Jeffs Stymie Williams, 2-0, Claim NESCAC Title
Contact: Matthew Hart
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – Jae Heo ’14 scored in the second minute and James Mooney ’13 struck later in the first half as the second-seeded Amherst College men’s soccer team shut out top-seeded archrival Williams, 2-0, in the NESCAC Championship match Sunday.
The Lord Jeffs controlled play throughout, improving to 15-0-2 and notching their 15th shutout of 2012 en route to a second conference title in as many years and their third in the last five. Amherst’s run marks the NESCAC’s first back-to-back winner since Williams took four in a row from 2001-04.
Amherst also secured the NESCAC’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA Championships, marking the Jeffs' seventh consecutive trip to the national tournament, while Williams suffered its first loss of the season, falling to 13-1-3. The Ephs will hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA field, with the bracket to be announced at 1 p.m. Monday.
With the bulk of Williams’ fan base still arriving at a chilly Cole Field, Amherst struck immediately, scoring just over a minute into the contest. Milton Rico ’15 won a fifty-fifty on the left side and sent it back to defender Chris Lerner ’13, who bent a beautiful cross into the box from 30 yards out. Heo was there, leaping to win the header and send it into the right side of the Eph net for his eighth tally of the year and Lerner's third assist.
With the Jeffs’ backline of Lerner, Julien Aoyama '14, Ben Norton ’14, and Gabriel Wirz ’15 locking down on any balls in their half, Amherst kept up the pressure, finding insurance in the 16th. Lerner sent a powerful throw into the box from deep on the right sideline, with the ball reaching a well-positioned Wirz, who nodded it to Mooney for a one-time winner into the right corner, the senior's fifth of the year and Wirz's third helper.
In the 18th, the Jeffs got another clean look when Heo took a short corner on the left side and worked a give-and-go with Brendan Caslin ’14 before blasting a low shot from a sharp angle that Eph keeper Than Finan ’13 corralled. In the 23rd, Caslin powered a set piece in from the right but the header attempt from Spencer Noon ’13 flew just over the crossbar.
Williams couldn’t solve the Amherst defense before half, finding no promising looks on net and managing just one total shot in the first period to the Jeffs’ 12.
The Amherst defense held steadfast in the second half, moving to more conservative positioning and turning away numerous Williams chances to get on the board as the Jeffs kept their nation-leading goals-allowed total at two on the season.
The Ephs created a good look in the 51st minute when a well-placed corner from Zach Grady ’15 led to a fight for possession near the right side of the six-yard box, but Rico eventually flew in to clear for Amherst.
The Jeffs nearly padded the lead in the 61st when Heo bent a long cross in from the right side. Sliding in a tangle with his defender near the left post, Noon got a foot on it, but his attempt popped just high.
Williams came close in the 69th minute when a ball into the left side of the box created a diving header attempt for Timothy Marchese ’15, but Amherst keeper Thomas Bull ’16 was there to secure the shot and keep it 2-0. User Kushaina ’14 found a clean look from 20 yards two minutes later, but again Bull was positioned for an easy save.
Amherst had a promising chance of its own in the 78th when Finan deflected a close-range shot from Max Fikke ’14. Rico arced the ensuing corner near the right post but Mooney’s header clanged off the crossbar, keeping the Ephs within striking distance.
Still unable to solve the Jeff defense, Williams made its most valiant attempt to spoil the shutout during a desperate final push with just three minutes remaining. A Troy Ritter ’16 cross positioned Matt Kastner ’14 for a clean header, but Bull reacted quickly, diving to his right for a brilliant save that kept it 2-0.
Bull and Finan each made four stops in the contest, with Williams’ second-half pressure resulting in 10 shots after the break and a 19-11 Amherst advantage when all was said and done. The Jeffs also owned a 10-7 edge in corners.
The triumph was especially sweet for Amherst's senior class, which entered the contest winless at 0-1-3 against Williams, the rivals having drawn for the third consecutive time during the regular season meeting at Amherst.
Ranked second nationally, the Jeffs will learn their first NCAA tournament opponent when the full 62-team field is revealed Monday.