WILLIAMSTOWN >> Little did Mai Mitsuyama know that her penalty kick would prove to be the difference in Saturday's first NESCAC women's soccer semifinal.
But the Williams senior buried the kick in the seventh minute for her first varsity goal, and that proved to be the difference as the top-seeded Ephs knocked off No. 6 Middlebury 2-1 on Cole Field.
The win sent the Ephs to the tournament championship game this afternoon, and earned a bit of vengeance for a Williams team that lost its only game of the season 11 days ago in Middlebury, Vt.
"I don't think we tried to forget about it. We definitely learned from it," said the senior co-captain. "There were a lot of things that didn't go our way. Because of that loss, we were able put those things into practice, improve and get to this point today, and be able to come out with a win.
"I'm so incredibly proud of this team for being so resilient and for proving we have the ability to be a great team."
With the win, the sixth-ranked team in Division III advances to the NESCAC title game today here at noon. Williams has only one title to its credit in the last four years, that came in 2012 against Bowdoin, Williams' opponent this afternoon.
Bowdoin advanced with a 1-0 win over Trinity in the second game of the doubleheader. The game's only goal was an own goal at 14:26,
Mitsuyama's PK came at the 6:35 mark when Kriste Kirshe played the ball head for teammate Kristina Alvarado. Alvarado was taken down in the box, and Williams (15-1-1) was awarded a penalty kick.
Mitsuyama stepped up to the dot and put a shot into the low left-wing corner. Panthers goalkeeper Kate Reinmuth could do nothing.
"I knew that if that were to happen in regulation in any game, she'd ask me to take it," said Mitsuyama. "I didn't think it would actually happen in this game."
Two minutes before the PK goal, Kirshe and Jacqueline Simeone teamed up on a beauty of a goal. Simeone took a corner kick from the right and sent the ball to the far post, where Kirshe headed the ball into the open net.
"It was an unbelievable start for us," Williams coach Michelyne Pinard said. "Whenever we can, we like to get going quickly. We did that today and it was a great confidence builder for us.
"We knew we were going to have a 90-minute game because [Middlebury is] an unbelievable team."
The Panthers (7-5-5) cut the Williams lead in half in the 33rd minute as Adrianna Gildner, the No. 5 scorer in NESCAC, took a long shot from the right wing and the ball sailed into the upper left corner of the net.
The halftime score was 2-1. The Panthers had a 10-5 shot advantage, but Williams had five corner kicks to none for Middlebury. Tressa Palcheck made three saves at halftime for Williams and Reinmuth had two for Middlebury.
The second half settled into a back-and-forth affair, with the Panthers getting a few more attacks because they had the wind at their backs.
Alvarado had a chance to extend the lead back to two goals early in the second half, but was stopped by Reinmuth. Palcheck came up big later in the half.
With 10 minutes left to play, Gildner's 35-yard free kick went into the box. Amy Martin headed the ball toward the crossbar but Palcheck made the save. Moments later, Gildner had a shot blocked but the rebound came to Hannah Robinson. The Panther midfielder took a shot but Palcheck made a full-extension save to keep Middlebury off the scoreboard.
Some 22 hours after taking Cole Field, the Ephs will return with a NESCAC title on the line. Pinard said she's not concerned about her team not being ready.
"It's the NESCAC final, so it doesn't take much to get up for that. it is mostly just rest and recovery," she said. "It won't take much to motivate us for [Sunday]. We'll be ready to go."