Amherst Upset in NESCAC Quarterfinals by No. 6 Middlebury, 1-0

Sophomore Lili Ferguson made eight saves in a very solid performance for Amherst. 

AMHERST, MA – The Amherst College women’s soccer team’s NESCAC Championship tournament run came to a halt today, as the sixth-seeded Panthers of Middlebury College upset the third-seeded Lord Jeffs on Hitchcock Field, 1-0. The teams were notched at 0-0 at halftime, but Middlebury scored the lone goal with 33 minutes remaining in regulation and held on to advance to next weekend’s semifinal round.

Amherst came out strong and earned the first corner kick of the game after 12 minutes of action, but a header by junior Stephanie Yesnik (Arlington, VA) that appeared to be traveling to the back of the net was blocked and cleared away by a Middlebury defender.

The Panthers had a difficult time breaking a tough Amherst defense that was led by great play from junior Kate Moriarty (Westminster, MA), but eventually got into their rhythm midway through the half. With 16 minutes and 30 seconds on the clock, sophomore Anne Ford (Dexter, MI) received a cross from the corner and sent a one-timer toward the goal, but Amherst sophomore goalkeeper Lili Ferguson (Winnetka, IL) played the cross perfectly. Middlebury had another close-range shot just three minutes later, but Ferguson was once again in the right place at the right time.

Yesnik got the Amherst fans out of their seats when, with 11 minutes remaining in the half, she let loose a shot from 20 yards out that made its way toward the far post but bounced just wide of the goal. The Jeffs kept the pressure on and had a pair of corner kicks within one minute of each other, but Middlebury first-year goalie Lauryn Torch (Bronxville, NY) came up big when she smothered a loose ball to end the flurry of Amherst offense.

Middlebury closed out the first half with two excellent scoring chances. With 2:20 remaining before halftime, senior Caitlin Parker (Seattle, WA) sent a cross from the right side to fellow senior Carly Berger (Princeton, NJ), who dribbled away from an Amherst defender to give herself plenty of room to set up a right-footed shot, but the ball hit the crossbar and bounced over the goal. Just one minute later, Parker ripped a left-footed shot from 12 yards out that was placed low and to the corner, but Ferguson dropped to her left side and made a spectacular save, allowing the Amherst defense to clear it and end the threat.

Each team took five shots in the very even first half, while Amherst won the corner kick battle, 3-0. Middlebury’s first corner kick of the game came within the first 30 seconds of the second half, but the Panthers could not get a solid touch on the ball and the Amherst offense took over. The Jeffs earned a pair of corners in the 50th minute and looked as though they may score, but sophomore Meg Murphy (Springfield, MA) sent a one-timer over the net.

The Middlebury offense began a stretch of dominance with 37 minutes remaining in the second half, when an Amherst defender cleared a ball right to Middlebury first-year Katie Ruymann (Medford, NJ), who settled herself and ripped a close-range shot, but Ferguson was able to knock the ball out of bounds.

Just three minutes later, Parker took the ball along the right wing and then headed toward the goal, setting up a right-footed shot from 20 yards out. Parker placed a beautiful shot just inside the far post, leaving Ferguson with very little chance of making a save, as Middlebury took a 1-0 lead with 33:19 remaining in regulation.

The Panthers were relentless for a majority of the second half, as they hit the crossbar twice in a span of two minutes and 10 seconds, and sophomore Lindsay Walker (Ridgewood, NJ) put serious pressure on the Amherst defense with a pair of hard shots that forced Ferguson to once again come through for her team.

The Jeffs were able to escape several situations unharmed, as they began their final push with 10 minutes remaining. Amherst had two corner kicks during that stretch, but both were cleared by a stingy Middlebury defense. The best scoring chance of the game for Amherst came with four minutes to play when Murphy received the ball inside the 18-yard line and had plenty of time to set up a hard shot with her left foot. Murphy tried to sneak her shot inside the near post, but the ball missed just high and wide, resulting in a collection of sighs from the Amherst fans.

Amherst had one final chance on a free kick from the left wing with 30 ticks left on the clock, but nobody could get a solid touch on the ball, as Middlebury held on for the 1-0 upset. The Panthers out-shot the Jeffs 14-11 on the day, while Amherst earned nine corner kicks compared to Middlebury’s four. Ferguson made eight saves in a solid effort for the Jeffs, while Torch stopped a pair of shots to earn the shutout. Parker’s goal was her fourth of the season.

The Jeffs end their season at 5-6-4 (5-2-2 NESCAC), while the Panthers improve to 9-4-2 (4-4-1 NESCAC) and will return to action Nov. 3 for a semifinal match-up with an opponent to be determined later today.