This past week was likely the best seven-day stretch of the Amherst season, as the Mammoths closed the regular season with a 3-1 win over Trinity before edging past Bowdoin, 1-0, in the quarterfinals of the NESCAC tournament.
On Wednesday, Oct. 24, Amherst entered the match against the Bantams with the knowledge that a win would secure hosting rights for the first round of the conference tournament. The first half was scoreless, with both teams flying into tackles but neither able to put together any substantial offensive pressure.
However, after a team talk and tactical adjustments from head coach Justin Serpone, the Mammoths flew out of the gates to open the second half. Within the first 11 minutes of the period, both Fiyako Ajayi ’19 and German Giammattei ’22 scored to give Amherst a comfortable 2-0 win. Giammattei’s tally served as his team-leading sixth goal of the season, while Ajayi continued his recent hot streak offensively with his third goal in five games after failing to score at all earlier in the season. Sean Fitzgerald ’19 secured the win for the Mammoths with a goal at the 67:00 mark, when he fired home the rebound off a hard shot from Andrew Barkidjija ’22.
Although the Bantams were able to pull a goal back with just seconds remaining in the game, the result was never in doubt after the offensive outburst early in the second half. With the win, Amherst secured home-field advantage as the fourth-seed in the NESCAC tournament against No. 5 Bowdoin.
With the quarterfinal match delayed a day because of inclement weather, the Mammoths ended up facing off against the Polar Bears on Sunday, Oct. 28. Andres Pascual-Leone ’19 scored the first and only game of the game in the 21st minute. Following a bevy of chances for the Mammoths, including a point-blank opportunity squandered by Dane Lind ’19, sophomore Bryce Johnson’s flip throw-in provided Pascual-Leone with the opportunity to put Amherst ahead.
The second half maintained the high level of intensity of the first half, as both teams desperately scrapped for the all-important second goal, with the Mammoths attempting to put the game out of reach and Bowdoin trying to grab a lifeline.
First-year keeper Bernie White came up strong in the effort, tallying five saves. Although both Lind and Fitzgerald each had opportunities to put the final nail in the visitors’ coffin, triumphant saves by the Polar Bear keeper kept the score at 1-0 and the nervous energy high.
Ultimately though, the Mammoths managed to completely shut down the Bowdoin attack for the final minutes of the game, hardly letting the ball leave the Polar Bears defensive end and rendering the final score 1-0. With the win, Amherst advanced to the tournament’s semifinals to face Colby at 11 a.m.
Amherst’s ability to host both the semifinals and finals was due to a shocking trio of upsets that saw the conferences top three seeds — Tufts, Conn. College and Middlebury — lose their quarterfinal matches, leaving Amherst the highest remaining seed in the tournament. Thanks to those results, Amherst is now a clear tournament favorite, as the three other semifinalists — Williams, Hamilton and Colby — all finished five or more points behind the Mammoths in the conference standings.