Approximately 22 hours after losing to Williams College in the regular season finale on Saturday, the Lord Jeffs played the Ephs again in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs Sunday, this time on the more friendly Hitchcock Field. Amherst won the game, setting up a NESCAC semifinal round matchup against defending national champion Middlebury College on Saturday at Middlebury.
Saturday’s game at Williams began poorly for Amherst, which fell behind 3-0 after the first period. The Jeffs, however, fought back to tie the game at six heading into the fourth quarter. But the host Ephs regained their composure in the final frame, registering a pair of goals to secure the 8-6 win.
Midfielder Joaquin Walker ’05, on the strength of two goals and an assist, was the only Jeff to register more than one point. Goaltender Cushing Donelan ’05 made nine saves in defeat.
As much as the season-closing loss to Williams might have stung, Amherst seized the opportunity to avenge the defeat the next day by cruising to a 12-9 win before an enthusiastic, sun-drenched and body-painted Jeff crowd. Amherst jumped out to an early advantage, taking a 7-3 lead to the half. The Ephs battled back in the third, cutting the Jeff lead to two, but in the fourth quarter Amherst reopened a four goal lead before ultimately winning 12-9.
Attackman Alex Casertano ’05 thought it was Amherst’s intensity on Sunday that made the difference. “Any Amherst-Williams game is as much a emotional contest as it is a trial of skill,” he said. “Losing to Williams on Saturday and then having the rare opportunity to avenge that loss immediately was an amazing opportunity. I believe our team felt that we were a better team, and we simply had to rise to the occasion emotionally.”
Fittingly, it was tri-captains Chris Condlin ’03 and Matt Margolis ’03 who led the team in scoring Sunday, each registering four points in the final home game of their careers. It was also the final home game for tri-captain Stephan Hein ’03 and Chris Kane ’03, who never put up the offensive numbers of Condlin or Margolis, but whose contributions will be missed.
“Margolis brings intense fury to every game in a controlled and poised manner,” said Donelan. “Condlin’s a hard worker and a strong leader. Hein’s defense is tenacious, and he handles the ball really well, and whenever we need the ball, Kane will get it, no matter what.”
But the graduating seniors are not quite ready to hang them up yet. They still have two games to win this weekend, the semifinal versus Middlebury on Saturday and a potential NESCAC final matchup against either Tufts or Wesleyan Universities on Sunday.
Beating Middlebury, however, might prove a tall order. Middlebury boasts a perfect 9-0 conference record and has scored almost twice as many goals (115) as it has allowed (63). Middlebury also presents an extremely balanced attack, with 11 players with double-digit points totals (Amherst has eight). Headlining the Panther attack is Mike Saraceni with 23 goals and 22 assists. Amherst lost to Middlebury 8-6 earlier this season at home, but remains undeterred by the regular season defeat.
“We have played them close once this year,” said Casertano. “I think we gave them some problems that they were not quite ready for. If we show up to play and our defense is playing as well as I know it can, and our offense capitalizes on its opportunities, then I think we will come out on top on Saturday.”
Donovan was less diplomatic. “Our guys will be ready for this game and out for blood,” he said. “I’m predicting pain for the Panthers.” Donelan also went on to predict pain for the winners of the other semifinal. “Our heart will be on the outside this weekend, and we’ll come home with the NESCAC crown,” he said.
All talking aside, Amherst will have to win on Saturday or go home. And this time around, if the Jeffs lose, they won’t get a shot at redemption the following day. A loss at this time of the year means the offseason starts early.