Pam Pack wins dogfight, advances to third round

Published 2:22 pm Saturday, November 1, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS HEAD ON: Defender Holt McKeithan elevates for a header in the first half of Saturday’s second-round matchup against North Pitt.

HEAD ON: Defender Holt McKeithan elevates for a header in the first half of Saturday’s second-round matchup against North Pitt.

There was certainly no shortage of bruises following Washington’s 4-1 win over a hard-nosed North Pitt team fighting for its survival.

In a game that embodied gritty playoff soccer, two second-half goals from senior Kyle Hodges gave the Pam Pack enough of a cushion to walk away with the victory, but it was one that came at a bodily cost — bloody noses, twisted ankles and the occasional cramp being the least of it.

Just 30 seconds removed from the fifth and final goal of the afternoon, the line between physical soccer and belligerence may have been crossed, as Panthers captain Octavio Espino took the legs out from under Hodges, who hit the ground hard and had to be physically lifted off the pitch by head coach Jim Kozuch and Athletic Director Jon Scharpenberg. Espino was awarded a yellow card for the foul.

“The intensity level is definitely there,” Kozuch said. “Both teams were playing really hard, but I did think it got a little dirty, a little malicious. It wasn’t when it was 1-1, it happened out of anger when it was 3-1 or 4-1. I think it’s something that’s regrettable.”

While Hodges’ status remains questionable for the next round, the Pam Pack striker made a bit of history before his injury. With his first goal of the match, a successful give-and-go linkup ignited by senior Sergio Higuera with 17 minutes left, Hodges became Washington’s all-time single-season leader, eclipsing the previous mark of 38 goals.

Before Hodges’ record-breaking strike, both teams battled it out in the midfield through all 80 minutes. Prior to the match, North Pitt head coach John Dunning dropped Espino, his captain and top playmaker, back to sweeper to try to break up Washington’s quick attack. And the strategy worked early, as Espino frustrated the Pam Pack midfield. Through the first 20 minutes, Washington was limited to two shots, while North Pitt had difficulty crossing the 30-yard line.

Then, Washington broke the silence, as a Hodges throw-in found Higuera in box. Higuera flicked a header into the back left corner of the net for the first goal of the match.

Despite the deficit, the North Pitt midfield continued to press and began working its way into Pam Pack territory. On the Panthers’ first shot of the game, Espino found Jose Delgadillo on a chip pass and Delgadillo headed it past goalie William Tate, tying the game.

But Washington had its answer on a set piece just minutes later. Senior William Page deposited a corner kick inside the six-yard box and defender Holt McKeithan headed a shot right at the goalie, who made the save, but McKeithan was there to clean up the deflection, giving the Pam Pack a 2-1 lead at the break.

Again, both midfields continued to exchange possessions through the first 20 minutes of the second half, although Washington had significantly more opportunities.

“A couple better bounces, a couple of handball calls in the box and we could have had a couple more goals tonight,” Kozuch said.

Even with defender Dylan Singleton still recovering from injury, McKeithan, Weston Brown and Leo Brown let very few passes find their way into the box. Hodges’ two late goals iced the game and locked up a spot in the third round for Washington.

“I thought our guys showed a lot of heart today,” Kozuch said. “We scored an early goal to get it going and then had a little defensive breakdown and gave one up. As we’ve done in the past, we’ve been able to score some goals this year, so we put a couple in the back of the net. It got a little scrappy out there, so it was nice to have a deep bench.”

With the win, the Pam Pack improves to 19-4-1 this season and will host No. 13-seeded Croatan on Wednesday.

“I just want us to continue playing hard in the next round,” Kozuch said. “I think we can play with anybody. We just need to come in and have the intensity.”