Williams Cuts Amherst Season Short in PKs
AMHERST, Mass. – In a historic battle between bitter rivals, Williams College advanced to the NCAA Final Four on penalty kicks, ending Amherst College's undefeated season in quarterfinal heartbreak after the teams played 110 scoreless minutes on Hitchcock Field.
Patrick Ebobisse '13 was the hero for the Ephs (17-1-3), slotting the fifth-round winner as Williams triumphed in the shootout, 4-3.
Amherst ends its marvelous year at 17-0-3 after setting single-season program records for wins and goals. The Lord Jeffs never trailed during a match in 2012, tallying 17 shutouts and permitting just three goals over a fall cut painfully short on Sunday.
In cruel fashion, Amherst hit the crossbar on five separate occasions during the national quarterfinal contest, owning a 23-7 advantage in shots and a 9-1 edge in corners without finding the back of the net.
Looking for an early lead as they had achieved against Williams in their NESCAC final two weeks earlier, the Jeffs came centimeters away in the third minute when Chris Lerner '13 sent a long header into the box. Milton Rico '15 won it out of the air, nodding it to his right where Jae Heo '14 had space to tee up a shot, but his hard blast caught the crossbar and flew high, the first of many near-misses on an ill-fated day for Amherst.
Continuing to dominate possession, Amherst appeared headed for a breakaway 20 minutes in when Spencer Noon '13 slipped through the defense, but Dan Lima '14 of Williams flew in for an aggressive tackle from behind.
With play evening out, Lady Luck favored the Ephs again in the 42nd minute as consecutive 20-yard volleys from Julien Aoyama '14 and Rico blasted off the crossbar within 10 seconds of each other. With Williams dodging the bullets, the teams entered halftime scoreless with Amherst holding a 7-1 edge in shots.
Williams began to even out possession early in the second half, but could not manage a shot on goal against Amherst's stingy back line. The Jeffs nearly broke through in the 57th when Noon sent a bullet corner into the box, but senior James Mooney's charging redirection flew high. Five minutes later, the woodwork was unkind to Amherst again when Lerner sent a long throw into the middle but Noon's header found the crossbar.
In the 74th, Finan kept the hosts off the board, making a diving save of a Federico Sucre '13 header after Amherst keeper Thomas Bull '16 blasted a long set piece into the box from behind midfield. Four minutes later, Finan again preserved the shutout, lunging to save a promising long-range shot from Noon.
With under eight minutes remaining, Williams threatened when Zach Grady '15 got by one defender near the top of the box, but Ben Norton '13 flew in last-minute for a hard challenge and Grady's look flew well wide of the right post.
Its backline nearly impenetrable for the bulk of regulation, Amherst dodged its first major bullet with under two to play when Ebobisse sent a quick cross in for User Kushaina '14 on the left side of the box and he nearly scored from a tough angle, the low shot flying just inches wide of the right post.
In the closing minute, Amherst pushed ahead and Gabriel Wirz '15 nearly pulled the unthinkable, ripping a twisting 30-yard blast, but Finan turned in his best effort yet, leaping to bat the shot over the net. Noon rushed to take the ensuing corner, but the Jeffs couldn't create a look as time expired with the teams scoreless after regulation.
After Amherst held the Ephs without a shot on goal for 90 minutes, Williams nearly triumphed in the third minute of overtime when Rashid sent a low cross into the box, but Amherst's defenders held position and the look rolled past the front of the net and out of bounds. Moments later, another Eph ball squirted into the box, but Wirz kept a rushing Rashid at bay and Bull came out to collect for the Jeffs. Williams kept up the pressure, earning a free kick from 25 out, but Bull was there, diving to his right to save the low, racing shot from Rashid.
On the counter, Amherst was robbed one more time by the crossbar, as Singer found Aoyama at the top of the 18 and his gorgeous shot was just centimeters high of winning it, sending the teams to a second overtime.
Amherst generated the first strong look of the final extra period, with a long Lerner throw from the left finding Singer, who flipped it over his head for Heo, but the junior's shot from a tough angle on the right side of the box flew just wide.
With under a minute to go, the Jeffs had a last look when Heo sent a set piece in, but Finan was there to knock it away as the clock ran out on regulation, the rivals scoreless after 110 minutes for the second time this season. It was the fourth save of the match for Finan, while Bull made two stops for Amherst, both in the first overtime.
The shootout began with dramatics from the keepers, as Finan first lunged to stop Lerner's attempt before Bull made a diving, one-handed save, robbing Matt Ratajczak '13. Heo and Peter Christman '13 each converted in the second round, but Aoyama misfired in the third and Matt Muralles '15 connected to put the guests in the driver's seat. With Brendan Caslin '14 and Andres Burbank-Crump '15 scoring in the fourth, Sucre sent in the final Amherst shot, positioning Ebobisse for the winner.
For Amherst, the agonizing result ends the careers of a powerful senior class comprised of Jared Hedglin, Lerner, Casey McNamara, Mooney, Brian Morgan, Chris Nelson, Noon and Federico and Alejandro Sucre. Over the last four years, Amherst has posted a 58-8-10 record, advancing to the NCAA Round of 16 twice before 2012's Elite Eight Run. Heo and Mooney were also members of 2008's Final Four squad before missing seasons.
The future remains bright, as Amherst still returns seven starters from this fall's postseason lineup and numerous other key contributors.