Men's soccer: Cardinal kicks end Amherst's playoff dreams

Amherst, once ranked sixth in the nation, was stunned by the playoff tie at home. Amherst shooters comforted Christian Alexander ’06, who had the misfortune of being the ninth Amherst shooter, the only Jeff whose miss was followed by a Wesleyan goal. Andrew Syfu ’05, the loyal defender, went to console his goalie, Lockwood, who was still lying prostrate on the goal line. The teams shook hands, the Jeffs, despondent, listened to their coaches as best they could and finally walked off the field for the final time this year.

Penalty kicks, perhaps the cruelest spectacle in all of sports, make heroes and goats. Ninety minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime failed to produce a winner, nor could a round of five penalty shots followed by three single-shot rounds of sudden death. The ninth shot crowned Wesleyan winner, but it didn’t prove that the Cardinals are a better team; however, 110 minutes of soccer didn’t prove that the Jeffs were a better team, either.

A steady rain was falling as the game began, and while the rain quickly subsided, the field was still wet and footing proved problematic all day. From the outset, Amherst controlled the game territorially, and soon went out in front with an impressive goal. In the 17th minute, quad-captain forward Jeff Cantwell ’04 lofted a perfect cross-field pass from the midfield onto the head of quad-captain midfielder Tim Canon ’04, who leapt and redirected the ball past Wesleyan goalkeeper Dan Penrod. Amherst had an early 1-0 advantage and the Jeffs’ prospects looked good.

Wesleyan, despite losing the possession battle, generated a number of quality scoring chances. Amherst realized then that it needed that second goal, the insurance tally, to secure the win. Lockwood stood tall, however, making saves whenever he had to. He was assisted by a strong defense which helped preserve the Jeffs’ thin lead. The Jeffs had a number of opportunities, particularly in the second half, to take a two-goal lead, but could not convert. At one point, forward Joe Gannon ’06, with six regular season goals, received the ball in the box and faked the goalie out of position. With the goalie out of the picture, and just a defender guarding the near post, Gannon tried to chip a sharp-angle shot over the defender, but his attempt hit the outside of the net.

Forward Mike Wohl ’07, who tallied six goals in the regular season, had his share of chances but could not find the back of the net. His best opportunity of the day came after he beat the last defender and found himself one-on-one with the goalie. Wohl moved the ball to the right and tried to skip past the outstretched arm of the lunging Penrod for the easy tap in. But Penrod appeared to catch the leg of Wohl, sending him toppling to the pitch, and the ball trickled just wide of the post. Despite pleas from the bench and the stands, the referee did not call the foul.

Amherst could not catch a break, but with a little over 10 minutes to play, Wesleyan did. Jared Ashe pounded home a pass from Evan Berding, and just like that, it was 1-1. Both teams had their chances in the final minutes of regulation and in overtime, but neither could convert. Hobbled quad-captain forward Frank Perry ’04, who moments before had been on the turf with an injury, had a great chance in double overtime, but his header was cleared off the goal line by a Wesleyan defender.

So the game went to penalty kicks. Lockwood was stellar, making two clutch saves (on shots two and five) to keep his team in the game. After an Amherst miss on the seventh shot, Lockwood guessed wrong and dove to his right on a Wesleyan shot to his left. Fortunately, the shot sailed wide, and Lockwood and the Jeffs survived.

Ultimately, Amherst asked too much of its keeper, and on the ninth shot Govati ended it. Wesleyan advances to the next round to meet Williams College on Saturday. For those keeping score, the game is recorded as a 1-1 tie, with Wesleyan winning on penalty kicks, 6-5.

Lockwood described what was going through his mind during the penalty kicks. “I was thinking about the seniors, though, and how much each of them had done for me, and I owed it to them to make the saves and help win the game,” he said. “I thought, you guys just make your shots and I’ll save one. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t.”

In the regular season finale the day before, Amherst defeated Trinity College by a score of 4-0. Quad-captain Mike York ’04, Canon, Adrien de Bontin ’06 and A.J. Korytoski ’04 all scored for the Jeffs.

The Jeffs, who finished 10-3-2 after their first round NESCAC tournament loss, will not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The returning Jeffs will have to wait until next year to redeem themselves and to recover from this most painful loss. For the seniors, however, it is a sad goodbye to a well-played four seasons of soccer. “The guys were crushed,” said Lockwood. “To see your leaders broken down like that is one of the most difficult things I can think of.”