Men's Soccer Falls in NESCAC Tourney, Awaits NCAA Seeding
Issue   |   Wed, 11/04/2015 - 00:23

Following a commanding homecoming victory against Wesleyan that pushed its record to 14-0-0, men’s soccer was unable to sustain this level of dominance in its past two matchups. Amherst saw its 14-game win streak come to an end following a 1-1 draw against Trinity to close out the regular season, before the No. 1-seeded Jeffs fell to the No. 8-seeded Cardinals, 1-0, and snapped a 15-game unbeaten streak, in the first round of the NESCAC Tournament. The Jeffs now stand at 14-1-1 heading into the NCAA Tournament and are ranked seventh nationally.

In the regular season home finale on homecoming, the Jeffs certainly gave the large crowd something to cheer about, as Amherst dominated in a 5-0 victory against Wesleyan.

Less than four minutes into the contest, junior midfielder Andrew Orozco put the Jeffs ahead 1-0 on a volley from senior forward Greg Singer. Defender Justin Aoyama ’17 also assisted on Orozco’s third goal of the season, which was facilitated by a series of solid passes.

While the Jeffs outshot the Cardinals 7-3 in the first half, Amherst was only able to convert on one of these scoring opportunities, before the offensive floodgates eventually opened in the second half.

Following the halftime break, the Jeffs scored in bunches to put the Cardinals away, as the team scored four goals in slightly less than 20 minutes, beginning with a goal on a penalty kick from senior striker Nico Pascual-Leone in the 59th minute of action. Pascual-Leone’s score was his NESCAC-leading 11th goal on the season and marked the fourth consecutive game in which he had scored (scoring a whopping seven goals in this four-game stretch).

About five minutes later, forward Chris Martin ’17 put one into the top left corner of the goal (his eighth goal of 2015) off a pass from junior midfielder Forest Sisk. On the play, Pascual-Leone was also credited with an assist, bringing his point total to 26 on the season, good for second overall in the NESCAC.

After a Wesleyan foul on junior defender Cameron Bean in the box with just under 15 minutes remaining, the Jeffs would have another chance to score on a penalty kick. This time, senior midfielder Tommy Haskel stepped up to take the kick and buried it for his first goal of 2015, putting the Jeffs ahead 4-0.

Less than three minutes later, Sisk again provided an assist, as forward Aziz Khan ’18 put a one-touch shot into the top corner of the net from Sisk.

Defensively, Amherst came up big, and this game marked the seventh straight shutout for goalie Thomas Bull ’16 and the Jeffs. In the shutout against Wesleyan, Bull had six saves.

With the chance to finish a perfect 15-0-0 overall and 10-0-0 in NESCAC with a win in the regular season finale on Wednesday, Oct. 28 against Trinity, the Jeffs came up just short in their quest.

The Jeffs began the game in promising fashion as Singer put the Jeffs ahead 1-0 on a penalty kick score, in the 27th minute, for his sixth goal of the season. While Singer’s goal was the only score of the half, Trinity certainly put forth a good effort, and the Bantams outshot the Jeffs, 6-4 in the first half.

In the second half, Amherst outshot the Bantams, 9-6, but Trinity managed to draw even in the second period, snapping the Jeffs’ shutout streak at seven. In the 62nd minute, midfielder Tobias Gimand ’17 scored his fifth goal of the year off assists from defender/midfielder Mark Perreault ’16 and defender/midfielder Sam Milbury ’18, which gave the Bantams hope for a positive result in a game with key NESCAC seeding implications.

Martin nearly put the Jeffs ahead in dramatic fashion in the closing minutes of action, but was denied by the post. Similarly, the Bantams had a pair of legitimate scoring chances late in regulation that Bull saved, which helped send the game into overtime.

While the Jeffs outshot the Bantams 7-1 over the two overtime periods (including 4-0 in the second overtime), neither side was able to come away with a goal, resulting in a 1-1, double overtime draw.

Although the Jeffs had been unable to secure a perfect regular reason, the Jeffs remained unbeaten headed into NESCAC tournament play, outscoring opponents 38-3 during a 15-game regular season.

Amherst’s first chapter of postseason play in 2015 followed a different narrative than that of the 2015 regular season and previous NESCAC championships for the Jeffs (Amherst had appeared in four consecutive NESCAC Finals and had won three NESCAC championships in the previous four years).

In the opening period of the NESCAC quarterfinals against Wesleyan the No. 8 seed, on Hitchcock Field this past Saturday, both teams failed to score in the first half. However, the Jeffs held a commanding 7-2 advantage on first-half shots. One of Amherst’s first-half shots was a particularly close attempt from senior midfielder Milton Rico that Wesleyan goalie Jack Katkavich ’17 just managed to knock away.

While the Jeffs had been the beneficiaries of penalty kicks over the past two games heading into the NESCAC tournament, this time an Amherst opponent had a penalty kick against the Jeffs and it seemed like Amherst would experience a reversal of fortune, as Wesleyan had a chance to take the lead on a penalty kick early in the second half. However, Bull made an extremely clutch save to keep the game scoreless.

About 20 minutes into the second half, Amherst had a pair of key chances to score off a corner kick from junior forward Jackson Lehnhart, but Katkavich stepped up to deny the Jeffs.

Less than 10 minutes following this corner kick, midfielder Komar Martinez-Paiz ’19 gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead, as he struck the ball into the top left corner off an assist from midfielder Brandon Sousa ’16.

In the final 10 minutes, first-year midfielder Luke Nguyen and Martin both had promising scoring opportunities that came up just short, as Wesleyan managed to preserve the lead until the final whistle and prevail with a 1-0 victory. Amherst’s loss against Wesleyan proved to be its first loss of the season and its first regulation loss since falling to Williams, 1-0, in the 2013 Elite Eight.
The Cardinals had suffered a 5-0 loss at the hands of the Jeffs a week prior, but Wesleyan managed to respond in a postseason game with higher stakes. With the victory over the Jeffs, Wesleyan advances into the NESCAC semifinals as the No. 8 seed for a matchup against Middlebury this Saturday, the No. 2 seed (, while the No. 6 seed Bowdoin and No. 4 seed Connecticut College face off in the other NESCAC semifinal at Middlebury on Saturday. The following day, the winners of the two contests will then meet in the NESCAC finals with an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament up for grabs.

While the Cardinals advance, the Jeffs head home from the NESCAC Tournament far earlier than they had anticipated. However, Amherst now has more time to prepare for their first game in the NCAA Tournament. The Jeffs hope that history repeats itself this year, as the top seed in the 2014 NESCAC Tournament, the Tufts Jumbos, were upset by Connecticut College (the No. 8 seed) in the NESCAC quarterfinals before going on to win the 2014 national championship, winning six straight games into early December. The Jumbos were resilient following a NESCAC tournament stunner in 2014, and the Jeffs certainly have the track record of success and willpower to do the same in 2015.