Williams beats Thomas to start NCAA tourney
WILLIAMSTOWN, MA—Goals in each half were enough to send the No. 9 Williams men’s soccer team to a 2-1 victory over Thomas College in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday. The Ephs stretched their record to 14-1-3 with the win, while the Terriers closed out the season at 15-3-2.
The Ephs set the tone for the first half right from the opening kick, when they put together an impressive string of passes that culminated in a low, left-footed shot for Patrick Ebobisse towards the near post that Thomas keeper Mikkail Crockwell dove to his left to stop.
Eight minutes later, Ebobisse came even closer to putting the Ephs on the board when he took a free kick for Williams from about 25 yards out and sent a rifle shot with a hook towards the back post seemed certain to break the tie. But Crockwell outdid his previous effort and just managed to tip the ball off the post with a valiant leap to his right to keep the scoresheet clean.
The Terriers received some additional help from the woodwork in the 21st minute, when Peter Christman hit the crossbar with an attempt off a broken play for the Ephs.
Although the Ephs managed to maintain possession for a large majority of the period, the Terriers still managed to create some quality chances against the run of play. In the 23rdminute, fullback Zeon Robinson’s long free kick found Michael Hand in the box. Hand corralled the ball and attempted an ambitious blind bicycle kick from about 12 yards out that wowed the crowd but was well off the mark. Two minutes later, Paul Rechichi sent a deft chip over the Williams back line for Dakota Duplisse, who did well to gain possession before firing a shot over both a charging Than Finan and the crossbar for a goal kick
Ultimately, the Ephs found the breakthrough they were looking for in the 28th minute off a devastatingly simple play. Once again, Ebobisse was the catalyst: he got free on the left wing and sent an inswinging cross with his left into the 18. The Williams front line crashed the net and froze Crockwell, leaving Mohammed Rashid free to send a running header into the side netting for a 1-0 Williams advantage.
Undaunted, the Terriers continued to look for opportunities and managed to find an equalizer just under nine minutes into the second half. The play innocently enough with Josh Phelps carrying the bal up the middle of the field. Rather than dish wide though, Phelps rode a wave a brilliant footwork toward the touchline, where he shook off two Eph defenders before finally passing to Hand, who took one touch before coolly sliding a shot past Finan and into the lower left corner of the goal.
As they have so frequently this season, the Ephs responded well after the setback and ramped their intensity up a level. Two minutes after the goal, Ebobisse got free inside the box and took a low shot, only to find himself denied yet again by a diving Crockwell.
Ebobisse finally got the better of Crockwell just before the clock hit the hour mark. His pass sprang Rashid down the right wing, where he made a move before sending a cross for Ebobisse, who fired an uncontested shot on goal from close range. Once again, Crockwell got a piece of it, but this time the ball ricocheted into the roof of the net, giving the Ephs a 2-1 lead and cementing Ebobisse’s status as the man of the match.
“[Ebobisse] was working very hard, providing a lot of leadership and creating havoc,” said Williams coach Mike Russo after the game. “He’s what we call a schemer, a playmaker, but he can finish too. I thought he had a very good game.”
Crockwell quickly rebounded, though, and made a set of brilliant saves on Rashid, Ebobisse and Chris Seitz within the next ten minutes to keep the game close.
“That was one of the best goalkeepers we’ve seen all year,” said Russo of Crockwell. “He had very quick reflexes and tremendous courage.”
The last quarter hour of the game was by and large an offensive barrage for the Ephs, leaving the Terriers with little chance to even up the score once more. Their best chance to tie came in the 87th minute, when Khamisi Lightbourne fired a shot from long range that seemed to catch Finan off-guard but sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
“I wasn’t very happy with the way we played,” said Russo. “But they’re a good team, and we’re happy to get the win.”
The Ephs will now face either St. Lawrence or Eastern Connecticut in tomorrow’s second round matchup. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
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