Pam Pack falls in seeding tiebreaker

Published 11:12 pm Wednesday, November 2, 2016

FARMVILLE — Washington soccer coach Jim Kozuch had one question for his team after its 3-1 loss to North Johnston in Wednesday’s tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed out of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference.

“You guys like this feeling?”

The looks on the faces of the downtrodden Pam Pack said it all. The boys weren’t pleased, but Kozuch thinks there may be a benefit in being familiar with that feeling once playoffs start on Saturday.

“I don’t think that you learn much from winning,” Kozuch said. “Maybe it was a little humbling experience. Get us geared up for the playoffs and get the guys a little bit more motivated, a little hungrier. Sometimes you win a bunch of games and everything should come easily. We’ll work a little bit harder, and hopefully we’ll make this run.”

Last year’s team that made it all the way to the state championship wasn’t too familiar with the feeling. It was on a 13-game winning streak once the playoffs started. The Pam Pack only beat Dixon by one goal in the semifinals last year, but with First Flight getting bounced early on, it felt like the path to the title game was relatively easy.

That’s not going to be the case this year.

Blake Parker streaks down the right sideline. The senior midfielder, and the rest of Washington’s offense, struggled in the first half.

Blake Parker streaks down the right sideline. The senior midfielder, and the rest of Washington’s offense, struggled in the first half.

After enduring an early flurry by Washington’s offense, North Johnston dominated much of the first half. The Panthers drew first blood with a gritty goal in the 15th minute. They continued to threaten. A goal was called offside in the 21st minute, and goalkeeper Kevin Avilla made an excellent save 10 minutes later.

North Johnston doubled its advantage with another goal five minutes before the halftime break. Washington almost answered back quickly when Marcos Bolivar, set up on the left side of the penalty area, fed Victor Hernandez in the middle, but his shot sailed just north of the goal.

The Pam Pack finally got on the board in the 38th minute. A corner kick found the head of Oscar Espinoza, and the ball slowly trickled past keeper Noah Brewer.

“I felt great. I didn’t think 2-1 was a huge deficit for us,” Kozuch said. “We could score some goals. It didn’t happen, but 2-1 is not a score we were scared of.”

Washington came out with purpose in the second half. It nearly knotted the game 11 minutes in, and possessed the ball well throughout. However, star striker Rob Zerniak was fouled in the 65th minute, and a conflict between the two sides followed.

Panther Tyler Jackson ended up getting a red card, and Eric Ruiz was booked for the confrontation, too. Even though the opposition was playing a man down for the remaining 17 minutes, the long stoppage seemed to have derailed the momentum the Pam Pack picked up.

“I didn’t care for the way they handled that,” Kozuch said. “I thought it could have been handled a little bit better. Any time you stop a game for 10 minutes in the middle of a game, I personally believe that after you make a call, you don’t have to give a 10-minute explanation.”

North Johnston scored a dagger two minutes after play resumed. Avilla came out to play the ball, but ended up paying for his aggressiveness. It left the Pam Pack in a two-goal hole with 15 minutes left.

“Obviously, Kevin is a phenomenal goalie. He kept us in the game a lot, so I’m not going to get on him too bad about the one mistake,” Kozuch said. “He made 20 other phenomenal saves. He’s one of the best goalies in the state. If anyone came to watch him play, any college would be lucky to have him.”

The loss doesn’t count against the Pam Pack’s 18-1 record, but leaves the Pam Pack with a lower seed. The postseason is set to begin Saturday.