On Saturday, the No. 5 Tufts men’s soccer team soundly defeated the Hamilton Continentals in a decisive 3–0 shutout to clinch their first win in the NESCAC championship tournament. With the win, Tufts now moves on to face Williams on Saturday for the NESCAC semifinal in Amherst, Mass.
Despite their ultimate three-score margin of victory on Saturday, the Jumbos started out their game over the Continentals with a good but relatively slow progression in the first half of regulation. An opportunity to score was created in the first 10 minutes of the game with the assistance of the Jumbo attacking core, as senior midfielder/forward and co-captain Gavin Tasker launched a shot off of a pass from senior midfielder Brett Rojas that was deflected off the crossbar.
Although the Jumbos maintained good possession of the ball, they were contained to only three shots in the first 30 minutes of the match. Tufts coach Josh Shapiro spoke about the team’s slower performance in the first half, making sure to give Hamilton the credit they deserved.
“I think [we] knew Hamilton would be really competitive,” Shapiro said. “We knew we were going to have to be ready to battle, we knew it was going to be maybe gritty and not as pretty out of the gate, but that was what a playoff game was going to look like. I thought the game early on was tighter and not as open as you might like, but that was predictable. As we kind of implemented our game and continued to work hard and maybe wear them down a touch, I thought we were able [to create] more advantages — we wanted to open the game up and create more danger going forward.”
Indeed, danger came for the Hamilton defensive core in the 34th minute of regulation. Junior forward Max Jacobs managed to find a pass towards junior midfielder/forward Alex Ratzan, who launched a goal to the lower right corner of the net for his fifth goal of the season, putting the Jumbos up by a score of 1–0.
Rojas spoke about the first half for the Jumbos, echoing the words of his coach in highlighting how determined Hamilton was to advance in the NESCAC tournament past Tufts.
“I think Hamilton is a good team. We played against them away after losing to Amherst and tied 1–1. They’re always tough to break down, but we knew at home, getting it done on our turf would be a little easier now,” Rojas said. “I think in the first half, we played pretty well. First 20 minutes, we kept the ball well but didn’t really create any good chances. So our second line came in, [and] Ratzan was able to get a really good goal.”
Following Ratzan’s goal and into the second half of the match, the Jumbos began to wear the Continentals defense down. Despite being only allowed three shots up until the goal, the Jumbos bombarded the Continentals with a whopping 14 shots throughout the rest of the game. Hamilton, meanwhile, was only allowed three shots throughout the entirety of the match.
By the final minutes of the match, it was evident that Tufts had run Hamilton down. In the 89th minute of play, senior midfielder/defender Zach Trevorrow sent a ball to Rojas that found its way to the back of the net, setting the score at 2–0. Just over a minute later, with only four seconds remaining in regulation, Trevorrow found Rojas yet again for a second insurance goal, capping off the decisive Jumbo victory at 3–0.
Rojas spoke about the two goals in the final minutes of the game, commending the assists from Trevorrow.
“The game was just so open at that point because they were obviously chasing the game, and then Trevorrow just gave me two great balls,” Rojas said. “I didn’t really have too much to do, so all credit to him.”
Shapiro also spoke about the final two goals of the game, praising both his players while also highlighting how the team had broken the Continentals down.
“I think the last 20 minutes, we were looking really dangerous, and no one really put their foot through. They were scrambling, we were working hard to get forward, but he had a really clear mind and made simple, smart decisions and put Brett in great places,” Shapiro said. “Brett did what he’s capable to do; he’s technically powerful and he decided he wasn’t going to mess around and just blew some balls through the back of the net.”
In the end, a stellar Jumbo defensive performance was key in lifting the Jumbos past the Continentals. Rojas praised the team’s defensive performance, highlighting how the secondary will play an enormous role in the rest of the Jumbos’ hopeful playoff run.
“I don’t even think [sophomore goalkeeper Erich] Kindermann had to make a save, so all around it was a really good team defensive performance, which is something we’ve been struggling with a little more than we have in years past,” Rojas said. “So, we’re moving in a positive direction at a time where defense becomes most important.”
The win marks their first NESCAC championship tournament victory since 2017 when Tufts took home the conference crown in a 1–0 victory over Middlebury. Despite going undefeated last year, the Jumbos were unable to advance past the NESCAC quarterfinal following an unsuccessful penalty kick-determined draw with Colby on Oct. 28, 2018.
Rojas spoke about the prospects of the win following last year’s NESCAC disappointment, indicating the team’s excitement in getting the chance to beat No. 1 Amherst in a potential NESCAC championship appearance.
“Obviously, we won the NESCAC in 2017,” Rojas said. “I think traditionally, we’ve been a little more focused on NCAAs, but I think I’m super excited to have advanced, and I think we’re most excited at the opportunity to go to Amherst and potentially play them in a final if we do get past Williams. [Amherst] beat us earlier in the year and they’re the only undefeated team left, so we’re definitely excited, and hopefully we get a crack.”
Tufts will move on to face Williams Saturday at 1:30 p.m. for the NESCAC semifinal in Amherst, Mass. With a win, the Jumbos will then move on to compete for the NESCAC title on Sunday.