The Hamilton College Continentals fell 2-0 to Williams College in the 2018 NESCAC Men's Soccer Championship semifinals at Amherst College on Saturday afternoon.
Hamilton (9-7-1 overall) was the seventh seed in the tournament and was competing in the NESCAC semifinals for the third straight year. The Continentals advanced to the semifinals by upsetting nationally ranked Connecticut College 1-0 in the quarterfinals last weekend. The sixth-seeded Ephs also posted a 1-0 victory over third-seeded Middlebury College in the quarterfinals.
Williams (10-5-2) will face Colby College in the NESCAC title game tomorrow at Amherst. The eighth-seeded Mules upset the hosts and No. 4 seed Mammoths 3-1 in the first semifinal on Saturday. Colby is the second team in conference history to make it to the NESCAC final as the eighth seed. Wesleyan University is the only other eight seed to advance to a NESCAC final, but lost 1-0 in overtime in 2015.
Luke Eckels '20 had the first scoring opportunity for Hamilton in the seventh minute when Aidan Wood '20 lofted a corner kick to the penalty hash. Eckels volleyed the bouncing ball and blasted a high shot that clanged off the crossbar.
Nick Ranieri had the best chance for the Ephs in the first half off a free kick in the 24th minute. Ranieri was 35 yards out and rocketed the ball from the right side of the field towards the opposite upper corner, but Thomas Benson '22 (seven saves) punched the ball away.
Benson continued his stellar play in the second half. The first-year goaltender came up with two big saves in the 51st and 60th minutes to keep the game scoreless. The first came off a free kick taken by Sean Dory from 30 yards out. Dory fired a shot towards the back corner but Benson dove to his left and smothered the ball as three Ephs waited nearby for a rebound opportunity. Nine minutes later, Chris Fleischer curled a free kick around Hamilton's defensive wall from 25 yards out and Benson elevated to the upper-left corner for his sixth save.
The Ephs finally managed to get the ball past Benson with 14:31 remaining. Fleischer worked the ball out of the corner to the top right of the box, crossed the ball to the backside of the goal area and Demian Gass headed the ball inside the left post.
Eric Hirsch scored the insurance goal after he stole the ball away from a Hamilton defender 30 yards out and earned a breakaway in the 82nd minute. Benson left the net to challenge the attack and Hirsch managed to chip a shot over the sliding keeper and into the net.
Benson tops the NESCAC leaderboard with 89 saves. He also ranks second with a .908 save percentage and his 0.68 goals against average is good for fourth.
Hamilton's two best scoring chances in the second half came from Roth Wetzel '22 in the 55th minute and Jeff Plump '20 in the 57th. Wetzel dribbled left to right across the top of the box and fired a low shot towards the opposite corner but Aaron Schein made his only save of the day. Plump had his chance two minutes later when the Continentals made a quick transition from the left to the right side of the field. Plump was all alone at the top-right corner of the box but his shot went wide left by inches.
Williams had a 15-7 shot advantage while Hamilton held a 9-3 edge in corner kicks.