December 5, 2008

Amherst Falls to Stevens 4-1 in NCAA Men's Soccer Semifinals

Courtesy Amherst Sports Information

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The Amherst College men’s soccer team saw its dream season come to an end in the semifinal round of the NCAA Championships, as the Lord Jeffs suffered a 4-1 loss to Stevens Institute of Technology at Macpherson Stadium’s Bryan Park in Greensboro, N.C. Amherst ends its season at 15-4-3 as the most successful team in program history.

After getting off to a 5-3 start, the Jeffs caught fire and did not lose another regular season game to head into the NESCAC Championship as the No. 2 seed. Amherst kept rolling en route to a 2-0 win over defending national champion Middlebury in the finals, marking the program’s first conference title.

The success did not stop for the Jeffs, who advanced past WNEC in the opening round of the NCAA Championships on penalty kicks before earning 1-0 victories over Saint Lawrence, Swarthmore and Trinity of Texas. The win over unbeaten Trinity put Amherst in the semifinals for the first time since 1997.

Field conditions were nearly perfect Friday afternoon at Macpherson Stadium’s Bryan Park, with the sun shining brightly on a chilly afternoon. Shortly after Messiah College handed Loras College a 3-0 defeat in the first semifinal game, the Lord Jeffs and Ducks took the field to determine which team would fight for a national title on Saturday.

Stevens opened the game with possession as the home team and made a quick push forward, earning a free kick from the right wing in the opening minute of play, but Amherst defended the set piece well.

After coming out of the gate aggressively, the Ducks managed to get on the scoreboard in just the fourth minute. When a ball was played deep into the Amherst zone, goalkeeper Lennard Kovacs ventured out of his box but could not clear the ball, as Stevens junior Todd Sheridan gained possession, took a dribble to his right and put a lofting shot on an open net from 30 yards out, giving his team an early 1-0 lead with 41:08 showing on the clock.

After posting seven consecutive shutouts in the postseason with an impenetrable defense, Amherst suddenly found itself in unfamiliar territory against a team that had outscored opponents 10-1 in its past seven games.

Things got worse for the Jeffs in the 17th minute when Stevens junior Chris Faustino used an incredible burst of speed to carry the ball up the left wing untouched. After taking two touches toward the net, Faustino slid a pass into the box and classmate Terrence Johnson finished the job by poking a shot past Kovacs. Johnson’s team-leading 15th goal of the season gave the Ducks a 2-0 lead with 28:25 remaining in the first half.

While the first goal marked the only time this postseason the Jeffs had let anyone beat Kovacs, the second goal marked just the third time all year any team had scored more than once against Amherst.

After a lull in action, the game’s first corner kick came with 4:20 left in the opening half when sophomore Thebe Tsatsimpe (Johannesburg, S. Africa) played the ball off a Stevens defender. A frustrated Amherst offense was determined to break through, but the Jeffs still could not create a prime scoring opportunity.

The first half ended with Stevens’ 2-0 lead still in tact, but the opening 45 minutes featured little else on the stat sheet. While Amherst earned the lone corner, the Ducks held a 3-1 edge in shots and a 2-0 advantage in shots on goal, as the Jeffs’ lone attempt came off the foot of Nick Lynch but sailed wide. Amherst was whistled for six fouls and received a pair of yellow cards, while Stevens picked up two fouls and was carded once.

After Amherst controlled the opening five minutes of the second half, Stevens countered and played the ball ahead to Johnson deep in the Lord Jeff defensive end. Johnson was left one-on-one with Kovacs, who was put into a tough situation and couldn’t do much against the quick counterattack. After Johnson beat the Amherst keeper, he calmly chipped the ball to the back of the net for his second goal of the afternoon to give his team a 3-0 lead with 37:18 remaining in regulation.

Amherst continued to work hard in search of its first goal, but Stevens held a 7-3 advantage in shots with 20 minutes to play and did not let up. The Jeffs’ persistence finally paid off with 13:10 on the clock, when Lynch and Jake Duker did what they have been doing so well and so consistently for the past four years and connected for their team’s first goal. Lynch sent in a cross from the right side and Duker put in a well-placed one-timer from eight yards out. Lynch picked up his 10th assist of the season, while Duker tallied his 16th goal.

Just as the Jeffs seemed to be gaining some momentum with plenty of time to make a miraculous comeback, Stevens struck again less than one minute later when junior Al Lockhart beat Kovacs one-on-one to make it a 4-1 game with 12:19 to play.

With the game winding down, head coach Justin Serpone substituted senior goalkeeper Jeff Grover (Framingham, Mass.) into the game, as well as fellow seniors Joe Addison (Midlothian, Va.) and Mike Connolly (Amherst, Mass.).

Amherst fought to the end and put a solid shot on net to nearly score a second goal with 1:30 remaining on the season, but the Stevens keeper made a good save and the Ducks wrapped up their 4-1 victory to improve to 19-2-4. The Jeffs did not allow a corner kick and out-shot Stevens 6-5 in the second half, with Zach Carr making three saves and Kovacs stopping one shot on the day.

“I couldn’t be prouder of this team and of this group of seniors,” said Serpone after the game. “The end result should not diminish the accomplishments of these guys, and I hope they’re as proud as I am. They are the best team in program history. They won the NESCAC title for the first time and made it to the national semifinals, and no other team in Amherst history can say that.”

The Class of 2009 posted a record of 51-14-9 (.750) in its four years and won at least 12 games in each of the last three years. Highlighting the group were Lynch and Duker on offense, with Lynch finishing his career with 10 goals and 31 assists for 51 points, while Duker scored 44 goals and added 22 assists for 110 points. Unofficially, Duker became Amherst’s all-time leader in goals and points, while Friday’s goal unofficially set a new Amherst single-season record (16).

Amherst has improved in each of the past three years. After not qualifying for the NCAA Championships in 2005, the Jeffs advanced to the second round in 2006, the Round of 16 in 2007 and the national semifinals in 2008. Despite losing an exceptionally talented senior class, Amherst will look to improve yet again in 2009 in an effort to make yet another run at a national title.

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