No. 4 women's soccer tops Amherst 4-2 to reach NESCAC championship game

No. 4 women's soccer tops Amherst 4-2 to reach NESCAC championship game

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – No. 4 Williams women's soccer (15–1–1, 8–1–1 in the NESCAC) trailed archrival Amherst 1-0 at the half, but the Ephs netted four second half goals from four different players to defeat Amherst 4-2 and advance to the NESCAC Championship tilt tomorrow on Cole Field.

On a chilly fall day, with over 200 fans in attendance, the No. 1 seed Ephs and the No. 7 seed Mammoths fought for a spot in the championship game. When the two teams met on Sept. 23, the Ephs came away with a 3-2 victory. Williams defeated No. 8 seed Bowdoin last Saturday in the first round, while Amherst upset No. 2 seed Connecticut College to advance to the semifinal.

The home side had an early chance in the seventh minute. On the counterattack, midfielder Natalie Turner-Wyatt '19 played a ball to forward Alison Lu '20, who was making a run into the penalty area. From inside the box, Lu rattled a shot off the right goal post.

In the 23rd minute, Lu snuck a shot past the keeper, but Amherst defender Caleigh Plout cleared the ball before the goal line. After the ball was sent back in, Natasha Albaneze '18 sent a shot on goal, but Mammoth goalkeeper Chelsea Cutler made the save.

Forward Sydney Jones '18 created a scoring opportunity in the 32nd minute. Jones beat several defenders on a run down the right side, and she sent a ball across the box. Kristina Alvarado '19 got a foot on the ball and nearly put the Ephs ahead, but her shot was wide of the post. 

In the latter part of the half, tight pressing from Amherst limited Williams' attacking chances, as the Mammoths' physicality and athleticism denied the Ephs time and space on the ball.

The Mammoths began to push forward, and midfielder Sasha Savitsky gave the visitors a 1-0 lead before halftime. In the 36th minute, Savitsky intercepted a pass in the midfield and dribbled toward the right edge of the box, evading several defenders. She drilled a shot into the bottom-left corner, just out of the reach of a diving Olivia Barnhill '19.

Williams had a 10-3 lead in shots at halftime, but Cutler made three saves to keep the Ephs off the board.

The home side returned from the break with renewed vigor and began to take control of the possession game. The Ephs earned three corner kicks in the first two minutes, and they equalized just 1:52 into the half. After a corner kick from Albaneze led to a scrum in the box, Sarah Scire '20 broke through the pack and poked the ball into the net.

In the 52nd minute, Lu put the Ephs ahead 2-1. Albaneze sent a ball forward, and Lu beat a defender to the ball at the right edge of the box. After a touch, she slotted a shot past Cutler and inside the far post.

Savitsky, however, scored for the Mammoths three minutes later to tie the contest once again. After receiving a pass 15 yards outside the box, she dribbled in and curled a gorgeous shot into the top-left corner.

The game moved out of the midfield and into the attacking thirds as each side began to play longer passes, looking to run onto the ball in the opposing team's territory. Players moved off the ball and made more frequent runs into space.

Midfielder Meredith Manley had a chance for Amherst in the 70th minute. Manley teed up a shot from distance but sent the ball narrowly over the crossbar.

The Ephs earned a 3-2 lead in the 71st minute. A cross from Ilana Albert '21 sent a cross into the box, which found its way to Jones. She played a spectacular back-heel pass to Alvarado, who finished at the near post from the left side of the box.

Jones added a goal of her own 10 minutes later, putting Williams up 4-2. After a pass from Turner-Wyatt, an Amherst defender slipped, and Jones converted in the bottom-left corner.

The score remained 4-2 in the Ephs' favor until the final whistle. Williams finished with an 18-7 shot advantage. Cutler had five saves in the game for the Mammoths, while junior Olivia Barnhill had two for the Ephs.

After being held scoreless in the first 45 minutes, Williams scored four goals in the second half.

"We had an incredible second half as the result of us just playing," head coach Michelyne Pinard said. "We made some adjustments over the week, and through those adjustments, we started to think a little bit. Anytime you think too much, the game slows down, which is what happened in the first half … We're at our best when we limit the thinking and just play."

She added that better use of flank space led to the second-half attacking success.

"[Amherst was] giving us some space on the flanks, and we needed to find that a little more quickly," Pinard said. "When we did, we were able to get in behind. [The Mammoths] are a really athletic and hardworking team, so when they're pressing, it's hard to feel like you have any options. As soon as we found that flank space, we started to break them down a little bit in the second half."

The Ephs have allowed just seven goals over the course of the season; four of those goals have been scored by the Mammoths.

Williams advances to the championship game, in which it plays No. 4 seed Tufts, which defeated No. 6 seed Hamilton in its semifinal game. The final will be played tomorrow at noon on Cole Field.