LEWISTON, Maine -- Senior captains PJ DiBenedetto and Max Watson combined for three goals to lead the Bates men's soccer team to a 3-0 victory over the Middlebury College Panthers Saturday afternoon on Senior Day at Russell Street Field.
This marks the second straight year the Bobcats have defeated the Panthers, keeping the Hedley Reynolds Cup in Lewiston. Reynolds served as the President of Bates from 1967-1989. Prior to arriving in Lewiston, he was a member of the Middlebury faculty for 18 years. Reynolds played a key role bringing soccer to both Bates and Middlebury during his long career in academia.
"It's always nice to get some hardware," DiBenedetto said. "Middlebury is a good program and we're going to try to take this momentum into the upcoming week."
The win improves the Bobcats' record to 7-5-2 overall and 2-5-2 in NESCAC play. If Bates beats Colby on Wednesday in Waterville, the Bobcats would qualify for the NESCAC tournament for the first time since 2010. The loss drops Middlebury's record to 9-5 overall and 4-5 in NESCAC play.
"That might be the best game we've played all season," Bates head coach Stewart Flaherty said. "And that's very reflective of where this team is at this point of the year."
The Bobcats wasted little time getting on the board when they took advantage of a penalty kick just 2:13 into game. DiBenedetto (Buffalo, N.Y.) scored with a low shot that tucked inside the bottom left post, for his first goal of the season and the second of his career.
Middlebury looked to tie the game at the 8:54 mark when Jed Sass directed a free kick to Ben Potter on the right post. Potter one-timed the feed, but the ball went just wide right of the net.
Bates increased the lead at the 22:25 mark on a play initiated from a corner kick by junior Drew Munoz (Dallas, Texas). Middlebury goalkeeper Jeremy Yeager punched the ball away, but it didn't go far. In a scramble in front of the net, senior Nate Merchant (Los Angeles, Calif.) used his head to get the rebound, and the ball found DiBenedetto's foot. He fired the ball into the empty net to extend the lead to 2-0.
In the second half, the Bobcats made it a 3-0 game in the 53rd minute when sophomore Liam Goldfarb (New York, N.Y.) threw the ball to Watson (Yarmouth, Maine) on the near post, who one-timed the ball into the far left corner of the goal.
"When I get the chance to go up there for set plays, that's the only time I really get to think offensively," Watson said. "So when I have my chances I like to take them."
The Panthers' final chance to add a tally came 11:55 later when Davis Oudet crossed the ball from the right in to Sass whose shot was blocked by Bobcat junior Sam Huebschmann (Lynnfield, Mass.).
Yeager had five saves in goal for the Panthers, while junior Robbie Montanaro (Belmont, Mass.) was forced to make just one stop for the Bobcats.
"It's a team effort to play defense," Watson said. "The back line played well and we had really good ball pressure in the midfield and the forward lines, which helped limit their opportunities."
The Bobcats out-shot the Panthers 14-7 on the afternoon. Sophomore Beaufils Kimpolo-Pene (Bronx, N.Y.) kept the pressure on Middlebury with five shots, three on goal. DiBenedetto's two goals are the first two goals of his career in NESCAC play. His previous goal came during his sophomore season against the University of New England.
Bates honored four seniors: DiBenedetto, Watson, Merchant and Justin Yacovino (North Bergen, N.J.) on Saturday, with three of the four seniors contributing to the 3-0 final score.
"It's wonderful," Flaherty said. "What these boys have done throughout their career, we owed them a win today and we got it."