Nightfall, accompanied by biting cold and wind, descended on Dr. Ron Butcher Field Saturday and so did the magical run made by the Keene State College men’s soccer team.
The Little East Conference champion Owls, making their first NCAA Division III tournament appearance since 2010, fell to Ithaca College 2-1, after a late-match rally fell short.
Keene State (15-6) was coming off last weekend’s LEC title run, also its first since 2010. Ithaca, coming in at 12-5-2, hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2002.
All three goals were scored in the first half. The teams traded tallies before Ithaca’s Theo Scott netted his team-leading eighth goal of the season with 51 seconds to play in the half.
The Bombers took a 1-0 lead at the 16-minute mark when Thomas Pierce got a foot on the ball as it bounced around the box after an Ithaca throw-in. A diving KSC goalie Nate Howard was unable to get a piece of the ball as it crossed the line. But the Owls didn’t fold, instead mounting a counterattack that yielded the tying goal four minutes later.
Leading scorer Emmanuel Smith got a toe on the ball and pushed it past an Ithaca defender to teammate LJ Luster, who took a left-foot shot that eluded sprawling Ithaca goalie Max Lichtenstein and into the cage. From there, the rest of the half turned physical, as 10 fouls were called on the Owls and six on the Bombers.
The match turned with 53 seconds left, when an Ithaca throw-in rattled around the box with multiple players getting a foot on it. It was Scott who got in the last kick, firing a shot past Howard.
Neither team was able to mount a consistent second-half attack, but the Owls pressured late and were awarded three corner kicks in a short span around the 85th minute. However, the Bombers survived all three and held on to advance.
In Saturday’s other first-round match at Keene State, Amherst College (16-1-2) overwhelmed St. Thomas, 6-1. That set up Sunday’s second-round game back at Dr. Ron Butcher Field, and the Mammoths prevailed against Ithaca, 2-0. Amherst scored twice in the first 35 minutes, as German Giammattei potted a penalty kick and Dane Lind ripped one just under the bar about 15 minutes later.
Amherst moves on to the Sweet Sixteen and will play on its home turf of Hitchcock Field next Saturday against Rowan at 11 a.m.
“Our goal heading into this weekend was to get back to Amherst next Saturday and that’s what we were able to do,” Amherst Coach Justin Serpone said. “There is something special about Hitchcock Field in November.”