Panther men’s soccer to host in NCAAs

MIDDLEBURY MIDFIELDER BEN Powers launches a header toward the Tufts goal during Saturday’s NESCAC semifinal. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — Fourth-seeded Tufts upset the top-seeded host Middlebury College men’s soccer team on Saturday, 2-1, in a semi-final game in the NESCAC tournament. The Jumbos dealt the 12-1-4 Panthers their first loss of the season and denied them the league’s playoff championship. 

But on Monday afternoon the Panthers still received an NCAA Division III tournament bid, as did the three other teams who participated in the weekend’s NESCAC final four: champion Amherst (13-2-3), which defeated Tufts (12-3-3) in Sunday’s final, 1-0; and Connecticut College (11-1-5), which fell to Amherst, 2-1, in Saturday’s other semifinal. 

In fact, the Panthers will host a four-team regional this weekend, and would head to a four-team sectional the following weekend if they advance by winning games at home this Saturday and Sunday. 

MIDDLEBURY SENIOR JORDAN Saint-Louis controls the ball against pressure from two Tufts players during Saturday’s NESCAC semifinal.
Independent photo/Steve James

On this coming Saturday, Middlebury will face Western New England (6-6-7) at 11 a.m., with Johns Hopkins (12-4-4) and Babson (11-3-7) set to square off at 1:30 p.m. Saturday’s winners will meet on Sunday at 1 p.m. for the right to advance to a four-team sectional the following weekend at a site to be announced. 

Amherst, winner of the NESCAC playoff tournament as the No. 2 seed behind Middlebury; Trinity of Texas (12-2-3); and Cortland State (15-2-2) are hosting the other regionals that will feed the sectional contests on Nov. 17-19. 

The winner of the sectional moves on to the tournament’s final four in Salem, Va. The semifinal games will be played on Dec. 1, and the final on Dec. 3.

The Panthers are perennial visitors to the NCAA tournament, but have won it all just once, in 2007.

PANTHER SENIOR GOALIE Ryan Grady dives to save a Tufts shot during Saturday’s NESCAC semifinal in Middlebury.
Independent photo/Steve James

In this past Saturday’s loss to Tufts, things went awry for the Panthers early, when senior goalie Ryan Grady failed to field a back pass from a defender, and it rolled slowly into the Middlebury goal to give Tufts the lead 3:06 after the opening kickoff. It was the first time all season the Panthers had trailed in the first half.

For a time Middlebury pressed for the equalizer. In the half’s 13th minute, defender Luke Madden came up on a corner kick and volleyed a loose ball just high from near the top of the box. 

Two minutes later, the Panthers came even closer to leveling the score. Jordan Saint-Louis curled a corner kick into the box from the right side, and Will Sawin, at the far post, headed toward the goal’s left corner. A Tufts defender blocked the bid, but did not control the ball. Panther Ben Powers pounced on the rebound, only to see his shot stopped by Jumbo goalie Nikola Antic, who finished with five saves.

Tufts quickly countered off the corner, and Grady dove to make one of his four saves. Tufts then began to press the Panthers, breaking up clearances and stepping into midfield passing lanes. Madden did well to clear one Jumbo corner kick. 

PANTHER WILL SAWIN put this shot on the Tufts goal on a Panther corner kick, but a defender made the stop during this past Saturday’s NESCAC semifinal.
Independent photo/Steve James

Later in the half, Middlebury began to reassert itself, in the final 10 minutes earning three corner kicks and forcing a foul. And the Panthers capitalized on the restart after the foul with 4:54 remaining before halftime. 

From about 28 yards out from the right side, Colin Dugan served to the right of the penalty stripe to Madden cutting in from the far side, and Madden rose up and knocked a header through traffic into the top left corner. The teams went into the break knotted at 1-1.

Early in the second half, the Panthers had a flurry of chances blocked by the Tufts defense before Jordan Saint-Louis fired from the top of the box, but a diving save from Antic thwarted the bid. 

TUFTS GOALIE NIKOLA Antic dives on the ball just before Panther midfielder Eujin Chae arrives during Saturday’s NESCAC semifinal.
Independent photo/Steve James

Tufts got the game-winner in the second half’s 11th minute. Daniel Yanez received a pass from Sean Traynor just outside the Middlebury box and drilled a strike directly into the top right corner.

Middlebury had a chance in the 66th minute, but a Saint-Louis close-range header on a Dugan serve from the right side sailed just high. Grady dove soon afterward to deny Traynor on one of several threatening Jumbo counterattacks. 

With 25 seconds remaining, the Panthers’ last chance, a long Sawin blast from the left side, went just wide of the right post, and Middlebury had to sit and wait for Monday’s announcement of the NCAA pairings. 

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