Following a heartbreaking regular season loss to Middlebury on Friday, men’s soccer (8-5-2, 4-4-1 in the NESCAC) rallied against Bates on Sunday on Cole Field and came away with a 3-1 victory. After halftime on Sunday in the NESCAC quarterfinals, the men trailed Bates, 1-0. Twenty-two minutes into the second half the Ephs finally gained enough momentum to notch three unanswered goals for the win, successfully advancing them to the NESCAC semifinals to be held this weekend.
With a recent string of two losses and a draw, the team’s lack of confidence entering Sunday’s elimination match seemed to be its Achilles heel. The fourth-seeded Ephs needed a win against the fifth-seeded Bobcats, not only for a morale boost but to remain in the tournament. The team’s “do-or-die” mentality, as co-captain Sam Empson ’09 described it, allowed for aggressive and possessive play, which they kicked into gear after Bates notched the first goal of the game, 12 minutes in.
The Ephs remained scoreless for the remainder of the half. The momentum of the offense was frequently interrupted by a series of calls against Williams, including nine offside penalties. The second half reaffirmed the Ephs’ offensive prowess, yet the numerous shots-on-goal (of which Williams totaled 21 for both periods, while Bates only managed 10) repeatedly found their way just over the net, or a few times off the cross-bar. After a rapid succession of attempted shots in less than a minute, the fired-up team found its footing when Empson earned a penalty kick and pinned it in the corner of the goal to tie up the score.
The goal motivated the Ephs, who kept the pressure on the Bobcat defense. With only five minutes remaining in regulation and a constant hum of encouragement from the crowd, Empson bent a pass into the box, where it met with Peter Gordon ’09 who headed it in and brought the Ephs ahead for the first time all game.
This wasn’t enough to earn Williams the win. Just minutes later, Gordon secured the Eph victory with another goal after receiving a pass from Pierre Meloty-Kapella ’10. Williams’ two late second-half goals finalized the score, 3-1, in the Ephs’ favor.
“As a forward, there are certain things that you do – whenever anyone takes a shot you want to get on the keeper to make sure you follow up on the rebound,” Gordon said. “All of us were getting into good positions…[Meloty-Kappella] had some great shots, and on the second goal Empson and [Meloty-Kappella] brought the ball up. I had the easy part; all I had to do was tap it in.”
“[The win] was a tremendous team effort and the best we have played all year,” Empson said. “I honestly think this win will be a springboard to go up and hopefully win the NESCAC tournament this upcoming weekend.”
The Middlebury match-up on Friday did not end as well for the Ephs, but was certainly fodder for their aggressive play on Sunday. Middlebury, who topped Williams three times last season, held the top spot in the NESCAC entering Friday’s game, and prove a consistent challenge for Williams. The Ephs’ confidence was shaken early on when the Panthers got on the scoreboard 32 seconds into the first period, but Williams still made some rallying offensive plays throughout the game . A header by Gaston Kelly ’11 on the underside of the cross-bar just barely missed the net, while a shot by Meloty-Kappella 15 yards back cruised just over the goal. However, they could not convert to points.
The Panthers, though quick to the scoreboard, did not score again, leaving the game as a 1-0 shutout. Despite the score, the teams were evenly-matched, with Williams taking 10 shots to Middlebury’s 11, while Eph keeper Andrew Graham ’10 made three saves to Middlebury keeper Brian Bush’s four.
“It was a tough loss but we knew that with the beginning of the postseason, it didn’t matter what had happened up to that point,” Empson said. “We just needed to go out and get it done on the field, and that’s what we did Sunday.”
In the NESCAC semifinals, to be held this Saturday at 11 a.m. at Middlebury, the Ephs will meet up with the Panthers for the second time in a week. Amherst and Trinity will face off in the other semifinal game, with the winners of the two matches playing each other for the NESCAC title on Sunday at 12 p.m.
“We’re definitely ready to beat Midd.; they’ve had our number the past couple years but we know we can win,” Gordon said. “We need to win the tournament to get to the NCAAs, so that’s our goal at this point. It’ll be a tough, tough challenge, but we’re excited about the opportunity to do that and just being able, at this point, to play another week.”