WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — How crucial this home NESCAC double-header weekend might prove to be. With only one home regular season game left on the schedule after Sunday, the Ephs knew how important this weekend was, especially with a game against top-of-the-table rivals Bowdoin. A win on Sunday would mean that the Ephs would pull to within three points of arch-rivals Amherst with Amherst having played one more game in the NESCAC than Williams. That was what had to be in the minds of every Eph on the field Sunday afternoon at Cole Field, and it showed.
Harkening back to the NESCAC finals tilt two years ago against Bowdoin that went to extra time and ultimately penalty kicks, both teams managed to fire in a goal, but rather than inside the first twenty minutes, like in 2012, they both came in the last ten.
The late drama was only just getting started in the 82nd minute, when Eph sophomore Maddie Swarr bagged her second goal of the season. Junior Mai Mitsuyama took a corner on the left side, tapping it short to senior Alison Magruder, who hit an in-swinging cross toward the near post, where it eventually fell to the feet of senior co-captain Lilly Wellenbach's who deftly tapped it to Swarr in the center to blast home a rocket into the left corner of junior Polar Bear keeper Bridget McCarthy's goal from point-blank range.
Swarr and the Ephs surely thought they had clinched the win in regular time, but the Polar Bears had something else in mind. And just like two years ago, it was Polar Bear junior Jamie Hofstetter who found the back of the net to equalize just minutes after the Ephs had scored.
The Polar Bears won a corner of their own on the left side five minutes later, that senior Abby Einwag sent into the center of the box, where junior Maggie Godley flicked the ball with her head toward the back post, to where Hofstetter was waiting to out jump her defender and nod the ball over the raised arms of Eph senior keeper Hannah Van Wetter.
In spite of the late goal, the Ephs went into extra time, looking the more likely of the team's to score the game-winner, pouring pressure onto the Polar Bear penalty area.
The first good chance came in the 94th minute, off a free kick in the midfield after a handball. Mitsuyama lofted a ball into the box that eventually rattled out to senior Louisa Costa who struck a ball toward the right corner of McCarthy's goal, but it drifted just over the bar and out of danger.
In the dying seconds of the first half of extra time, the Ephs had their best chance yet to nab the game-winner, as senior Alex McInturf played a ball over the Polar Bear back line to match the knifing run of sophomore Audrey Thomas, but Thomas couldn't get her timing right, as she scuffed the volley, allowing McCarthy to collect with ease.
The Ephs continued to press into the second ten-minute period of extra time, but the Polar Bears were the first to have a chance in the 104th minute, as Polar Bear senior Amanda Kinneston led a counterattacking charge toward the Eph back line that saw Kinneston beat several defenders, but Costa cut out the play, right before Kinneston would have been one-on-one with Van Wetter.
Three minutes later sophomore Kristi Kirshe made a charge of her own at the Polar Bear defense on a counterattack, but the shot at the end of her darting run didn't stay down enough to call McCarthy into action.
However, the Ephs would not allow a repeat of the 2012 postseason affair, even if only by sure force of will, at least that's how it seemed.
Kirshe had an opportunity to make amends for her missed chance mere moments later. The move was initiated by senior Crystal Lewin who drove through the midfield to send a ball to Kirshe in the center, who one-touch lifted the ball over the Polar Bear back line, hoping for the trademark incisive run of Thomas to meet her pass. And Thomas was there, one-on-one with McCarthy. But the ball still wouldn't go in for the Ephs, as McCarthy made herself big enough to body-block the ball away from the back of the net. But not away from the tenacious Kirshe, who seemed to have gotten her timing on the volley all wrong, as it was her shin that made contact rather than her foot. For several, heart-stopping moments, it seemed the ball wouldn't have enough pace to trickle over the line, but the last ditch effort at a clearance by a Polar Bear defender was not enough, as the ball dribbled across the line to send the Ephs into delirium over their second double-overtime winner of the season.
After the game, Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard commented on her team's resiliency to come back firing after conceding a late equalizer: "I was curious to see how we were going to react. We haven't been in that type of situation where a team has scored that late, and it would've been easy for us to fold and let them take over. But I was really pleased that we were so resilient."
In spite of the late drama, the game began rather tamely, with the first good chance at scoring not coming until the 25th minute.
The Polar Bears earned a free kick just outside the Ephs' penalty area. Sophomore Evan Fencik took control of the situation, but her right-footed effort curled right into the body of Van Wetter.
The Ephs created a chance of their own eleven minutes later, after a smart exchange of passes on the left flank between freshman Hanna Kaeser and sophomore Katie Wardlaw saw Wardlaw pull up from thirty yards to send a dipping effort toward the top-right corner of the goal, but McCarthy did remarkably well to elevate and punch the ball over the bar and out of danger.
The pace of the Eph attack picked up considerably in the second half, as the front line made more threatening runs at the Polar Bear central defenders.
Thomas surely thought she had broken the deadlock right before the fifty-minute mark, as a lively series of passes between Lewin and Kirshe on the left resulted in Kirshe sending a ball across the face of goal to Thomas, whose shot from a tight angle was only just touched by the fingertips of McCarthy, as the Polar Bear supporters looked on with their hearts in their mouths as the ball trickled ever-so-slowly just wide of the left post.
The ball would just not go in for the Ephs, as five minutes later the ball still would not find the back of the net, even after McCarthy came out of her goal to close down Thomas with possession on the touchline. Thomas sent a ball to the center, where both Kirshe and freshman Evan Gancedo were waiting, but neither Eph could steer a shot into the back of the net thanks to the industrious defending of the Polar Bear centerbacks, blocking both shots directed at their keeper's goal.
In the 74th minute, the Polar Bears had their best chance of the game to open the scoring, as Kinneston raced down the left side, beating her defenders with pace, and looked to be in on-goal against Van Wetter, but sophomore Gabz Amos-Grosser came swooping in from her traditional left-back position to intercept Kinneston and deny what very well might have been a goal.
Lifted by Amos-Grosser's remarkable defensive effort, the Ephs would take the lead off Swarr's goal seven minutes later, and the rest is history.
After the game Coach Pinard commented on the inspiration that Amos-Grosser's cutout gave the team: "Those individual efforts, those individual battles that we win are so motivating, and there was no doubt that we were feeding off that energy from different people at different times. And Gabz [Amos-Grosser] was definitely that for us at that time. Everyone one on the team is willing to do that when they can, and that is what carried us at the end."
The heart-breaking loss for the Polar Bears (8-3, NESCAC 5-2) sees them drop both of their NESCAC road games this weekend, but still have a fighting chance at the top of the NESCAC table, as they return home to face off against Connecticut College next Saturday at 1 PM EDT.
The Ephs (10-1, NESCAC 5-1) eclipse the ten-win mark for the season, with what surely is their biggest win thus far. They look to carry their momentum forward into another NESCAC double-header next week, the first game of which will be away against Tufts next Saturday, with a 12 PM EDT kickoff time.