|For Williams men, a 'Finan Four'|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Sports|
10:37PM / Sunday, November 18, 2012
AMHERST, Mass. — In his fourth year at Williams College and with his fourth career penalty kick shootout victory, Than Finan has the Ephs back in the Final Four.
Williamstown's Than Finan (in lime green) and the Williams men's soccer team celebrates its victory over Amherst College on Sunday in Amherst.
The Williamstown resident and Mount Greylock Regional High School graduate Sunday made four saves in the run of play and one in the shootout to lift Williams past Amherst in the national quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III tournament.
Williams advanced in a 0-0 game to face the winner of Sunday night's match between Montclair State and Ohio Northern in the national semifinals on Nov. 30 in San Antonio, Texas.
It was Finan's second shootout win this year and third in the NCAAs. As a freshman in 2009 — fresh off a state championship run with the Mounties — he came off the bench to win shootouts in the third and fourth rounds of the national tournaments.
Any difference between his approach to the tiebreaker then and now?
"I like to think I'm better," Finan said. "I'm 4-0, so I'm not getting worse.
"A lot of that goes to the shooters as well. I made one save, and they took care of the rest. But you pick up on little tricks and body language you can read, and any little thing helps.
"It's also nice when you can't really look like the bad guy in penalty kicks when you're the goalie."
Williams (16-1-4) avenged its only loss of the season, a 2-0 drubbing by Amherst in the New England Small College Athletic Conference final at Cole Field. It also ended an Amherst campaign that saw the Lord Jeffs (17-0-3) allow just three goals in 1,841 minutes of play.
In Texas later this month, Ephs coach Mike Russo will be going for his second NCAA title in his fifth Final Four - the last two with Finan in the fold.
"When he was a freshman, he was our hero to get us there," Russo said. "He made the great save (Sunday) against the first kicker. ... We knew we had a very good chance with him in goal. He has an uncanny ability to read where the kickers are going to go.
"And we've been practicing penalty kicks for a while, so we were confident in our penalty kick shooters."
Both Finan and Amherst freshman Thomas Bull (two saves) made saves in the first round of the shootout. Williams got goals from Peter Christman, Matt Murales, Andres Burbank-Camp and Patrick Ebobisse; the difference came in the third round of the shootout when the Jeffs' Julien Aoyama rocketed a shot over the goal.
Near misses were the order of the day for Amherst, which hit the crossbar five times in 120 minutes.
"The first one, in fairness, I tipped the first one into the crossbar, so I'll give myself a save on that one," Finan said as his teammates continued the celebration with friends and family beneath the scoreboard at Amherst's Hitchcock Field.
That one came in the fourth minute of the game off the right foot of Jae Heo, whose volley of a cross from the left wing nearly had Williams fans reliving the nightmare of the NESCAC final, when Amherst scored in the second minute on the way to its win.
The most frustrating moment for the Jeffs Sunday came in the closing moments of the first half, when Spencer Noon and Milton Rico each had shots from just outside the box clang off the crossbar in a span of fewer than 10 seconds.
In the second half, Finan made two saves to keep Williams' season alive.
The first was a diving stop in the 74th minute to deny Frederico Sucre. Then, with less than a minute left in regulation, Heo took a shot from about 25 yards out which Finan tipped over the crossbar for an Amherst corner kick.
"We have a nasty habit of dropping off the last few minutes of a game — winning, losing or tied," Finan said. "He hit it, and I was pretty worried for a second, but he hit it with some dip, and it dipped just enough that I could put a hand on it and get it over."
Each side had chances to win it in overtime. Williams' best opportunity came in the first OT when Ebobisse was taken down 30 yards from the goal. Mohammed Rashid took the free kick, which went through the wall and to the goal where Bull made the save. Moments later, Aoyama had a try from 25 yards out that went off the crossbar.
Russo, who won his 400th career game earlier this season, said this year's edition of the Ephs exceeded his expectations.
"In the beginning of the year, I thought we might be a little over .500, to be honest," he said. "We lost quite a bit (to graduation). And then as the year progressed, there started to be a believe.
"I think the team is real together right now. The chemistry is great. And we use the whole team. We've used our bench a lot."