Men’s soccer advances in NESCAC tourney

Halloween weekend had a scary start for men’s soccer, but ended with a sweet treat. Williams (10-4-1, 6-3 in the NESCAC) suffered a distressing 1-0 defeat to Amherst (13-1, 8-1) on Saturday. However, they recovered the next day with a 4-2 win over Trinity (8-7, 4-5) in the first round of the NESCAC tournament.

Williams effectively turned the tables on Trinity on Sunday. The Bantams beat the Ephs 2-0 in regular season play, but in the first round of the NESCAC tournament the Ephs netted three goals in the first half, giving them a lead Trinity could not overcome.

The Ephs’ regular season first halves were often mediocre with second half rallies characterizing the team’s wins this season. However, the team’s aggressive play from the start was immediately apparent on Sunday. Williams established control of the game after only four minutes, when Conor Smith ’10 put his head on a sailing pass from co-captain Will Ford ’08, directing it into the net past the arms of Trinity keeper Spencer Durland.

Not content with a one-point lead, the Ephs continued to apply the pressure, keeping the ball close to the Bantam goal. Co-captain Nathan Elwood ’08 was instrumental in the Ephs’ control of the game, sending ball after ball from midfield to the front line, and not hesitating to press the attack on Trinity’s side of the field. Receiving passes from Elwood, Williams’ offense peppered the net with shots. Gaston Kelly ’11 shot an impressive bicycle kick early in the first half, but the ball fell just short of becoming a second goal when Durland made a diving save.

The Ephs got lucky in the 22nd minute of the game when a corner kick from Sam Empson ’09 produced a goal. After Empson’s cross, a Trinity defender knocked into his keeper, causing him to drop the ball.

But the Ephs were not satisfied with a 2-0 lead. Just when it seemed the Bantams would pick up their play, Mike Darling ’08 sped the ball up the field and away from danger. His counter-attack culminated in a timely pass to Kit Fuderich ’08, who put the shot in the far corner of the goal to end the scoring for the half.

Trinity entered the second half on the offensive, and scored early in the period during a chaotic moment in the Williams box. Just three minutes later, Trinity capitalized on an error between Eph keeper Andrew Graham ’10 and his defense. With its second-half surge, Trinity quickly cut Williams’ lead to one. The physicality of play only increased for the remainder of the game, but Williams added an insurance goal in the 64th minute, when co-captain Ryan Pelletier ’08 fed a ball in the box to Ford, who knocked it in. The game ended in a 4-2 victory for the Ephs.

Although not a flawless game, the win over Trinity gave Williams confidence after a disappointing loss to Amherst the day before. The Ephs faced many challenges in their final regular season game against the Jeffs, with the weather proving a significant one. A steady downpour made both the field and the play messy for the two teams.

The Ephs were able to contend with the rain initially, painstakingly moving the ball up the field and creating scoring opportunities. Alex Johnson ’10 nearly scored when his strong shot hit crossbar instead of net. Unlike the impressive finishes against Trinity, Williams was unable to follow through and soon Amherst was in contention for possession.

Both teams slipped and slid all over the midfield in contention for possession, and it was Amherst who finally gained momentum in the second half. The Jeffs pressured the Ephs back to their own goal and maintained unyielding pressure on defense. At 63 minutes, this pressure and ball control paid off for Amherst when sophomore Mark Crane sent a cross to junior Nick Lynch, who kicked a low, fast shot to the corner and past Graham.

Although they gained more control toward the end of the game, the Ephs were not able to rally from this deficit and thus ended regular season play with a 1-0 loss.

Their 4-2 win over the Bantams allows the Ephs to advance to the NESCAC semifinals. Williams will face Middlebury at Amherst, at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday. In the regular season the Ephs fell to the Panthers 1-0. “We are lucky because we get to play three teams we lost to in the regular season,” Graham said. “We have a chance to redeem ourselves.”

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