WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. - The Ephs went into their Sunday afternoon clash with MIT trying to record their 10th win of the season, but the Engineers surely had other ideas, looking to defend their 7-game win-streak they've been on since their loss to WPI all the way back on September 17th. Their resilient first-half performance, however, ended in despair as the Ephs outlasted them in the second half to celebrate a 4-1 victory once all was said and done.
The game entered halftime all-square after goals from Sarah Sciré and Hailey Nichols equaled each other out, but an onslaught from the Eph attackers in the early part of the second half undid the Engineers' hopes for an eighth win on the bounce, as Sciré scored twice more to complete her hat-trick, before Evan Gancedo knocked in a fourth, all before the 70-minute mark.
It was a relatively quiet first quarter of an hour, with both teams asking few questions of each other as they settled into the game, until Sciré scored on one of the Ephs' first legitimate chances of the afternoon in the 14th minute.
The move started on the right-hand side of the box, where Gancedo whipped in a cross toward the center of the area. Slightly off-balance, Audrey Thomas flung a leg out toward the ball, attempting to redirect it toward goal and instead sending it off a defender and toward Sciré who prodded the ball toward goal, deflecting off another Engineer defender in the process and leaving MIT goalkeeper Lauren Ullmann helpless to stop the ball from finding the back of the net.
After the first goal, the Ephs besieged the MIT 18-yard-box in their search for a second, but were incapable of finding the back of the net again, in spite of their 13 first-half shots.
Their inability to capitalize on their opportunities was finally punished by Nichols of MIT in the dying moments before the halftime whistle.
The Engineers won one of their four corners on the day in the 44th minute, and Emily Berzolla's delivery was right on-point, as her back-post ball was perfectly placed for Nichols to rise above her marker and nod into the ground and over the line for MIT's equalizer.
With their first-half frustrations behind them, the Ephs responded well after the restart, and Sciré had her second goal inside of 10 minutes, as she swept home the most sumptuous of attacking moves.
The Ephs' initial foray forward into the box, as Gancedo tried to find Thomas, was repelled. However, the ball fell back to the feet of the Williams #10, and she seemed to effortlessly glide past Elizabeth Porter on the right end-line, before picking out Sciré around the 6-yard-box for her to first-time the Californian's pass into the back of the net.
With their newly reacquired lead, the Ephs learned from their first-half mistakes, and had the ball in the back of the net again 6 minutes later, as the first-year completed her hat-trick before the hour mark.
Natalie Turner-Wyatt pinged in a corner from the same spot that MIT's first-half goal came from, but instead of aiming for the far post, she sent it short to Thomas on the edge of the Engineer penalty area. Thomas eluded her defender and ran the end-line with her head up, surveying her options, and ultimately decided on Sciré at the near post, sliding it to the New-Jersey native to side-foot toward goal, taking advantage of another deflection to leave Ullmann stranded with little chance of denying the Ephs their third goal.
Looking significantly deflated by the turn of events, MIT struggled to rediscover their first-half form, and the Ephs had their fourth through Gancedo seven minutes after their third.
Katelyn Long made an uncharacteristic foray forward from her position in defense, weaving through several defenders on the right flank, before cutting in toward the center on her favored left foot. She attempted a shot from outside the box, but Nichols cut the effort out with her foot. However, the Engineer interception fell kindly to Gancedo inside the area, and the junior made no mistake slotting the ball past Ullmann to finish off the day's scoring.
"I don't think we were at our best in the first half," stated Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard after her team's strong second-half performance. "We were a little bit slow, and in a lot of ways we were reacting both offensively and defensively. That allowed [MIT] to get some momentum, and they are very good, very organized…it would have been nice to finish off one of those chances, but certainly glad we did that in the second."
Before the Engineers equalized in the first half, as Pinard alluded to, the Ephs could easily have already doubled their lead.
In fact, Sciré almost had her second goal, four minutes after her first.
Kristi Kirshe threaded a pass through the MIT defense to match the incisive run of the pacey striker, who then only had Ullmann to beat. With her run angling her slightly away from goal, the Williams #11 flashed her shot agonizingly wide of the left post.
Five minutes later in the 23rd minute, Thomas almost got in on the action, as Kirshe again orchestrated the chance, carving apart the Engineer back line for the second time, but Ullmann made a vital save on Thomas' shot to keep MIT's deficit at just the one goal.
Then Berzolla had MIT's first real chance of the afternoon in the 26th minute, when the referee awarded the Engineers a free kick 25 yards out.
Contemplating her options, Berzolla finally settled on going directly at Olivia Barnhill's goal, but the sophomore goalkeeper had little difficulty with the rather tame strike.
Then in the minutes before MIT's equalizer, the Ephs had two more golden opportunities to score an insurance goal; however, Ullmann and the MIT defense resolutely kept the Ephs at bay.
First, in the 38th minute, Kirshe slalomed into the Engineers' penalty area and rocketed an almighty effort toward goal that asked a lot of Ullmann in net, but the senior shot-stopper applied two strong hands, before her teammates swarmed the ball to hook it clear, so that the lurking Kristina Alvarado and Alison Lu couldn't slam in the rebound.
Seconds later, Kirshe had another opportunity, when she probed the 18-yard-box again, before shifting the ball onto her stronger right foot and attempting to curl a shot toward the top corner. Again, Ullmann could not hold the senior's shot, and needed more help from her fellow defenders to make sure that Lu's follow-up didn't cross the goal line.
Then, less than 90 seconds before halftime, the Engineers had their equalizer, but the Ephs came out in the second half undeterred by their late defensive lapse on a set piece with Sciré quickly accounting for the Ephs' second.
Before her third, however, the Engineers almost managed to mount a response in the 55th minute.
Allie Hrabchak stormed forward right off the kickoff, ghosting past several defenders and forcing Sarah Kelly to come in with a sliding last-ditch challenge to deny the sophomore an opportunity to draw MIT level for the second time.
Before the Engineers' next chance though, Sciré completed her hat-trick and took the sting out of the contest, short circuiting the Engineers' attacking creativity, before Gancedo truly ended the affair with the Ephs' fourth.
"It's been a grind of a season, six-weeks-long, and it's midterm time," explained Pinard of her team's balancing of off- and on-field life. "The ebb and flow of the year, it's fall break, and it's amazing how that can relax you in ways you're not expecting. I actually find this weekend to be one of the most challenging weekends of our season every year because of that."
With their 7-game win-streak halted, MIT (11-4) will look to start anew this Tuesday afternoon when they take on Wellesley College at 4 PM EDT at home in the familiar environment of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Ephs (10-0-1) on the other hand, have five days of rest, before they return to NESCAC play after what will nearly be two weeks off from conference encounters. They will host the Cardinals of Wesleyan at Cole Field next Saturday at the later-than-normal time of 1:30 PM EDT.
"As we near the end of October, it's a huge weekend," urged Pinard as her team returns to NESCAC opposition next weekend. "We want to keep hold of our top spot in the conference. What I love about this team is that each practice and each training session we focus in on one concept and one idea, and they really grab that and move forward, and then the next one and move forward. I'm excited about seeing what we saw this weekend, because we have a few things in mind to clean up our game."