Men’s soccer falls in NESCAC final, snags at-large Div. III NCAA bid

On Sunday, men’s soccer (13-1-3) battled Amherst for the NESCAC championship. Despite a valiant effort, two early goals and strong defense from the Jeffs ultimately handed the Ephs their first loss of the season. The loss followed an exciting shootout victory over Tufts in Saturday’s semifinal game. The men topped Tufts 4-2 in penalty kicks to advance to the NESCAC final.

Williams and Amherst entered the final match of the NESCAC championship tournament as two undefeated titans. The Jeffs gained momentum immediately with a goal that came only 75 seconds into the game. After some intense play following the opening kickoff, the ball found its way to Amherst midfielder Chris Lerner, who managed a cross into the box that allowed teammate Jae Heo to launch a header past keeper Than Finan ’13 for a 1-0 score.

The Jeffs doubled their lead with a second goal in the 15th minute. James Mooney’s rising shot sailed over Finan’s head and gave the Jeffs a 2-0 advantage.

After the second Amherst goal, the men’s defense rallied; A slick give-and-go by Heo and Brendan Caslin in the 18th minute was denied brilliantly by Finan.

Williams failed to record a shot on goal in the first half, but the start of the second half saw a remarkably reinvigorated attack from the Ephs. Striker Mohammed Rashid ’16 was the first to test Amherst keeper Thomas Bull with a free kick in the 66th minute. Shots by Timothy Marchese ’15 and User Kushaina ’14 also went on net but the Amherst keeper held fast.

Ultimately, time ran out and Amherst secured a 2-0 victory to claim the NESCAC title and the conference’s automatic bid to Div. III NCAAs.

The men’s semifinal match against Tufts on Saturday was a hard-fought victory. The game began with lackluster performances from both teams, as neither team managed a shot on goal until the 18th minute. Finan managed to foil their offensive efforts by stopping each of their five corner kicks.

In the second half the Ephs took command of the field. In the 55th minute, Patrick Ebobisse ’13 made a run into the 18-yard box and passed to Kushaina. The pass was cleared by the Jumbo defense but eventually the ball made its way to Michael Madding ’15, who fired a high shot that Jumbo keeper Wyatt Zeller barely managed to deflect. Ebobisse and Kushaina tested Zeller a second time about eight minutes later. Although Zeller managed to deflect the shot, he was unable to cover it and provided co-captain Peter Christman ’13 with an opportunity for a tap-in goal that he just barely missed.

Finan then successfully staved off two shots from the Jumbos, and time expired. The game subsequently entered its first overtime. Although the Ephs monopolized control of the ball, the Jumbos almost ended the match with a long half-volley that Finan could not get a hold of, but the ball hit the bar and sailed out of play.

By the end of the second overtime, neither team had managed a point, so the match went to penalty kicks. Williams shot first, and Christman and co-captain Matt Ratajczak ’13 completed their penalty kicks successfully. Jumbos Scott Blumenthal and Connor Schaible snuck two shots past Finan in response, although Finan got a piece of Schaible’s shot. The teams were tied 2-2.

After Matt Muralles ’15 fired a shot into the top left corner, Finan put the Ephs in control by stopping the third Jumbo attempt and granting the men a 3-2 lead. Zeller responded with a diving save to the left on a shot from Andres Burbank-Crump ’15, but Finan completely smothered the Jumbos’ fourth shot, effectively giving the men the opportunity they needed to clinch the win. Chris Seitz ’15 delivered for the Ephs with a game-winning shot, allowing the men to declare a 4-2 victory and advance to the NESCAC final.

“I think the theme of our play this weekend was starting uncharacteristically slow and finishing much stronger,” Ratajczak said. “Tufts had us on our heels for the majority of the first half. Fortunately, we came out in the second half playing much better and were able to create a number of dangerous chances, which is the name of the game. It was a bit disappointing to not finish them off in regulation or overtime given the number of chances we had, but we were obviously thrilled with the result after penalty kicks.”

The Ephs have earned their 17th appearance in the Div. III NCAA tournament via an at-large bid. “I’m very confident that we have the pieces to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament,” Ratajczak said. “We are going to use this week to regroup, work hard to improve every day and prepare for the tournament we have all been working so hard for.”

Williams was selected to host the first and second rounds of the Div. III NCAA tournament. Playing at Cole Field will be Thomas of Maine, Eastern Connecticut State and St. Lawrence. Williams will take on Thomas on Saturday at 11 a.m. on Cole Field. St. Lawrence and Eastern Connecticut State will face off on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., and the two remaining teams will then play in the second-round game on Sunday at noon.