Washington offense comes alive in win over J.H. Rose

Published 10:44 pm Tuesday, August 25, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS BROTHERLY CONNECTION: Defender Holt McKeithan redirects a throw-in from brother Ben into the back of the net in a rout of J.H. Rose on Tuesday.

BROTHERLY CONNECTION: Defender Holt McKeithan redirects a throw-in from brother Ben into the back of the net in a rout of J.H. Rose on Tuesday.

GREENVILLE — The Washington soccer team turned in another sterling offensive performance against a quality opponent on Tuesday, a dominating 7-2 win over perennial 4-A foe J.H. Rose.

The game, originally slated to be played at Washington, was rescheduled due to weather conditions at Choppy Wagner Stadium. But the Pam Pack faithful came in droves, outnumbering the home fans and giving the visitors the boost they needed to pull off what many considered to be an upset.

“I have to say, today was supposed to be a home game and even though it wasn’t, it felt like it. Our fans really showed up today and gave us an advantage,” said head coach Jim Kozuch after the game.

Despite being outshot 10-9 in the second half, it was an overpowering first half that powered the Pam Pack to a physical five-goal victory. Washington controlled about 80 percent of the possession and finished with 20 shots to the Rampants’ 12.

Striker Kyle Hodges led all scorers with a hat trick, while Rob Zerniak, Freddy Jimenez, Holt McKeithan and Gabriel Vallez-Torres combined for the team’s four additional goals. Hodges’ performance improves his season tally to eight goals. Kozuch said the key to the Pam Pack’s offensive explosion has been the distribution of the midfield, unselfish athletes who have worked well with Hodges and Jimenez up front.

“One thing we’re doing well this year that we haven’t done in the past is we’re really working the ball well through the center midfield,” Kozuch said. “The center midfield really distributed well today and that worked to our advantage on offense today.”

It took just eight minutes into the match for Washington to break the deadlock. Working through the center of the field, Jimenez faked out a defender and laid a perfect slip pass to Hodges, who fired a shot right under the goalies hands for the first goal. Two minutes later on the ensuing possession, it was Hodges who found Zerniak with a through ball and Zerniak slipped a shot past the keeper to put Washington up 2-0.

Three minutes after the second goal, Jimenez showcased his unmatched handles, blowing by three or four defenders and blasting a shot into the upper left corner of the net. And just three minutes after Jimenez’s magic, Hodges had the strike of the game, cutting across the box, receiving a 40-plus-yard cross from Eric Ruiz and redirecting a curling header into the upper-right 90. Washington’s four goals were scored within a span of eight-minutes.

“I saw a lot of resiliency,” Kozuch said. “Obviously we were really excited to come out super hot and have a great first half. We were able to overcome some adversity there and to get that five-goal lead again was just incredible. The guys showed a lot of heart, hung in there and I couldn’t be prouder of them right now.”

Washington’s fifth goal came with six minutes left in the half on a brotherly connection — a Ben McKeithan throw-in from the far sideline to the head of Holt McKeithan.

But before the whistle, J.H. Rose keeper suffered an ankle injury on a collision in front of the net. The shot was saved, but not his leg, as the host’s goalie was sidelined for the remainder of the game.

Washington entered the break with a commanding 5-0 lead; however, it was J.H. Rose that came out firing in the early stages of the second half.

Just seconds in, the Rampants’ lengthy striker Roman Galaska received a through ball up field, won a scuffle in front of the net and found a gap in the defense, sliding a shot past goalie William Tate for the host’s first goal. Minutes later, it was senior midfielder Ali Qatabi taking advantage of a well-placed corner kick, narrowing Washington’s lead to three.

Tate would come through with a collection of acrobatic saves down the stretch, denying Galaska on two more occasions. With 25 minutes remaining, Vallez-Torres fired a free kick from 30-yards out into the box. The kick trickled through the defense and under the hands of the backup goalie, giving the Pam Pack a 6-2 lead.

Five minutes later, midfielder Miguel Hernandez hit a perfect cross from the sidelines to a wide open Hodges, who tapped an easy one-timer past the goalie.

The final 20 minutes of the contest was filled with yellow cards, aggressive play from both sides and another timely save from Tate, all supplemented by the occasional rumble of thunder in the distance.

“We still like to be undefeated, but we have a lot of growing to do,” Kozuch said. “Of course we want to win the conference, but the bigger picture is to get further than we did last year and make it to the state championship. We just have to continue to grow every game, work the ball better and try not to give up two goals.”

With the win, Washington improves to 3-0 and will face Edenton Holmes in the home opener on Thursday.