn't find a second goal to get the momentum going.
Instead, MAU was dealt a harsh double-blow when both Bishop and Hale were given yellow cards within 20 seconds of each other. BBA made the Patriots pay as Lauren Miskovsky (2 goals) and Sabol each scored to put BBA up 13-5.
MAU shot back to life at the end of the yellow cards as Kristen Andrews, Altland and Cross all struck to make it 13-8 with 12 minutes left.
The momentum ended up being short-lived, though, as BBA took control of the next draw then scored 30 seconds later on another Sabol effort to make it 14-8.
"I think it was a little too late for [us]," Otero said of the mini-run. "But what happened, too, is that BBA has some mature players on their team and they took advantage of that. These girls are very resilient, they will get better."
BBA entered the stall offense shortly after that, and over the final 10 minutes the only goals scored came through Jones with 6:26 left and Altland's fifth of the game with 1:17 to go.
"It's definitely kind of hard when you go out against a team and they score the first goal in the first 10 seconds," Cross said. "But I think it takes more heart to come back and not give up in a game like that. I think [BBA] did play a really good game and we put our heart into it, but it wasn't enough. It is what it is. I'm proud of my team."
Altland led all scorers with five goals in the game and was the only MAU player to score multiple goals. Megan Grabher and Aggie Bisselle picked up the other goals for BBA. Mayer stopped six BBA shots for MAU, while Olansky stopped four. Lauren MacKenzie had 11 saves for BBA.
For MAU (13-5), the loss sees two cornerstones of the program moving on. Otero is now the head coach at Southern Vermont College, while Cross graduates as the Patriots' all-time leading scorer. For both, the loss brought out many mixed emotions.
"I'm sad, but I think I had a kick-ass career and I made the most of it," Cross said. "OT has been one of the best coaches I've ever had. But with every end there is a new beginning. I will be playing in college, but it's sad because this was like my other family."
Otero said that "it was tough" when he gave his final post-game speech.
"You want the guys to be the best they can be and you hope to give them all the tools they'll need," Otero said. "A majority of them worked their butts off for me. I told them I couldn't be prouder to coach this group of girls with this coaching staff. They gave me everything I asked for, everything they could give me they gave me. It would be great to go out with a win, but this is a tremendous game and I just look forward to what I leave on the table for the future."
For Miceli and company, Tuesday's win marks the continuation of a program that made it to the Division II finals last year. That season ended with a loss to Rice. This time, the Bulldogs are looking to do one better.
"At the beginning of the season, as I looked at the group that was returning, I knew that these girls had the potential to develop into a real special group," Miceli said. "They are willing to do a lot of the sacrificing, the putting aside of independent egos and focus on becoming a team. Because they did that, we are here."
The date of the final has yet to be decided. The Bulldogs will face the winner of No. 2 Mount Mansfield against No. 9 South Burlington. Follow us on Twitter for updates as they become available @Banner_Sports.