Thomas nets a 109th minute winner to lift Ephs over MIT, 3-2

Thomas nets a 109th minute winner to lift Ephs over MIT, 3-2

WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — "We don't lose at home." Those were the words of sophomore Audrey Thomas after the game on Sunday afternoon at Cole Field, after almost 109 minutes of soccer, just one day removed from playing a game against bitter NESCAC rivals Trinity. It didn't matter how tired they were or how many shots didn't find the back of the net. "We don't lose at home."

That's what the Ephs told themselves going into overtime, after MIT had found two equalizers over the course of the game, and they stayed true to that creed. They applied immense pressure to sophomore Engineer Lauren Ullman's goalmouth, as they unleashed thirteen shots between the two overtime periods without a single one finding the back of the net, but the fourteenth finally did.

Just past the halfway point of the first period of overtime, the Ephs surely thought they had the winner. On a counterattack, sophomore Kristi Kirshe made one of her many charges toward the Engineer back line, barreling past senior Elena Gianotas, but just as Kirshe looked to be through on goal and sure to bury the ball past Ullman, sophomore Victoria Gregory made a beautiful last-ditch sliding tackle to send the ball temporarily out of danger for a Williams corner.

On the ensuing corner, it seemed even more likely, as after chaos in the box left Ullman on the ground, the ball fell to Maddie Swarr's feet inside ten yards, but as her shot seemed destined for the right panel, senior Engineer Emily Lydon stuck a foot out to deflect the ball away from goal and yet again deny the Ephs a winner.

With less than three minutes to go in the first overtime period, another opportunity went begging for the Ephs, as Kirshe took another run at the Engineer back four, this time only to carve out a pass to Thomas, as she knifed between the Engineer center backs. Thomas had just the keeper to beat, but her slotted finish was saved by Ullman at a full stretch to preserve the tie for the Engineers heading into the break between the two overtime periods.

If there was any thought that frustration would set in for the Ephs, that thought was dispelled quickly as the Ephs picked up right where they left off, with senior Louisa Costa racing down the right flank to center a ball to Thomas, whose resulting shot went wide of Ullman's right post, merely a warning shot for what was to come.

Because eight minutes and several chances later, it was all over. Chaos down the left side saw freshman Evan Gancedo roll a pass to the center to junior Mai Mitsuyama, about 25 yards from goal, who chipped the ball over the Engineer back line, looking for Thomas, who just barely got her foot to it before Ullman arrived, and all that was left to do was watch the ball slowly trickle across the line, giving Thomas her second goal of the game and the Ephs the 3-2 win.

"I'd had a few run-ins with the keeper over the course of the game. I guess I had to get one right eventually," Thomas jested after the game. "We were playing well in the last fifteen minutes, and we pride ourselves on not losing at home. So that's what got us through it."

The game started out at a similar pace to the way it ended, as the Ephs looked the likely of the two sides to open the scoring. The first chance of the game came inside of three minutes, as junior winger Crystal Lewin sprinted down the left wing, before sending a gorgeous left-footed curling pass around the Engineer right back and behind the back line, to the frenetic Thomas, but with just the keeper to beat, her first touch let her down, allowing Ullman to smother the ball.

In the 11th minute, it was Kirshe's turn to be fed a chance at opening the scoring, as Mitsuyama worked a beautiful through ball down the right flank to sophomore Katie Wardlaw, who had acres of space to run into. As she made it to the touchline, she sent a cross into the box, looking for Kirshe, but Kirshe scuffed her volley, allowing the Engineers to breathe a sigh of relief.

The Engineers didn't have too long to rest, however, as the Ephs found their first goal of the game through Thomas in the 25th minute. It was a clinical attack and finish from the Ephs, as Kirshe played supplier for her striking partner, sending an incisive ball through the Engineer back line for Thomas to run onto and finish first-time into the left panel past Ullman.

MIT responded very strongly to the first goal of the game and began to settle into an attacking rhythm, as Ambika Krishnamachar started to orchestrate the Engineer attack.

The first sign of life came six minutes after the opener, as Krishnamachar weaved her way through the midfield toward the Eph back line. Right before colliding with Eph senior defender Lilly Wellenbach, Krishnamachar tapped a ball for freshman Olivia Struckman to pound toward goal that called Eph senior keeper Hannah Van Wetter into action for the first time.

Three minutes later, Krishnamachar initiated another Engineer chance, as she slid a ball to junior Morgan Moroi from the top of the box to the right side of the penalty area, but Moroi's left-footed curler didn't quite hook enough to sneak inside Van Wetter's left post.

The Engineers continued to look more and more dangerous as half-time approached, and the goal finally came under two minutes into the second half. This time Moroi started the move, when she unleashed Krishnamachar down the left flank. Krishnamachar dashed to the touchline and sent a ball across the face of goal that evaded the boots of both Ephs and Engineers, but eventually rolling onto the feet of junior Zara Perumal, who had plenty of time to take a touch and finish past Van Wetter with ease into the right side of the goal.

The Ephs received their wake-up call and immediately refocused, as they searched for a second goal, and it only took them fourteen minutes to find one.

A beautiful team build-up left Thomas with the ball near the corner flag on the left side. Thomas then sent a ball across the face of goal, trying to pick out Kirshe, who decided, rather than to shoot from a sharp angle with Ullman closing her down, to slide a ball toward the far post to the unmarked Wardlaw, who had all the time in the world to tap the ball into an open net to restore the Ephs' lead and open her account for the 2014 season.

The Engineers did not roll over, however, as the ever-industrious Krishnamachar continued to harass the right side of the Williams defense, and it only took ten minutes for her tactics to pay off and find a second equalizer for the Engineers.

She once again flew down the left side, drawing multiple defenders onto her, before sliding a ball to the top of the Eph penalty area to Engineer senior Ashley Peter, whose bullet toward the top-left corner left the Eph supporters silent as it left Van Wetter no chance to stop it from bulging the back of the net.

As overtime loomed, MIT had a golden opportunity to nab a go-ahead goal in the 78th minute, as Moroi pulled up out of nowhere to catch the Ephs with their hearts in their mouthes by launching a right-footed dipping effort that Van Wetter couldn't get to, caroming off the underside of the crossbar but somehow away from goal, leaving the Engineers cursing their luck as overtime approached along with the onslaught of the Eph attack that ultimately resulted in the game-winner.

"We play a tough schedule," commented Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard after the game. "MIT is a good team, and we let them settle in after we scored our first goal. Good teams, when you let them settle in, punish you…we learned the lesson today, especially after yesterday's 5-0 win, that goals don't always come easy, and it was definitely a good lesson to learn early on in the season while still getting a win."

She also commented on her team's undying motivation to win games: "This senior class wanted it so badly, and going into overtime, the seniors told the team that we were playing for a win. That definitely showed in our urgency on the field, getting forward. The game of soccer is challenging, but Audrey [Thomas] was able to pull us through today in the end."

After this heart-breaking loss, MIT looks to reenergize their season (4-3) and end a three-game losing skid on Tuesday afternoon when they face off against Roger Williams at home. Williams looks to continue their impressive start to the season (4-0), as they play their first away game of the season on Saturday against arch-rival Amherst. Kickoff is set for 12 PM EDT.

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