NESCAC Final: No. 4 Amherst 1, No. 2 Middlebury 0

2019 NESCAC Women's Soccer Champion - Amherst

Courtesy of Amherst Athletics

MEDFORD, Mass. - First-year Sarah Sullivan scored in the 53rd minute and the Mammoths recorded their 14th shutout of the season as the Amherst College women's soccer team won the 2019 New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Championship with a 1-0 victory over Middlebury on Saturday afternoon at Kraft Field. 

With today's win, Amherst notches its fifth NESCAC title and second in the last four years (2016), earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Women's Soccer Tournament. The Mammoths enter the national tournament with a 14-3-1 record. Middlebury records its second loss on the season, both of which came from the Purple & White, and drops to 13-2-3 on the year.
Holding onto the ball after it was knocked forward from midfield, Eva Shaw rolled it to a Panther defender who took a big enough touch for first-year Isabel Stern to intercept the ball and begin the Mammoths' attack inside Middlebury's defensive end. Caitlin Magruder was able to recover and slide-tackle Stern while Shaw was charging forward. However, the ball fell to Sullivan where she laced a shot right at Shaw, who was recovering back to goal, and the ball glanced off her fingertips and into the back of the net.
Amherst was on the prowl early in the game, nearly breaking through at the seven minute mark when sophomore Ruby Hastie poked a through ball behind the Panthers' defensive line to Stern. Stern, who was one-on-one with Middlebury's goalkeeper, but the play was called back for offside, halting the scoring opportunity.
Shaw was needed again as the Mammoths marked subsequent chances in the 18th minute. Stern possessed the ball along the right side of the box, behind the Panther back line, and fired a shot on target. However, Shaw came up big for Middlebury, charging forward and closing the gap to deny Stern's initial strike. Off the rebound, there was battle for the ball inside the box before sophomore Sophia Fikke sited a shot towards goal that struck the right post and fell behind for a Panther goal kick.
The first half consisted of strong defensive play from both sides, heading into the break with a 0-0 score line and very little scoring chances awarded. Amherst led the opening period with a 4-1 advantage in shots on goal and tallied one more corner than the Panthers (2-1).
The Mammoths showed their offensive prowess in the opening five minutes of the second half, noting four shots and two corner kicks to apply pressure early on.
The game-winning breakthrough came in the 53rd minute when high pressure and a defensive breakdown allowed Sullivan to score her second career goal and give the Mammoths a 1-0 lead.
Juarez almost doubled the score line off a free kick that was placed just a few feet in front of the corner flag. Fikke sent in a cross from the right side that met the head of Juarez, but the ball deflected off a Panther defender and out of bounds.  

Seniors Bella Palma and Sasha Savitsky and sophomore Kim Zhou played a pivotal role in the win, throwing themselves in front of multiple passes to thwart all of the Panthers offensive attempts in the second half.

Sanders, who was only needed once in the first half, finished with that lone save on the afternoon and notched her ninth win on the season (9-0-0). Shaw ended the afternoon with five saves and received her first loss on the 2019 tab (6-1-0).

Amherst, which was ninth in the nation for shutout percentage (0.750), recorded its 14th shutout on the year. The Mammoths cap off their regular season and conference postseason run winning eight consecutive games, blanking seven of those opponents.

Amherst will make its 18th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, with its most recent venture producing a third-round presence in last season's campaign. It has made it to the third round twice in the last three years and hold a 30-12-5 overall record in the tournament.  

The Panthers will await the NCAA Selection Show, aiming for an at-large bid into the tournament.