WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — Cole Field once again proved a fortress of impenetrability for the visitors, as the Ephs of Williams College battled their way through a tense NESCAC quarterfinal match-up with the Mules of Colby College. In spite of the 2-0 win that the Ephs claimed on the first day of the regular season, this rematch would not prove to be as straightforward, as a stifling defense was the story of the day for both sides, and it summed up the marvelous defensive displays by both teams that the only difference between the two at the end of the ninety minutes was a well-taken 67th-minute penalty kick from Eph senior defender Lilly Wellenbach, that lifted the Ephs into the NESCAC semifinals once again.
Just past the 66-minute mark, Eph freshman Evan Gancedo drove into left side of the Mule penalty area, where she was clipped from behind by a rash challenge from a Mule defender, and the referee took little time to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot. Wellenbach stepped up to take the Ephs' first penalty of the season and dispatched it calmly into the back of the net, sending Mule senior keeper Emily Brook the wrong way in the process.
Neither side saw a plethora of chances to open up the scoring before Wellenbach's 67th-minute penalty, especially in the first half.
One of the few chances in the first 45 came to Mules freshman Laura Arnold just inside of five minutes. Arnold made a darting run across the face of the goal just inside the Eph penalty area, before flashing a shot on-target, but Eph senior keeper Hannah Van Wetter made quick work of the effort.
The second chance of the game fell to Eph senior Alex McInturf, who controlled a failed attempt at a clearance by a Mule defender about thirty yards out, before launching a long-distance effort that forced Brook off her feet to tip the ball over the bar to keep the score level.
As the second half got underway, the Ephs came out the stronger of the two teams, creating a pair of good chances before Wellenbach's first goal of her senior season.
First, in the 52nd minute, sophomore Kristi Kirshe unleashed a burst of speed down the right flank to outpace her defender, before she sent a low cross into the box toward the back post to the feet of junior Crystal Lewin. With Brook out of position due to the ever-present threat of a Kirshe shot, Lewin had an open net to fire into, but an amazing last ditch challenge by sophomore Emilie Klein saw the ball carom off her leg and away from the gaping goalmouth.
Eight minutes later, it was sophomore Audrey Thomas' turn to have a go, as it was once again Kirshe bombing down the right flank that created the opportunity. Kirsch raced toward the byline and slid another cross into the box, this time to the near post where Thomas was waiting to pounce, but she couldn't manage to steer her effort on target, blasting the ball wide of the right post of Brook's goal.
Under pressure to find a response, the Mules were forced to open up and play further forward, but the Ephs refused to take any chances defensively, as any ball that came to them was immediately rocketed up the field, leaving the Mules with few real chances at grabbing a goal.
The best chance for an equalizer came in the 87th minute off a free kick won in the midfield. Mule junior Lauren McCarthy took control of the situation and sent a well-weighted lob into the box that looked really dangerous, as Van Wetter dove to smother but couldn't quite get the job done. Luckily, an Eph defender was on the scene to control the ball and smash it away from the danger area.
In the dying moments the Mules did there best to find a goal to send the game into extra time, but the marvelous game-management skills of Eph senior Alison Magruder saw her attack the corner flags, rather than Brook's goal, to deplete what little time the Mules had left in their season.
Another solid, all-around defensive performance earned the Ephs the 1-0 win and wrapped up the Ephs' fifth clean sheet in-a-row and twelfth of the season.
After the game, Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard commented on the tough victory her team won on Saturday afternoon: "It came as no surprise that [Colby] came well-organized and disciplined, and they did a great job getting numbers behind the ball and keeping the ball when they won it. They forced us into a pace in the first half that we knew we didn't want to play. That's what we had to change in the second half, and we started creating more chances. They're a great team, and it just proves how good the NESCAC is."
The Mules bow out of the NESCAC tournament with their heads held high and conclude their season with a 7-8-1 overall record.
The Ephs' (15-1-0) season continues however, as they advance to the NESCAC semifinals next weekend on the back of Saturday's 1-0 win. They are set to have a rematch with rivals Middlebury, who upset Amherst in their own NESCAC Quarterfinal game on Saturday, and whom the Ephs saw off by a 1-0 margin on October 19th on Senior Day at Cole Field. By virtue of topping the NESCAC regular season table, the NESCAC semifinals and final will be held at Cole Field, and the Ephs will look to add to their perfect record at home this season next Saturday against the Panthers. Kickoff time has yet to be determined.
NESCAC Semfinal Pairings Set for Cole Field Saturday, November 8
No. 1 Williams vs. No. 5 Middlebury – 11 a.m.
No. 2 Bowdoin vs. No. 3 Connecticut College – 1:30 p.m.
NESCAC Championship Game -- Cole Field
Sunday, November 9
Saturday's Winners 12:00 p.m.