Amherst stays strong defensively, wins one PKs over SUNY Oneonta
The score after regulation and overtime from two of the best defensive teams in Division III was easy to predict: 0-0.
That was the score after 110 minutes as Amherst came out of the encounter the victors with a 4-3 penalty shootout win over SUNY Oneonta.
Amherst midfielder Milton Rico sent the winning penalty kick into the top right of the goal to end the shootout to bring Amherst its first title game appearance in school history.
“Every single guy in the team has done something along the way,” Rico, a senior, said of his game-winning play. “I don’t see it as anything other than all of us coming together in that special moment to take this program to where it’s never been and we’re very excited to be here.”
SUNY Oneonta began the shootout with forward Dylan Williams’ shot being saved by Amherst goalkeeper Thomas Bull. Oneonta would miss its second penalty kick and could only save one of Amherst’s kicks for the rest of the shootout.
“PKs are never easy for any team so to get the save was just a confidence booster,” Bull said of his first save. “I’m just in there to get my team the best chance to win. To get the opportunity to get the save means the world to me.”
“Losing feels the same way regardless of how it is,” Sean Vinberg, Oneonta’s senior midfielder and captain, said. “I thought we played better on the day and just happened to lose in PKs. I feel so proud of the guys for what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve done.”
A goal could not be found by either team in the game, and it wasn’t much of a surprise. Neither SUNY-Oneonta nor Amherst had conceded a single goal in either team’s tournament run and continued that trend, forcing one another all the way to the shootout.
Amherst is second in the nation in goal against average with .20, which is tied with Calvin, the leading team in the category and also still alive in the Division III tournament at the semifinal stage. SUNY-Oneonta stands at fourth in the nation in goals against average with .39.
Though both teams came in with strong defenses, both Oneonta and Amherst generated plenty of chances at scoring. The game ended with 30 total shots: Oneonta with 14 to Amherst’s 16.
For Amherst, the key to defensive stability was limiting Oneonta’s opportunities as the Red Dragons kept possession for most of the match.
“The effort is really inspiring, I thought all night tonight guys dug in, sacrificed and worked really hard,” Amherst coach Justin Serpone. “They had a lot of possession but we did a nice job of limiting their chances.”
Oneonta came close to scoring with a header saved off the line by Amherst defender Cameron Bean in the first overtime period. In the 60th minute, Oneonta forward Dylan Williams nearly scored from a header.
“We weren’t clinical in the final third and we never really created a quality chance,” Vinberg said. “I can’t put my finger on one thing. We weren’t getting numbers in the box, but I can put my finger on one thing [we did wrong.]”
For SUNY Oneonta, coming close to victory is nothing new. The team exited the tournament at the same stage in the same venue last year.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” Oneonta coach Iain Byrne said. “Last year, we were disappointed with the way the game ended. This year, we know going into the game we had  minutes to score and we didn’t score. It’s devastating.”