WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — Nail-biting agony turned into pure ecstasy as the Ephs of Williams College went off for four goals in the span of sixteen minutes to turn a 1-0 halftime deficit into a 4-1 romp of the Golden Bears of Western New England University in the second round of the NCAA tournament held at Cole Field on the campus of Williams College. With the win and the progression into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, the Ephs' record improves to 13-6. The Bears end their season at 16-5-3.
The Ephs came out looking very nervous defensively in the first half, but they managed to win a corner inside of four minutes. Junior Chris Conder took the corner for the Ephs, placing the ball on the near post, but the ball was cleared easily by the defense.
Right off the clearance, senior Jake Bartnik collected the ball and raced off on a counterattack, earning the Bears a corner of their own on the left side of the field. Junior Chad Barrett took the corner very quickly, tapping the ball into senior Ryan Williams, who sent in a cross to the heart of the Ephs' penalty area, where the towering freshman Brandon Bolger was waiting, all by himself, to bury the ball into the right panel of Eph senior keeper Peter Morrell's goal.
The Bears weren't able to create much else in the first half, but they looked to have a half-chance at doubling their lead when Bartnik went down inside the Ephs' box. The referee's whistle remained silent, however, as he judged Bartnik to have gone down a little too easily.
The Ephs finally seemed to settle down in the last ten minutes of the first half, creating their first opportunity to equalize in in the 39th minute. Freshman Malcolm Moutenot possessed the ball just outside the right corner of the Bears' penalty area and showed great strength to fight off his defender. He then laid the ball off to sophomore Noah Grumman, who fed the ball to junior Chris Seitz out on the right wing. Seitz rounded his defender and knocked a short pass to senior Dan Lima, who turned and fired a shot from an impossible angle, finding only the side-netting.
Three minutes later, the Ephs had another chance to equalize after the combination play of junior Zach Grady and freshman JC Bahr-de Stefano earned the Ephs a free kick from only 25 yards out. Grady's free kick cleared the wall easily but didn't have enough spin to dip under the crossbar.
The Bears took their 1-0 lead into the break, but the Ephs looked like it would only be a matter of time before they found an equalizer.
The equalizer finally came in the 64th minute off a free kick won by Moutenot on the right-hand side of the midfield. Conder sent a perfect in-swinging ball into the middle of the box, right onto the head of Westling, who slammed his header past senior Bear keeper Domenick Villano and into the back of the net.
The very next minute, it appeared that the Ephs might take the lead when Moutenot once again initiated a chance. His long throw-in found the head of Westling, but this time Westling headed the ball down for Seitz. However, Seitz's rocketed shot skimmed just over the crossbar.
On the very next attack it was sophomore Mohammed Rashid's turn to get in on the action, as this time Westling ran down a ball on the right wing of the Ephs' attack. He then slid a pass across the face of Villano's goal to Rashid, who was waiting on the left side of the penalty area. However, before Rashid could create enough space to slot the ball home, Villano closed him down and blocked his shot out of danger.
Villano's saves were only delaying the inevitable, as only two minutes later the Ephs took the lead through junior Matt Muralles. Rashid collected a loose ball in the midfield and drove into the right side of the Bears' back line. He then centered the ball to Muralles, who took one touch to create some space for a shot and then fired his shot toward the left corner of the goal, taking a deflection along the way, ricocheting into the right panel and completely wrong-footing Villano.
The Ephs did not stop there as they doubled their advantage in the 75th minute. Westling once again was at the heart of the Ephs' attack, and his shot from the top of the Bears' penalty area was deflected out for another corner on the right side. Conder took the corner and sent in a beautiful ball to the top of the six-yard box, where junior defender Luke Pierce elevated himself above everyone and smashed his header home into the right corner of the goal, giving Conder his fourth assist from a set piece for the weekend.
Lima looked to get on the scoresheet himself four minutes later, when he had a golden opportunity to add to the goal he scored yesterday. Westling ran down a cross that had eluded everyones' heads in the left corner. Westling then dribbled back into the box and struck a ball that forced a nice save out of Villano at the near post. Villano's parry fell very kindly to Lima, but his point-blank shot somehow found the body of Villano rather than the back of the net.
Villano's spectacular saves could only keep the Bears afloat for so long as Westling's second goal of the day came in the 80th minute. The usual sight of Moutenot racing down the right wing was on display once again, as he received a through ball from Muralles in the midfield. Moutenot then swung a cross to the far side of the penalty area to Rashid, who unselfishly headed the ball back across the face of the goal looking for Westling. Westling, however, intelligently allowed his defender to awkwardly try to clear the ball, then cooly collected the failed attempt and made no mistake firing his shot past Villano, sending the Ephs into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
After the game, Coach Russo commented on the huge win for his team: "It was a tough first half. We were asleep, and they took advantage of it. [Bartnik] is a very dangerous player, but after the goal I thought we did a great job neutralizing him. We had been in the situation before, so the boys came out in the second half and just played with so much competitive fire. I thought our combination play was brilliant, and everything just flowed. Jon Westling had his best match in a Williams uniform and he was just brilliant today."
The Ephs outshot the Bears by a margin of 33 to 3, with 15 shots on goal to the 1 of the Bears. Williams also garnered 10 corners to only 2 for the Bears and had only 10 fouls to the Bears' 21.
The Ephs await the winner of Brandeis and Roger Williams and will play next Saturday.