BRUNSWICK, Maine — The Ephs' NESCAC trip to Maine concluded on Sunday with a matchup against last year's runners-up in NESCAC regular-season play, Bowdoin College. In last season's fixture, the game required a 110th minute extra-time golden goal from Kristi Kirshe, and that game epitomized the engaging nature of nearly every Polar Bear-Eph encounter over the past several years. Sunday afternoon wasn't that different.
"What an amazing game," were the first words on the lips of Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard's mouth, and it was a fitting description. Audrey Thomas' eighth goal of the season was canceled out by Julia Patterson's bullet that would eventually force extra time. However, Thomas again found herself in the right place at the right time to bag her sixth goal of the weekend and lift the Ephs to another NESCAC victory.
Extra time began with a flurry of opportunities for the Eph frontline. Kirshe was presented with chance after chance, but the Polar Bear backline cut out each of her passes to Thomas during the first three minutes. It was only a matter of time though, and she finally carved out a pass between the two Polar Bear center backs to pick out the knifing Thomas. The Washingtonian ran onto the ball just moments before senior keeper Bridget McCarthy arrived and had just enough time to slot the ball under McCarthy's left arm and into the back of the net to give the Ephs the 2-1 win.
In spite of the dominant extra-time display, the game was largely even, with the Polar Bears having the better of the chances in the first half, and Pinard was quick to note the Polar Bears' effort: "Bowdoin really stayed organized, and we had to deal with that. That's what they do well, and they really put the pressure on us."
The first good look of the game came in the tenth minute, when Jamie Hofstetter received a cross from the right side, chested it down, and rifled a volley toward goal that was surely bound for the back of the net if Eph keeper Tressa Palcheck had not been there to tip it onto the crossbar.
A quarter of an hour later, it was the Polar Bears again. Kiersten Turner had a pair of good chances in the span of a minute, but both times she couldn't find the target, blasting high and then dragging wide of Palcheck's goal.
The cagey affair continued deep into the first half until the 38th minute when Hanna Kaeser seemingly produced something out of nothing. She collected the ball on the left side, and showed off some of her smart footwork to leave several defenders behind, before firing a shot at goal from an angle very similar to the one from her goal against Colby. This time, however, her ball connected squarely with the post and rebounded out for a goal kick.
The game went into halftime all tied up at 0-0, but the goal finally came with a fine strike from Thomas just before the hour mark. From the top of the penalty area, Kirshe fed Thomas on the right side, where she took a touch to control, another to create some space, and then one more to laser a shot past McCarthy into the top-left corner of the net.
After conceding the goal, it would have been easy for the Polar Bears to roll over and admit defeat, but they fought back admirably and found a deserved equalizer just nine minutes later.
The Polar Bears bore down on the Eph penalty area and a ball eventually found its way to Patterson, who effortlessly shifted the ball onto her left foot to create enough space for her to launch a sensational effort past the outstretched Palcheck.
With fifteen minutes left to play in regular time, the Ephs had a legitimate look at a second goal, as Kirshe and Thomas foreshadowed the later game-winner. Kirshe played an incisive ball through the Polar Bear backline, looking for Thomas, but McCarthy scrambled out well to knick the ball right off of her toes.
Four minutes later, it was Bowdoin's turn to have a chance at a late second goal. After a string of corners and some chaos in and around the six-yard box, Palcheck was on the ground and the ball was at the feet of Hofstetter, but the Eph defensive unit was on hand to apply enough pressure to force the senior captain to hit her shot wide of the mark.
The game looked destined for extra time, but the Ephs had one last chance right at the death to win it in regulation. The Ephs were gifted a look at a counter after a Polar Bear lost the ball to Kirshe in midfield. Kirshe made one of her trademark barreling runs at the back line before laying off to Kaeser on the left, who just barely lost the footrace with McCarthy to the ball.
With regular time in the books, extra time began with a whirlwind of chances which were capped off with Thomas' 32nd career goal for the Ephs.
After the game, Pinard focused on her team's continuous improvements since the start of the season, even though there is plenty still left to work on: "Our backs did a good job, and the level of the game was fantastic. We want to keep getting better each game, and we're definitely improving. As we get deeper into our schedule, we're playing better and better forwards, and we're learning to deal with those. I still think we can be a little be cleaner and tighter on defense, and that's what we will be working on this week."
With the thrilling win, the Ephs improve their phenomenal start to 5-0 (NESCAC 4-0), but they return home next weekend to test their perfect record against arch-rivals Amherst on Saturday at 11AM. Meanwhile, the Polar Bears also have the week off to recover and rebuild from the tough loss that leaves them at 2-2 (NESCAC 1-2), as they play host to Middlebury next Saturday with a kickoff time of noon.