Congratu-EPHING-Lations: Women’s Soccer NESCAC Finals Recap

Sunday afternoon’s Williams versus Tufts game was one for the ages. The favored Williams College Ephs came into the game against Tufts with pure confidence after a 3-0 trouncing of the Jumbos in October. The game, however, did not start out in the Ephs’ favor. The key to the game for Williams was to establish an early lead, and rely on their stellar defense that carried them all year.

Nature, on the other hand, had a different idea. High winds blew both teams off their game, but it seems like the conditions affected Williams more. Coaches will always tell their players when they’re making excuses about the weather that both teams are playing in the same conditions. The team that best adapts to the unfortunate conditions is normally the one that capitalizes. Tufts was that team. At the very beginning of the second half, it was the Jumbos who tallied the first goal. Alessandra Sadler’s ‘18 goal put Tufts in the driver’s seat early in the second half. The minutes that followed stunned me: the Ephs looked like a deer caught in the headlights. They’re so used to playing with a lead that the 1-0 deficit made them reminisce about the collapse against Trinity last year in the playoffs.

Nevertheless, in any time of distress, you will turn to people whom you depend on. Natasha Albaneze ‘18 took control of the game, and kept the ball from the Eph’s defensive side of the field. This action allowed the Ephs to put the peddle to the metal, and register many shots on goal on the Jumbo keeper Emily Bowers ‘19. One of the fundamental principles of soccer is that shots on goal is one of the most important aspects of the game. In football, a team that goes 0-2 in the redzone is deemed a team that can’t execute in the clutch. In soccer, the shots on goal wear down a keeper and a defense–even if they don’t initially go in. It didn’t seem early on that the shots were wearing down Bowers at all. Finally, Natalie Turner-Wyatt ‘19 evened the game near the end of the second half off a Bowers’ rebound. Again, this goal was a product of shots on net. Bowers’ rebound control was stellar all game, but there’re some shots that a keeper has to make a desperation save on. Turner-Wyatt controlled the rebound, and potted a goal to tie the game up.

Natasha Albaneze ’18 controlled the game from midfield and allowed the Ephs to finally break through.

With only nine minutes left in regulation time, the Jumbos were on their heels. Out of the nine minutes left, at least seventy-five percent of them were in the Jumbos’ defensive side of the field. Of that seventy-five percent, there was a good minute that the ball danced around the goal line, only to be cleared by the defenders. Then, this one sequence of events was one of the greatest sports moments I’ve seen in my life. This moment goes up with Jordan’s crossover game winner against Utah, Julian Edelman’s catch against Atlanta in the Super Bowl, and Jeter’s flip to nail Giambi at the plate in the 2001 ALDS in Oakland.

Tufts keeper Emily Bowers ’19 played an unbelievable game, keeping the vaunted Ephs offense at bay as long as she could.

The ball was being played in the box by the Ephs, and the Jumbo defenders seemed like they couldn’t clear it. Bowers made a save on an Eph shot, but gave up a juicy rebound. Bowers and the majority of the Jumbo defenders were cut off the left of my computer screen, while the ball trickled to a Albaneze with a wide open cage. She planted her left foot, swung her hips, and the inside of her right foot crushed the soccer ball and the Ephs into what seemed like a NESCAC championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Like Sinon climbing out of the Trojan horse, Bowers  magically reappeared on my computer screen to make the save of the year with her outstretched left arm. Regulation came to a close, and overtime started with Williams still holding the momentum. Alison Lu ‘20 received a pass from Albaneze only four minutes into the overtime period and calmly chipped in a goal past Bowers to crown the Ephs NESCAC champions. An anticlimactic ending to a fantastic game.

I would personally like to thank all the women playing soccer in the NESCAC this year. Without them, there would be no game. They’ve proved that any team can win on any given day. Congratulations to the Ephs (ugh from a Wesleyan perspective). They truly deserve the title as league champions. Good luck Williams in the DIII tournament, and to any other NESCAC team that gets a bid! Again, thank you for such an incredible season, and I can’t wait for the 2018 campaign.

Revenge, Thy Name is NESCAC: Middlebury vs. Williams Final Preview

#2 Middlebury (23-3, 8-2) vs. #6 Williams (19-7, 5-5): 12:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts

Overview:

And then there were two. Middlebury and Williams meet today at noon to decide the NESCAC Championship. The game is a rematch of one of the most surprising results of the regular season. In the game in Williamstown, the Ephs blasted the Panthers 89-65 in Middlebury’s only truly disappointing performance of the season. As is usually the case when the Ephs win, they were very hot from three, shooting 13-27. And they held Middlebury, the leading field goal shooting team in the league, to 40% shooting from the field and 28% shooting from three. You can bet the Panthers will be looking to avenge their embarrassing performance, but Williams might just hold the keys to slowing down Middlebury’s ride to a second straight title.

Middlebury X-Factor: Close-outs

Much of Williams’ offensive strategy is based off of attacking perimeter closeouts. If a player doesn’t get out quickly enough on a three point shooter, you can bet that shot is going up, and they have more than enough outside threats to make that offense pay off. But if the closeout comes too fast, they can drive past and kick to an open three point shooter when the defense collapses. This also opens up the backdoor cuts that they love so much. As the player with the ball drives past his man, the help man is distracted, allowing his defender to cut backdoor for a layup. Middlebury’s close-outs were very shoddy in the loss in Williamstown: today they will have to come out quickly but also solidly, keeping good guarding position. If they can do that Williams will struggle to score, as they lack great one-on-one scorers outside of Daniel Aronowitz ‘17.

Williams X-Factor: James Heskett ‘19

James Heskett
James Heskett ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

As I mentioned above, Williams lacks players who can break down perimeter defenders one on one if the defender has a solid close-out. Against Middlebury in the regular season, Heskett begged to differ. He put up 19 points on 5-10 shooting, and went 3-4 from three. At 6’8”, Heskett is too long to be guarded by any of Middlebury’s three guards, but is quick enough and a good enough shooter and ball handler to be a matchup issue for Eric McCord ‘19, Adisa Majors ‘18 or Nick Tarantino ‘18. The best match-up for him on Middlebury is probably Matt Folger ‘20, Folger looked very comfortable in the semifinal against Trinity, scoring 8 points in a row during the second half en route to 11 points. However, the NESCAC final is still a big stage for a freshman. Heskett’s combination of size and skill might force Coach Brown to play Folger a little more than he’d like. And if he doesn’t, Heskett could be a huge factor this afternoon.

Final Thoughts:

Middlebury has to be encouraged by what they saw from Jake Brown ‘17 against Trinity. After missing the first round game against Bates with a high ankle sprain, Brown played 31 minutes against Trinity. His stats weren’t tremendous (the sloppy nature of the game kept everyone’s stats pretty low) but he looked to be moving well, and his presence allowed Middlebury to push the pace in the second half and avoid falling into too much of a barfight with the Bantams.

Jake Brown scored 23 points and dished out six assists in the win.
Jake Brown ’17 is one of the keys to Middlebury’s effort to take home a second straight NESCAC championship;

Brown’s health will be even more crucial in this game. Williams is a perimeter-centric team, which means that Middlebury’s two terrific perimeter defenders (Brown and Jack Daly ‘18) will be tasked with slowing down the ball movement and outside shooting of the Ephs. Additionally, Brown is a needed offensive weapon for Middlebury. The Ephs will try to load up on St. Amour, so Brown will probably get some good looks from three. He and Bryan Jones ‘17 need to be threats from their to open up the floor for St. Amour. Eric McCord also will probably have a strength advantage over whoever is guarding him. If Middlebury can space the floor well enough, they should look to go to him in the post early and often.

Based on the match-ups, I would pick Middlebury in this game 8 times out of 10. But that’s what I said before the regular season game too, and look what happened there. Williams has all the sports-movie momentum in the world right now, and the re-emergence of Kyle Scadlock ‘19 as a terrifying two-way threat gives them a dimension they didn’t have against Middlebury earlier in the year. However, I still think Middlebury pulls it out. The Panthers should recognize the Ephs; they’re doing the same thing Middlebury did in the tournament last year. Therefore they should know what to do with them.

Writer’s Pick: Middlebury

Once Is Nice, but Twice … Wesleyan Repeats: Stock Report 5/12

What an incredible weekend of NESCAC baseball. From Friday afternoon until Sunday evening, the boys left it all out on the field. Every game offered drama and intrigue right up until the end. In six of the seven games played at last weekend’s NESCAC Championship, the tying run was at-bat or on-base when the final out was made. Stellar pitching performances were the norm, but there was plenty of going yard, too. At some point I lost track of how many diving catches had been made because it seemed like there was at least one every other inning. All in all, nobody left Nashua, NH without some moment where their team was firing on all cylinders.

In the end, the Wesleyan Cardinals were again the last team left standing as they captured their second consecutive NESCAC title. Though it ended just as most expected it to, the tournament was an absolute nail-biter. The final game between Amherst and Wesleyan was one of the wildest baseball games I have watched at any level. Consider that Wesleyan entered the ninth down one run with the bottom of their lineup coming up and Amherst ace John Cook ’15 on the mound. Consider that Ethan Rode ’17, the winning pitcher, had thrown two innings since Wesleyan’s spring break trip before he took the mound in the 11th. Consider that the Cardinals had to escape bases loaded jams in back-to-back innings just to get to the 12th inning.

The Cardinals came into Sunday feeling comfortable in their one game advantage over Amherst, but just as in 2014, Wesleyan lost the first game of the day to set up a deciding final game. Entering the Bottom of the seventh, Wesleyan looked like they were in control up 2-0 with Peter Rantz ’16 allowing only two hits through six innings. Then Mike Odenwaelder ’16 hit a solo homer to lead off the inning. Whatever, Wesleyan still had the lead. They just needed to get out of the inning…

That white speck right above Marco Baratta's glove is Sam Ellinwood's home run. (Courtesy of Northeast Sports Network)
That white speck right above Marco Baratta’s glove is Sam Ellinwood’s home run to put Amherst up 3-2 in the final game against Wesleyan. (Courtesy of Northeast Sports Network)

Then suddenly ecstasy for Amherst as the above Sam Ellinwood ’18 homer put the Jeffs up by one. Yet not one person in the Wesleyan dugout thought they were going to lose that game for a moment. According to captain Donnie Cimino ’15, ” There was no doubt in any of our minds. We are such a close team and have been through many victories and losses.” Pitcher Gavin Pittore ’16 echoed that sentiment citing the leadership of the seniors on this team. The Cardinals never stopped believing that they would find a way, any way. And in the ninth, when Amherst gave an inch, the Cardinals jumped. When Cook hit Ellis Schaefer ’17 with one out, Manager Mark Woodworth put on the hit and run for Andrew Yin ’15 and Schaefer. On an outside fastball, Yin just stuck his bat out and floated one down the right field line. Schaefer raced all the way around and the game was tied. Wesleyan would go on to win in 12 innings, and for a second consecutive year they piled out of the dugout for a victory dogpile.

If there is one characteristic to describe these Cardinals from the past two years, it is grittiness. After the Cards grabbed the 2014 NESCAC Championship, we wrote, “Wesleyan won games by never backing down in big spots.” The same is true for 2015, of course. The final game on Sunday was the perfect representation of a team that consistently finds a way to win close games. That it came against Amherst, their longtime rival and formerly a team that would regularly beat down on Wesleyan makes it all the sweeter for them. This team loves to show their confidence and celebrates with a swagger. At this point, they know they are special and want more. Pittore says a repeat NESCAC championship was just the beginning. In the 150th year of Wesleyan baseball, the Cards are hoping to add some more hardware to the University trophy case. Pittore says, “We’ve made it our mission not to settle. We know we have a special team and anything short of a World Series appearance is a disappointment. Our goal is to make Wesleyan University team 150 a team to remember.”

Now for a quick Stock Report.

 Stock Up

Shortstop Guy Davidson ’16 (Wesleyan)

This is a Stock Down and then back Up in one weekend for Davidson. Because when you go 2-17 through 99 percent of the weekend in the three hole, you definitely can’t say you had a great weekend overall. However, Davidson made all of that go away with one huge swing to hit the eventual game winning home run in the top of the 12th. With Odenwaelder on the mound for the first time all season for Amherst, Davidson led off the 12th thinking one thing only: fastball. That was what he got and boy did Davidson not miss. The home run was a no doubter as soon as it left the bat. Sitting fastball for the first pitch of the inning was the right move all the way, but it is also easy in a situation like that to get too excited when you get your pitch and swing out of your shoes. Davidson stayed calm and delivered a NESCAC title with it.

Amherst

Though the majority of this article is concentrating on Wesleyan and their victory, don’t forget how close Amherst came to the win. On Sunday they were eager to avenge their regular season sweep and loss in the second round of the tournament to the Cardinals. The knock on Amherst the last two years is that they haven’t been able to win the close games, but that was not the case this weekend, the final game notwithstanding. They got great pitching performances from guys up and down the roster from Sam Schneider ’18 to Keenan Szulik ’16. Their defense, long a problem, was good all weekend. They came as close as possible as you can to winning a league title, and they didn’t even have players like Odenwaelder and Andrew Vandini ’16 hit all that well. The Jeffs are heading to New York for their regional and should be able to make some noise.

Stock Down

Amherst Base Running

Of all the chances Amherst had to win (of which there were many) that final game, the bottom of the 10th was perhaps their best. Cooney was on the mound, but he was clearly struggling with his control and had barely gotten out of the ninth inning. After Yanni Thanopoulos ’17 singled and Anthony Spina ’17 got reached on a HBP, the Jeffs had runners on first and second with one out. Then Thanopoulos made the mistake of getting picked off second and getting caught in a rundown. Thanopoulos should have been more cautious in that situation, especially with Cooney so clearly struggling with his command. If Thanopoulos could have gotten a good read on a ball in the dirt and reached third with one out, Amherst almost certainly wins that game, but you don’t help out a pitcher who can’t get the ball over the plate consistently. As it was, Cooney walked the next two hitters to load the bases with two outs before getting a fly out to escape the inning. Thanopoulos had an excellent tournament batting .400 and stealing four bases, but that mistake was costly.

Tufts

Those in Medford are fuming about missing out on making the NCAA tournament. That came after they had a tough weekend dropping two close games. The Bates game, especially, they feel like they gave away since the Bobcats scored eight runs in the first two innings before the Jumbos almost came all the way back and ended up leading them loaded in the eighth inning down one run. We warned a couple of weeks ago about the danger of Tufts or Amherst missing the tournament. Then, Tufts was left out of the Top-10 of the NCAA Regional Rankings before last weekend. They likely needed a win against Amherst and possibly one other win in the tournament to have a shot at the tournament. Their weekend performance left them well short of that goal. In the end, D3Baseball.com and others didn’t even consider the Jumbos on the bubble for the tournament despite their great overall record. They got no help from their NESCAC East counterparts as three of those four teams finished with records below .500. That hurt Tufts’ overall Strength of Schedule. Disappointing ending for a team that looked great entering the year but never was at full strength because of injuries to Kyle Slinger ’15.