MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard would be the first to tell you that there is no such thing as an easy game in the NESCAC, and that certainly holds true for traveling to Middlebury for a midweek encounter with the Panthers.
The Ephs closed out their regular season on Tuesday afternoon with a trek up Route 7, as they sought to put the finishing touches on both an undefeated regular season and a perfect record in the NESCAC. The Ephs took to Dragone Field to play out the fixture that ended 2-0 in their favor last season; however, the Panthers sent the Ephs away with a bitter taste in their mouths, reversing last year's result with two goals from Rebecca Palacios and Amanda Hotvedt in the final ten minutes of the game.
In the 81st minute, Palacios made the breakthrough for the Panthers, after Amanda DaFonte deftly worked her way down the right touchline to send a cross teasingly into the box in front of Eph keeper, Tressa Palcheck's, goal. Katelyn Long threw herself across to attempt a block on Palacios' ensuing shot, but was unable to prevent the Panther sophomore from cooly slotting her volley home past Palcheck.
The Ephs had just over nine minutes to find an equalizer after conceding their first goal in over 384 minutes of soccer, and they quickly went on the offensive.
Just two minutes after the opener, Audrey Thomas came close to finding a swift equalizer, bursting through the Panther backline and beating keeper, Kate Reinmuth, to a long ball over the top. Although Thomas' chip cleared the flailing arms of the veteran keeper, she couldn't find the back of the net, sending it wide of the mark.
Less than a minute later, Thomas created another opportunity when she lured Reinmuth out of net on the right touchline; however, her cross to the center of the box couldn't find an Eph head that could nod the ball into an empty net.
After Thomas' pair of chances, the Panthers did well to suck the life out of the game, killing a handful of the precious seconds the Ephs had left to find a leveling goal by taking the ball to the corner.
In an attempt to move the ball up the field after winning it back in the corner, Natalie Turner-Wyatt had the ball taken off her by the high pressure from Sara Dicenso. The freshman defender quickly found DaFonte around the edge of the penalty area, who slid Hotvedt through on the left side to put a perfectly placed shot in the bottom corner past Palcheck, putting the game to bed for the Panthers.
The 2-0 scoreline may not have seemed reflective of the overall run of play, but it certainly reflected the game early on, as Middlebury dominated the possession in the opening thirty minutes.
It was Williams, however, that engineered the first chance for a goal ten minutes after kickoff. Mai Mitsuyama held off several challenges from Panther midfielders before finding Turner-Wyatt on the left side to cross an early ball into the center of the box. Alvarado beat her defender to it, but could only volley over the bar.
Eight minutes later, the Panthers began an onslaught of long-distance efforts at Palcheck's goal, beginning with a dipping strike from Hannah Robinson that was a bit awkward for Palcheck, but she saved it nevertheless.
Another eight minutes went by before Jamie Soroka stood over a free kick from 30 yards out that she drilled straight on target, requiring a solid pair of hands to push the shot over the bar and out of danger.
Just over eight minutes from halftime, the Ephs probably managed their best chance of the half, orchestrated by Crystal Lewin who played an intricate pair of passes with a fellow Eph before bombing down the right wing and sending a ball to the back post, meant for Natasha Albaneze. The New Yorker's header was deflected away from goal by a Panther defender, who knew little about it, but the chance fell nicely to Madison Feeney to have a go at goal, that required a crucial save from Reinmuth to keep the Ephs off the scoreboard.
Ten minutes after the restart, Palcheck was called into action again, as she had to be off her line quickly to prevent Soroka from catching up with a long ball over the top of the Eph defense.
A quarter of an hour later, Gabz Amos-Grosser marauded forward from her position on the backline and fed Albaneze through on the left side of the penalty area to roll a ball across the face of goal that Abby Morss only just missed out on redirecting into the back of Reinmuth's net.
Robinson knocked on the door in the 77th minute when she absolutely smashed a thirty-yard effort toward the top corner that needed a wonderful fingertips save from Palcheck to momentarily keep the Panthers off the scoresheet.
However, there was little Palcheck could do four minutes later, however, as Palacios bagged the opener for the Panthers, before Hotvedt added a second for good measure eight minutes after.
With the win, Middlebury improved to 6-4-5 (NESCAC 4-3-3) and secured the 6th seed in the NESCAC Tournament. They will have a formidable opponent in the quarterfinals, as 3rd-seeded Amherst plays host to the Panthers on Saturday with kickoff time still to be announced. The Lord Jeffs claimed all three points in the two rivals' regular-season encounter in September that ended 2-1.
Suffering their first defeat of the season and bringing their record to 13-1-1 (NESCAC 9-1-0), the Ephs will look to bounce back on Saturday morning, as they welcome the 8th seed, Hamilton College, back to Cole Field for an 11 AM EDT kickoff. The Continentals come into the quarterfinal matchup on Saturday in a good run of form, winning six and drawing one of their last eight games, including wins over Tufts and Wesleyean as well as drawing Amherst. The Ephs will hope for a repeat of their regular-season 1-0 victory over the Continentals on opening day back at the beginning of September.