Men’s soccer fall in finale in OT
MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — The Middlebury College men’s soccer team on Sunday dropped a 2-1 overtime heartbreaker to Williams at Wesleyan in the NESCAC playoff final, denying the Panthers the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Despite the Panthers’ late-season surge to 10-5-2, including ending the regular season with a win over Williams and then posting tournament victories over No. 3 Amherst and No. 1 Wesleyan, Middlebury did not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA dance. Wesleyan (11-1-4), Amherst (11-3-1) and Bowdoin (11-4-1) joined Williams (14-2-1) in the tourney.
Sunday’s game marked the Panthers’ seventh appearance in a NESCAC final in the 10-year history of the tournament and fifth vs. Williams.
The game-winning goal came 6:25 into overtime. Williams forward Gaston Kelly served from the left side. Pierre Meloty-Kapella shot off the cross bar, and the ball bounced into the air in front of the goal. An attempt to clear by a defender went the wrong way off his head and into the net for the deciding goal.
The Panthers trailed 1-0 for most of the game after Eph Matt Ratajczak finished off a corner kick in the 37th minute. The ball went into a maze of players in front of the cage. Williams defender Joe Vella redirected off a Middlebury defender, and it bounced to Ratajczak in front for a tap into the goal.
Williams had chances to pad its lead over a 15-minute stretch in the middle of the second half, but Middlebury sophomore goalie Tim Cahill (four saves), made several key stops.
Williams kept the Panthers at bay until the 86th minute, when sophomore middie Robbie Redmond fired a low drive from 25 yards out into the lower left side of the net.
Williams senior goalie Andrew Graham made three saves to that point, but had no chance to stop Redmond’s fourth goal of the season. Junior defender Jake Edwards made Redmond’s goal possible by winning possession of a high ball in the offensive end and setting up Redmond outside the box in the middle of the field.
The Panthers had advanced to the final by blanking previously undefeated host Wesleyan on Saturday, 2-0. After a scoreless 78 minutes, Middlebury broke through with 11:04 remaining, when junior defender Harrison Watkins headed an Edwards corner kick inside the left post for a 1-0 lead. The goal was his team-leading fifth of the season for Watkins, who tallied four goals in three games.
Middlebury pushed its lead to 2-0 three minutes later, when sophomore forward Tyler Macnee netted an unassisted tally, his fourth to go with six assists. Macnee ran in alone and shot toward the left side of the goal. Wesleyan goalie Adam Purdy got a hand on the ball but was unable to stop it.
Wesleyan had a chance to take a 1-0 lead early in the first half, but Middlebury senior defender Nolan Lincoln blocked a bid by the Cardinals’ Jory Kahan. Purdy made seven saves in the Wesleyan net, and Cahill made one save for his sixth shutout.