Pack cruises in first round

Published 9:26 pm Tuesday, October 28, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS KEEPING THE PRESSURE: Sophomore Eric Ruiz rips a shot in the first half of Tuesday’s first round playoff match against Kinston.

KEEPING THE PRESSURE: Sophomore Eric Ruiz rips a shot in the first half of Tuesday’s first round playoff match against Kinston.

A four-goal performance from senior forward Sergio Higuera propelled the Pam Pack to a 6-1 win in the team’s playoff opener Tuesday night against Kinston.

And while the intensity may not have been present for all 80 minutes, validated by a rousing half time speech from head coach Jim Kozuch, the early lead gave Washington the opportunity to rest its starters to prepare for what should be a highly competitive second round.

“I told them (at halftime) we needed to be more excited,” Kozuch said. “I kind of felt like we were going to give up a goal because of our lack of excitement. It’s not that they don’t have the skill, they’re just playing down a few levels.”

Despite a handful of defensive breakdowns throughout the night, it took just two minutes for Washington to find the back of the net and notch its first playoff goal. Maintaining possession from timely one- and two-touch passing in the midfield, Miguel Hernandez led Higuera through the middle. Higuera found an opening, sidestepped past two defenders, turned and slipped a shot to the left of the goalie.

Washington kept the game within its opponent’s 40-yard line, as opportunities continued to present themselves. Four minutes after the first goal, Hernandez, toeing the sideline, picked his target again and found striker Kyle Hodges wide open in the box on a cross. Hodges flicked a header just past the goalie’s hand to give the Pam Pack a quick two-goal cushion.

As the half progressed, midfielders William Tate and Lupe Barrera, along with Hodges and Higuera, kept the shots coming. With 20 minutes to go in the half, sophomore Eric Ruiz and Higuera made the most of a two-on-one opportunity, as Ruiz drew the defender and chipped a cross to the head of Higuera, who deposited his second goal of the match.

Two minutes later, Barrera hit a long, downfield and perfectly placed cross from Barrera found Higuera’s head again for the hat trick.

As the lead ballooned, Washington began to take plays off defensively and Kinston eventually capitalized. Senior Robert Blake found Juilian Quintero on a cross and Quitero rocketed a shot off goalie Williams Tate. Tate made the save, but a midfielder was there for an easy cleanup.

“We have a hard time getting our intensity level up,” Kozuch said. “Hopefully, we pick it up in the second round. A little bit later on in the season, one goal can make the difference. We have to try to do our best not to give up that goal.”

However, it took just a minute for the Pam Pack to respond, as Barrera located Hodges on a through ball, which created a one-on-one with the goalie. Hodges easily put it away to give Washington a 5-1 lead at the half.

The 10 minutes of playing time Kozuch allotted his starters in the second half resulted in one more goal on the scoreboard from Higuera — an easy tap-in off a deflected pass.

Then, with a half hour to go in the contest, Washington subbed out the majority of its starters, replacing them with bench and junior varsity players. Kozuch was able to give guys like Uriel Castanon, Hermes Elizande, Zack Pagnani and Jose Gamboa a true playoff test, a preview of next season’s likely starters.

“I think they looked really promising and it was great for them to get a little playoff experience,” Kozuch said. “Our JV team had a great year, but have had a little trouble finishing. They had trouble finishing tonight, but they really moved the ball well and looked solid.”

Washington notched 37 shots to Kinston’s four and was able to control possession for the majority of the match.

The Pam Pack will face the winner of No. 12-seeded North Pitt vs. the Durham School of the Arts, set for tomorrow in Bethel.