Pack get back on course

Published 12:27 pm Friday, October 3, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS OLD FOE: Defender Holt McKeithan elevates for a header in the first half of Washington’s game against West Craven on Thursday.

OLD FOE: Defender Holt McKeithan elevates for a header in the first half of Washington’s game against West Craven on Thursday.

Showcasing their glossy white, grass stainless uniforms, embroidered with a brand new, innovative soccer logo, Washington came through with a 5-1 win Thursday evening against an old Coastal Conference foe in West Craven.

Winners of nine-straight entering the match, head coach Jim Kozuch was far from pleased with his team’s performance against North Johnson, a team the Pam Pack hung the mercy rule on last season. While the Panthers are experiencing a bit of a resurgence this season, boasting at 10-5-1 record, Kozuch criticized his offensive leaders for their inability to finish.

“I also think the one thing that we lack the most is a true team commitment,” he said. “Everyone has to completely buy in. Everyone has to play together. The best teams are the ones that are all on the same page, so we’re trying to get there.”

Against the Eagles, striker Kyle Hodges heeded his head coach’s call, recording his fourth four-goal performance of the season.

And it took less than a minute for the Pam Pack’s leading goal scorer to respond to his coach’s disparagement. On Washington’s initial possession, Eric Ruiz, William Page and the rest of the midfield quickly moved the ball up field. The West Craven defense was able to break up the attack, but Hodges stole the ball from the center defender, turned and fired an accurate shot perfectly into he top left corner. It was a quick strike for a team in desperate need of a spark.

For the next 10 minutes, Washington would completely control possession and notch seven shots on goal, including one by senior Sergio Higuera that trickled across the goal line, but not over. Finally, off a scramble in the six-yard box, Hodges found an opening and put his team up 2-0. And the junior striker wasn’t finished.

After another 10 minutes of Pam Pack dominance had passed, senior defender Weston Brown led a charge up field, dishing to Ruiz, who weaseled he way through the midfield. Ruiz laid a cross to the front of goal, where Hodges would cut across and blast a header past the goalie. In just 23 minutes of play, Hodges had already recorded a hat trick.

Despite being outshot 17-2 in the first half, West Craven finished strong with two great opportunities at net, one that senior Eliazar Ortega deposited past goalie William Tate with two minutes left to bring the halftime score to 3-1.

It took just six minutes for the Pam Pack to erase the Eagles late first-half goal, as defender Holt McKeithan found himself on the receiving end of a Higuera cross off a free kick. McKeithan elevated over the defense and headed one past the keeper.

Following Washington’s fourth goal, the Eagles began to physically exhibit their frustration through hard-nosed play, forcing the referee to distribute two yellow cards to two midfielders. And while Ortega led a few charges up field in the second half, he failed to capitalize.

With six minutes to go in the match, Washington picked up its fifth goal of the game when Higuera chipped a cross to Hodges, who headed it in for his fourth goal.

“Kyle works really hard and has the opportunity to do something great this year,” Kozuch said. “He can score a lot of goals. He knows, just like everybody else, he still has a ton to work on, a ton to improve upon, but he has improved and is listening, taking it all in.”

With a win in its final regular season out-of-conference game, the Pam Pack improves to 12-4-1 on the year and has now won 10 games in a row. Kozuch is keeping expectations high for a team primed to repeat as Eastern Plains Conference championship.

“The game plan is to run through the rest of the conference,” he said. “We need to play that game of chess. We’ve seen everyone play now except for Beddingfield. We want to stay undefeated in the conference and get that No. 1 seed come playoff time.”

Washington will host the defending conference runner-up, Beddingfield, on Tuesday. The Bruins are 6-7-1 this season with a 2-2 conference record.