Men’s Soccer Kicks Off 2015 Season With Two Decisive Wins
Issue   |   Wed, 10/07/2015 - 00:26

Following men soccer’s thrilling last-minute victory over Williams in double overtime on Saturday, Sept. 26, the safe assumption was that Amherst’s next few games would likely be unable to live up the excitement and intensity of the Jeffs’ dramatic victory over the Ephs. However, the second-ranked Jeffs ended up playing two double-overtime games of similar intensity in their next two matchups against a pair of formidable opponents — Worchester Polytechnic Institute and Tufts, the defending NCAA national champions. After securing a pair of victories in dramatic fashion this past week, the Jeffs stand at a perfect 8-0-0 (4-0-0) with seven games remaining during the regular season, six of which are NESCAC matchups and five of which are road games.

Against WPI, Amherst’s offense came out of the gates firing, and the team put across three shots over the opening 10 minutes. Senior midfielder Milton Rico then put the Jeffs ahead at the 13:47 mark when he vollied the ball into the net, after the ball was deflected inside the box, for his first goal of the season.

However, the Jeffs would not hold this lead for long, as the next shot of the game (less than three minutes later) proved to be a game-tying goal for the Engineers. WPI senior midfielder Chris Murray hurled a long throw in from the sideline that set up junior defender Nate Peterson to score on a header.

Both teams were unable to score another goal in the remainder of the first half. Each side had two shots on goal in the first half, while the Jeffs (eight shot attempts) had double the amount of scoring chances as the Engineers (four).

Early in the second half, senior forwards Greg Singer and Pascual-Leone both were denied goals by the WPI goalie. With less than 10 minutes left in regulation, the Jeffs defense came up big by blocking a WPI shot. With one minute left, senior goaltender Thomas Bull made a key stop to preserve the score at 1-1 and send it into overtime.

Neither side was able to convert in the first overtime period, setting up another dramatic finish for the Jeffs in their second consecutive double-overtime game. With just over three minutes left in double overtime, junior forward Chris Martin sent a low cross (from the right side of the box) towards Singer, who finished for his third goal in two games and his second straight game-winning goal in double overtime (with each of the two game-winning goals giving the Jeffs a 2-1 win). Martin’s third assist of the season put him in a tie for second place in the NESCAC with 15 points (six goals and three assists).

Amherst’s highly-anticipated matchup against the Tufts Jumbos played out much like many would have expected during regulation, and the nationally-ranked opponents played a tightly-contested game with strong defense on both sides.

In the opening period, the Jeffs put up four shots before the Jumbos attempted their first shot of the contest more than halfway through the first half.

In the second half, both teams had several opportunities to score, as the Jeffs attempted 10 shots in the second half, while the Jumbos had six shots, but neither side was able to put the ball into the back of the net.

With just under 20 minutes left in the second half, Pascual-Leone fired a promising shot that was just a bit wide to the right and slightly high. In the 80th minute, Martin narrowly missed his seventh goal of the season after making a nice move past a Tufts defender and shooting it just wide of the far post. Perhaps Amherst’s best chance to score in regulation came in the final minute when a Tufts defender made a diving save to keep Pascual-Leone (who was in front of Tufts goalie Scott Greenwood ’17) from scoring off a header from close range.

With less than five minutes remaining in double overtime, midfielder Andrew Orozco ’17 won a contested header and directed the ball towards junior midfielder Bryce Ciambella, who then skillfully lobbed the ball over his head towards Pascual-Leone, who had some space in the center of the pitch from about 23 yards out. With his left foot, Pascual-Leone lofted a shot over the keeper’s head into the top left corner of the net to send the Amherst crowd home happy.

The defense came up strong against the talented Jumbos. Bull (with four saves) and the defensive unit contributed towards Amherst’s sixth shutout of 2015, after surrendering goals in the previous two contests against Williams and WPI.

Amherst’s 1-0 victory over Tufts proved to be the Jeffs’ third straight double-overtime win; prior to this stretch, Amherst had not played into overtime in any of the first five games of 2015. In the last three games the Jeffs have played, senior leadership on the offensive end has been critical, with three seniors (Singer, Rico, Pascual-Leone) accounting for all five of Amherst’s goals in these contests.

Although the Jeffs won in exciting fashion in each of the past three games, dating back to Amherst’s matchup against Williams, Coach Justine Serpone is keeping his team grounded and knows that there is still room for improvement. “I didn’t think we played particularly well in any of our games last week,” Serpone said. “I would like to see us score more goals and I certainly don’t want to see us give up goals in back-to-back games. Improving on both sides of the ball is imperative to continued success. I think it’s important for us to remember that we are three plays away from 5-3 rather than 8-0. The margins between winning and losing are so small, especially in the NESCAC, that we need to continually bring our best.”

Even still, the Jeffs are off to a historic start. Amherst’s eight consecutive victories is the best start to the season that the perennially successful program has had since 2012. In fact, in both 2011 and 2012, the Jeffs won the first eight games of the season before drawing in the ninth contest of the year.

The 2015 Jeffs will have an opportunity to top this impressive mark with another victory in their next game. On Wednesday, the Jeffs travel to Newburgh, New York for an 8 p.m. matchup with Mount Saint Mary (4-7-1 overall) in what will be Amherst’s final non-conference matchup of the regular season.

Even with the October break, the Jeffs certainly have a busy ahead; but, the team is not looking past its next game. “We aren’t looking past Mt. St. Mary’s, as they’ve been to the NCAA tournament the last few years,” Serpone said. “Last year they tied us [and] we know they’re a powerful program.”

On Saturday at 1:30 p.m., the Jeffs will face the Hamilton Continentals (5-5-0 overall and 2-4-0 in the NESCAC) on the road. Last season, the Jeffs topped the Continentals, 1-0, off a goal by Pascual-Leone less than 20 minutes into play.

In Amherst’s only home game played during the week of the 2015 regular season, the Jeffs will welcome Connecticut College (6-2-1 overall and 3-2-1 in the NESCAC) to Hitchcock Field for a 3:30 p.m. start on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

The Jeffs managed to beat the Camels twice last season, but neither game proved to be easy for Amherst. During the regular season meeting, Rico scored an early goal in the fourth minute of play, while the Jeffs managed to prevent the Camels from scoring over the rest of the contest and secured a 1-0 victory. After the Camels shocked Tufts in the NESCAC quarterfinals, Conn. College opened its NESCAC semifinals matchup against the Jeffs with a goal that came seconds into the match.

However, goals from Orozco, junior defender Cameron Bean and graduated senior defender Gabriel Wirz ’15 over the next 25 minutes (which were all assisted by Pascual-Leone) gave the Jeffs a 3-1 lead. The Camels would add a late goal to cut Amherst’s margin in half, but the Jeffs held on for a 3-2 victory.

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