Men’s soccer snags OT victory

Gaston Kelly '11 challenges a Panther on Sunday. Kelly picked up an assist against Bowdoin on Saturday to help the Ephs advance.
Gaston Kelly ’11 challenges a Panther on Sunday. Kelly picked up an assist against Bowdoin on Saturday to help the Ephs advance.

Men’s soccer (14-2-1, 7-2-1) had a sensational weekend, topping Bowdoin on Saturday in the conference semifinals and finally beating Middlebury in a 2-1 overtime win on Sunday to claim its first NESCAC title since 2006. Along with the conference title came the Ephs’ 15th NCAA berth in 17 seasons of eligibility.

On Sunday, Williams was out for revenge. In the past two seasons, Middlebury has knocked Williams out of the NESCAC semifinals, and in 2007 the Panthers also ended the Ephs’ NCAA run. Williams has failed to beat Middlebury in the past six matchups, and the Ephs were determined not to lose to the Panthers again.
The Ephs controlled play for most of the game. The Ephs edged the Panthers 13-11 in shots and also barely outnumbered them in corner kicks (5-4).

Williams capitalized on its control in the 37th minute when a corner kick by Peter Houston ’10 bent into a throng of traffic in front of the goal. Back Joe Vella ’11 soared above the pack, knocking it back to rookie Matt Ratajczak ’13, who, positioned directly in front of the goal, then volleyed the ball past Panther keeper Tim Cahill to give the Ephs a one-goal lead in the championship.

For most of the rest of the game, the defense remained strong and held off Panther attempts. Captain Conor Smith ’10, returning this weekend with a mask following a three-week absence due to his broken face, was an integral part of the defense’s success. Staving off almost every Panther’s offensive push, the defense let the Panthers have few quality chances in the match. However, in the 86th minute, Middlebury’s Robbie Redmond came upon a loose ball about 25 yards from goal and hit a shot past Andrew Graham ’10 into the bottom left side netting, breathing new life into the Panthers’ hopes for a championship title. Regulation ended four minutes later and with the score 1-1, the championship entered overtime.

The Ephs’ offense entered overtime maintaining their consistent pressure. Seven minutes into the first overtime period, Gaston Kelly ’11 found himself deep on the left side and swung a high cross to Pierre Meloty-Kapella ’10, who was perfectly positioned to send a hard volley into the Panthers’ net. However, Panther keeper Cahill got enough of a touch of the ball to deflect it off the cross bar, and the ball flew dangerously off the cross bar into the box, where Will Whiston ’10, Gaston Kelly ’11, Charlie Romero ’11 and a Middlebury defender rose for the ball. The Panther outjumped the three Ephs, but his attempted clearance backfired in the worst possibly way for Middlebury as it flew backward over Cahill and into the upper 90, ending the game and giving Williams its 10th NESCAC title.
Reaching the conference championship was not easy, as Williams battled fourth-seeded Bowdoin in the tournament semifinal on Saturday.

The match was largely even throughout, with defensive missteps providing the majority of the opportunities for goal scoring on both sides. The teams had the same number of fouls (12-12) and corners (4-4), while Bowdoin had a slight shot advantage (12-10), proving that either team could have come away with the win. Graham earned the shutout with four saves, effectively silencing the Polar Bears’ offense.

The offensive force of Meloty-Kapella and Will Whiston ’10 scored both Eph goals on the day, with Meloty-Kapella’s coming in the first half and Whiston’s capping off scoring in the second.

Twenty minutes into the first half, after avoiding defensive pressure, Meloty-Kapella placed the first Eph shot of the game into the corner of the net past Polar Bear keeper Dan Hicks from the top of the 18, giving the Ephs a 1-0 lead that would remain unchanged for the rest of the half.

At the half, the Polar Bears had yet to assemble a veritable offensive attack, and the Ephs were looking to expand their lead in the time remaining. The Ephs were able to score their second goal in the 68th minute when Whiston knocked home a corner from Kelly, continuing Williams’ season-long trend of prolific goal scoring off corners.

Although the Polar Bears sent another shot ringing off the cross bar toward the end of the game, the Eph defense foiled any other dangerous offensive threats to secure a victory on the day.

Amherst, Bowdoin and Wesleyan will all join Williams in representing the NESCAC in the NCAA tournament, while Middlebury’s loss excludes the Panthers. The team will travel to first-round host Rensselaer on Saturday to play Husson; if victorious, Williams will match up against the winner of Rensselaer and Eastern Connecticut State.