October 29, 2012

The Panther men’s soccer team saw its season come to an end with a 4-0 loss to second-ranked Amherst in the NESCAC Quarterfinals. The seventh-seeded Panthers finish their season with a 6-7-1 mark. Eight different Jeffs factored into the scoring in the contest played on Hitchcock Field.

Federico Sucre started off the scoring for Amherst in the 32nd minute and Spencer Noon, Max Fikke, and Ben Norton each tallied second-half goals for the Jeffs to protect the shutout for keeper Thomas Bull, who punctuated a strong day in goal with a booming assist on Noon’s score.

Amherst played the role of aggressor early, with its first chance coming after seven minutes when Jae Heo collected a corner kick and sent a high pass into the box. Gabriel Wirz was able to get a head on the ball but his shot was batted by Middlebury senior goalkeeper Zach Abdu-Glass (Lexington, Mass.) and cleared by the defense.

Middlebury was soon able to answer with an attack of its own when a combination in the midfield gave senior leading scorer Alvand Hajizadeh (Williamstown, Mass.) a chance at the top of the box, but Bull got a hand on his powerful left-footed shot, saving the Amherst defense.

With play balancing out for much of the first half, the Jeffs drew first blood in the 32nd minute when Heo beat his defender and dribbled on the end line for a cross, which Sucre headed in for his fifth goal of the year.

The Jeffs nearly struck again in the 40th, with Rob Gooden making a nice move to evade a defender in the midfield and draw the foul. The set piece, taken by Lerner, was headed by Heo over to Fikke who had a point blank chance at goal. Fikke one-timed the ball with another header but it was saved Abdu-Glass.

With the Jeffs gaining momentum from the goal, Middlebury ended the half staying in their defensive half of the field, as Amherst took an 8-2 shot advantage into the locker room.

The second half opened with an aggressive attack from Amherst and the Jeffs found insurance with a unique goal in the 57th minute. Bull sent a strong punt over the defense giving Noon the chance to race past the Panther backline, meet the ball, and drive it low past Abdu-Glass.

Amherst kept up the attack, substituting frequently and eventually tallying a pair of late goals. In the 78th minute, Mikey Hoeksema won a ball and sent it wide to Casey McNamara who sent a through ball to Julien Aoyama in the box. Aoyama maneuvered around a defender on the right side and sent a short ball into the center of the box which Fikke popped in for his third of the season.

Moments later, the Jeffs struck again off of a corner, when Hoeksema sent a low ball into the box. Norton was there first, finishing the helper for his third tally of 2012 and bringing Hoeksema even with Heo at eight assists on the year.

Abdu-Glass and Bull each recorded a pair of saves as the Jeff defense held fast for its 13th shutout of the season. Amherst finished with a 14-5 advantage in shots and an 11-1 edge in corners.

Earlier in the week, Middlebury dropped its final game of the regular season, falling 3-1 at ninth-ranked Williams.

Seconds into the game, Patrick Ebobisse nearly helped put the Ephs on the board when he made a strong run down the right sideline and sent a cross into the box that narrowly eluded everyone and rolled wide. 20 minutes later, it was again Ebobisse who nearly created a goal when he sprang Matt Muralles free inside the 18-yard-box. Muralles' shot was on target, but a charging Abdu-Glass successfully cut down the angle and made a sprawling kick save to keep the Ephs off the board.

Williams continued to press and in the 27th minute they finally broke through. A stretch of consistent Eph possession ultimately left Chris Seitz with the ball at his feet and some space to work with. Seitz instead chose to send a curling cross into the box from about 25 yards out, where it was met by none other than the head of Matt Ratajczak, who nodded the ball past a diving Abdu-Glass and into the side netting for his second goal of the year and a 1-0 Williams lead.

The Panthers nearly knotted things up in the 37th minute when senior Jon Portman (Fair Haven, N.J.) hit a rising shot from long range that Eph keeper Than Finan just barely managed to tip away for a corner kick.

In the game's 61st minute, Middlebury junior Adam Batista (Newport, Vt.) made a run deep into Williams territory and sent a low cross into the box, where an oncoming sophomore Harper Williams (Charlotte, N.C.) volleyed it into the back of the net for his third goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1.

After collecting a loose ball in the top corner of the 18 on the left side, User Kushaina calmly cut back towards the middle and took one, two, three touches before unleashing a rocket that beat Abdu-Glass on the far post in the 63rd minute for the 2-1 lead.

The lead grew to 3-1 in the 80th minute when Mohommad Rashid scored on a rebound after a shot from Michael Madding was saved.

Middlebury outshot Williams 12-11 on the day with three saves from Abdu-Glass and one from Finan.

• Men’s soccer final record: 6-7-1