Men’s soccer falls to Midd. in double-overtime heartbreaker 1–0

Eric Hirsch ’19 had one shot on goal in Saturday’s NESCAC Tournament game against the Middlebury Panthers. Photo courtesy of Sports Information.
Eric Hirsch ’19 had one shot on goal in Saturday’s NESCAC Tournament game against the Middlebury Panthers. Photo courtesy of Sports Information.

In a first-round playoff match rife with intensity and drama, men’s soccer (9–4–3, 6–3–1 in the NESCAC) fell to Middlebury 1–0 on a last-second header in double-overtime.

Williams was on its game early in the first half. The men gained possession off of almost every header and forced Middlebury into ill-advised passes and fouls early on in the contest. The offense also started creating chances. In the 15th minute, Williams got its first solid opportunity when tri-captain midfielder J.C. Bahr de Stefano ’17 hit a through ball on his left to a trailing Mohammad Rashid ’17, who fired it from the top left edge of the box. However, the Panther goalie Greg Sydor made a save.

The 24th minute saw another terrific offensive play from Bahr de Stefano, who headed a ball over two Middlebury defenders to forward Mark Sisco-Tolomeo ’18, who had a terrific opportunity right in front of the net, but fired it wide left.

For the most part, the defense played extremely well in the first half, limiting Middlebury’s offensive output. However, the Ephs blew a coverage in the 44th minute, leading to a breakaway for Panther Adam Glaser, with Rashid frantically chasing him and only Alcorn standing between Glaser’s foot and a 1–0 lead. Alcorn’s presence was the difference on the chance, as he made a wise decision to sprint out of the goal to meet Glaser halfway, taking the dribble and the scoring opportunity away from Middlebury. The half ended in a scoreless tie, and both squads had every reason to believe that they could take home the match.

The Ephs started the second half in attack mode, getting a corner kick in the 51st minute. Less than five minutes later, the momentum would continue to shift towards Williams, as Eric Hirsch ’19 dribbled up the right side of the pitch and shot to his left while falling backwards. This difficult shot almost gave Williams the lead, and Sydor had to jump to his right for the save. Less than three minutes later, Rashid dribbled down the right half of the park, stopping forward movement when he was almost parallel to the goalie. Rashid fired a shot, but Sydor dove to make the stop.

While the Ephs continued to push the offensive, none of their chances came to fruition in the second half. The Panther back line made excellent clearances, won headers and blocked shots, frustrating Williams. The closest chance of the match for the Ephs came in the 75th minute, when Brandon Dory ’17 headed a throw in to Bobby Fabricant ’20, who also headed it towards the net. However, Sydor, possibly the most valuable player of this match, deflected the ball out.

The first overtime period was quite eventful. Less than two minutes in, Panther forward Drew Goulart got the ball and sprinted towards the net. Alcorn was poised to make the save, but just to ensure Goulart wouldn’t score, Eph tri-captain defender Kevin Mercadante ’17 dashed down the length of the field to block his shot for an ensuing corner kick. The intensity of the Cole Field crowd seemingly gave Williams a momentum advantage, but the Ephs could not capitalize with a goal.

After a relatively mild second overtime period, the Panthers got a corner kick with just seven seconds left on the clock. Tim Ogle booted it in bounds, and off of a header from Daniel O’Grady, senior Kirk Horton continued his team’s season, heading the ball past the Williams defense with just three seconds to go.

On the match, Alcorn recorded three saves, while Sydor had a remarkable eight.

“We’re devastated at the outcome of our final match on Cole field, especially for our superb senior class,” Head Coach Erin Sullivan said. “In a match in which we generally played well, we simply needed to take our chances better and be sharper in the closing moments. There is virtually no margin for error in our league and Saturday was a painful reminder of that.”

“That being said, we are proud of our team’s performance throughout the season and believe we took some major steps forward as a program this fall. We will see if the NCAA Tournament selection committee deems our body of work strong enough to be rewarded with an at-large selection. Regardless, we will continue our work of strengthening the team’s culture and repositioning our program for regional and national success.”

On Wednesday, the Ephs defeated the Panthers 3–0 to clinch the third-seed for the NESCAC tournament and home-field advantage in their first match. Although the contest proved tight in the early going, the men were able to break the deadlock and add to their lead in the second half.

In the 24th minute, Sisco-Tolomeo opened the scoring, slotting home a shot for the 1–0 lead. The game remained close through the final stages, with Alcorn coming up big on a save from a well-struck free kick by Middlebury’s Greg Conrad in the 75th minute to preserve the slim 1–0 margin in the contest. Gaining momentum from this outstanding effort from Alcorn, the Ephs began to capitalize on a slight lapse by the Panthers and started making more incisive runs up the pitch, connecting passes and increasing the attacking build-up.

In the 82nd minute, Rashid passed to Bahr de Stefano, who chipped the keeper for the 2–0 lead. Soon after, the men would add to the lead and truly seal the outcome as Malcolm Singleton ’18 slid the ball to a waiting Rashid, who coolly beat the goalie. The scoring output against Middlebury was the highest of the season for the men.

The Ephs now await news on the NCAA tournament seedings and bracket, which will be released after the conclusion of the conference tournaments. If the men do not receive a bid to the tournament, their season will be over. Williams graduates tri-captains Alcorn, Bahr de Stefano and Mercadante, as well as Dory, Rashid, T.L. Guest ’17, Malcolm Moutenot ’17 and Patrick Gordon ’17.