WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS. – The fourth-seeded Ephs secured a NESCAC quarterfinal victory over fifth-seeded rival Bates after an exciting three-goal bout at Cole Field. With the win, the Ephs guaranteed themselves a ticket to the semifinals and improved their record to (8-3-5), while the Bobcats' season came to an end at (9-6-1).
Eph head coach Sullivan reflected on the game: "Really difficult opponent. We came out and competed our way into the game to put it on our terms. Always helps to have a first-half goal, but I don't think we were satisfied with that. We kept grinding and tried to keep creating as well, which is not easy against this team."
The game kicked off with Bates in control. They came out aggressively, pushing the Ephs back into their half, who did not have time to adjust. Within the first three minutes, Bates' Julien Williamson was able to put a shot on goal, though it rolled harmlessly wide. As the half went on, the Bobcats encroached further onto Williams' half and started to keep possession there, putting more and more pressure on Williams' defense and keeper Michael Davis. Their most threatening opportunity of the half came in the 19th minute, when Eric Opoku, who had just run onto the field as a substitute, found himself at the end of a poor pass from the Ephs. He turned and took a touch forward before he fired a left-footed shot towards the far top left corner of the goal. Eph keeper Michael Davis followed the ball, leapt to his right, and, using his fingertips, pushed the ball just wide of his post to preserve his clean sheet.
Moments later, from the corner that resulted from the deflected shot, the Ephs gained possession of the ball. With the Bobcats all forward, they capitalized on the opportunity with a dangerous counter attack. After Liam Bardong controlled the ball, he pushed a weighted through ball up to Chris Fleischer, who ran the ball down the right flank. As he looked to his left and saw Bobby Fabricant running parallel towards the penalty area, Fleischer, using the outside of his left foot, curled the ball around a Bates defender and into the box. Fabricant took one touch to control the ball before carefully nudging it past the keeper into the bottom right corner and gave his team the advantage in the 20th minute.
After the goal, the Bobcats seemed to become unsettled, and the Ephs began to take hold of the game, moving play to Bates' half. Their play became more fluid, and they started connecting longer strings of passes linking defense to attack. As play continued, Bates regained composure and the two teams were even in possession once again. They went into halftime 1-0, though it seemed to still be anyone's game.
After the first 45 minutes, the Ephs had recorded 7 shots (2 on target), while the Bobcats had recorded 8 (2 on target). Eph keeper Michael Davis was halfway to a clean sheet after making 2 saves, while Bobcat keeper David Goodstein had made 1 save.
The second half commenced with the teams battling for possession in the middle of the pitch. As time went on, however, Bates began to settle in their half, which gave the Ephs a chance to push forward. In the 67th minute, the Ephs were retaining possession outside Bates box, looking for an opening. As a defender charged forward, Chris Fleischer laid the ball off in the path of Demian Gass just outside of the box. Gass took a few touches forward, before curling the ball towards the far right side and sneaking it in past the keeper David Goodstein's extended arms to double the Ephs' lead.
The Ephs, even with two goals, continued to pressure the Bobcats. In the 76th minute, Eph Bobby Fabricant slide tackled a Bates defender and collected the ball. He charged up the middle of the pitch, before making a square pass to teammate Eli Petrick at the edge of the box. Petrick, with no space, took the ball wide to the right, from where he sent a low cross into the box. The ball rolled behind Bobby Fabricant, but Nathan Song had him covered. He ran in from the top left of the box and placed a well-aimed, steady shot into the far bottom right corner. Keeper David Goodstein dove to his left and got a light touch to it, but could do nothing to prevent the ball from entering the net to increase the Ephs' lead to 3.
The Ephs, with less than 15 minutes remaining, settled into their half and began to play more conservatively, defending their goal. The Bobcats pushed up the pitch and aggressively moved the ball, looking to create an opportunity. In the end, the Ephs' defense prevailed and keeper Michael Davis preserved his clean sheet. The game ended 3-0 in favor of the Ephs.
Head coach Sullivan commented, "Proud of the leadership. Seeing the seniors represent on Cole Field is a proud moment for me as a coach."
After 90 minutes of play, the Ephs and Bobcats had each taken 13 shots, though the Ephs had 6 on goal compared to the Bobcats' 3. Keepers Michael Davis and David Goldstein each recorded 3 saves for their team.
The Ephs, with the win, advance to the semifinals, in which they will play second-seeded Tufts at Amherst College. "Our focus will be on preparing well and having a mindset that we can still get better," head coach Sullivan explained, looking forward to the matchup.