BURLINGTON — Stowe’s Nathan Rice was Kryptonite against high-powered Harwood on Friday.
The Raiders goalie stopped 19 shots in the biggest game of the season, guiding his team to a 9-7 victory in the Division II boys lacrosse championship. Harwood held a pair of leads during a back-and-forth third quarter, but four straight Stowe goals doomed the Highlanders. In the end, an HU offense that averaged 12 goals per game finally met its match against Rice.
“(Rice) was the one who won the game,” Harwood coach Russell Beilke said. “We outshot them, but we couldn’t put things in the net because of that goalie. And we went low way too much.”
Stowe also beat Harwood in the 2017 title game, and it’s been raining championships lately in the Central Vermont ski town. Some of Stowe’s top lacrosse players were also part of dynasties in the fall, with golf boasting four straight crowns and soccer claiming seven in a row.
The Raiders (12-4) entered the game as the No. 4 seed, while Harwood (11-3) was a No. 3 seed attempting to defend its title. Goalie Sully O’Hara was as impressive as Rice, making 14 saves in the loss. Hans Huber (one assist) and Clark Brown scored two goals apiece for Stowe, while teammate Kevin Crawford added one goal and two assists. Camden Anderson, Nicholas Mitchell and Luke Farley also scored in the victory. Finn O’Hara both scored twice for HU. Teammates Jacob Wells, Jake Green and Jake Lynn added single goals.
“We did have some seniors, but we’re young,” Beilke said. “And I really thank that youth part in there got to some of the boys. Even though we were here last year, a lot of these young men weren’t with us.”
The game featured 13 penalties, including six during a slow-moving second quarter. The third quarter included nine goals and a handful of lead changes both ways.
“There were some lead changes and we got a little bit of momentum,” Beilke said. “And every time we starting nipping and we had the lead for one shining moment, it just dissipated.”
The Raiders struck first when patient cradling by Huber set up an open look for Crawford with 10:54 left in the opening quarter. Harwood equalized with 8:08 left in the quarter when Kalkstein scored from the right side.
Sully O’Hara made back-to-back saves at the other end and then Rice blocked a laser by Finn O’Hara outside the left post. The Raiders counterattacked up the right side, leading to Huber’s go-ahead goal with 3:26 on the clock on a Boerger assist. The Raiders were whistled for an offside infraction with 1:38 left in the first quarter and Rice helped his team weather the storm by denying Finn O’Hara and Jacob Wells.
Wells found the back of the net a minute into the second quarter, knotting the score at 2. Huber used airtight defense on Kalkstein to stop the Highlanders on their next possession.
A minute later Boerger showed off his wheels with a 50-yard midfield run, but Kalkstein stripped the ball away at the last second to spoil the fast-break bid. Moments later Sully O’Hara easily gobbled up an off-balance shot to help kill off another penalty. During Stowe’s next offensive possession Reed Taylor set up Anderson for an over-the-shoulder shot that was smothered by Sully O’Hara.
Harwood’s Jon O’Brien (cross-check) and Stowe’s Hans Huber (pushing) were called for penalties with 2:18 left in the first half. With both teams playing down a man, Rice deflected a laser by Lynn and then Jake Ramos scooped up a ground ball in front of the goal. Stowe held the ball for the last shot of the half and never got one off, but Brown was fouled during the final seconds and his team was awarded automatic possession at the start of the third quarter as a result. The Raiders took full advantage, with Anderson making a tough catch and then twirling back toward goal for a 3-2 edge. Anderson pretended to rip off his jersey and flexed his muscles in front of the stands to fire up the fans. Two minutes later Brown extended the lead to 4-2 on a pass from Crawford.
Stowe’s celebration was short-lived as Harwood retaliated with three unanswered goals. A smooth assist from Lynn to Finn O’Hara closed the gap to 4-3 with 8:42. Harwood squandered its next shot but kept possession after two Highlanders followed the shot out of bounds. Five seconds after the restart Green cashed in to make it 4-4.
The Raiders were whistled for an illegal body check with 7:34 on the clock and Lynn made Stowe pay 12 seconds later. He collected a pass from O’Brien and beat Rice with a leaping shot, making it 5-4. Stowe equalized with 6:00 left in the third quarter when Huber raced from behind the net and scored.
Sully O’Hara intercepted a weak-side pass with 3:45 left in the third quarter and Finn O’Hara scored a transition goal 20 seconds later on a Green assist. Once again Stowe clawed right back, tying the score at 6 with 2:14 left in the third. This time Mitchell raced toward the center of the field a ripped a left-handed rocket through traffic.
Rice made a big save at the opposite side and Ramos was pushed at the center line during a scrap for a ground ball, giving Stowe possession. Crawford beat a double-team on the right side and ripped an across-the-body shot inside the left post, pushing Stowe in front 7-6 lead heading into the final quarter.
Stowe pulled ahead 8-6 when Farley capped an end-to-end counterattack with 9:50 remaining. A minute later Sully O’Hara made a difficult stop and then Kalkstein won a key ground ball after a 20-second battle for control.
But Rice stood his ground for Stowe, stopping a bounce shot and then swatting away a diving bid by Kalkstein. Stowe extended the lead to 9-6 with 6:32 remaining on another goal by Brown, who cut in from the left side and maintained his balance after absorbing a hard check. He fired a side-armed shot on target and watched from the ground as the ball hit the back netting.
Kalkstein caught a pass from Michael Aiken with 1:40 remaining and scored through a triple-team to make it 9-7. Harwood won the ensuing face-off, and after barely missing a shot the Highlanders were penalized for pushing with 1:25 left to play. The Highlanders won the ball back with 1:10 remaining and patiently set up a shot.
But with 40 seconds on the clock Stowe’s Connor Dalley scooped up a loose ball and his team instantly called a timeout. After the short break Boerger beat two Harwood players at midfield and then joined forces with Brown and Huber to run out the clock.
For the Stowe seniors who have made a habit of winning, going out on top was the only option.