Washington set for second round of playoffs

Published 12:19 pm Sunday, November 6, 2016

Three different players netted four goals in the first 11 minutes of Saturday’s first-round playoff game, and Washington coasted to a 7-2 win over Durham School of the Arts.

Star striker Rob Zerniak first broke through just two minutes in. He found himself in behind the Bulldogs’ defense and had no problem beating goalkeeper Brendan Hill. Tim Anglim followed a minute later. He had space in the middle, and ripped a long shot from outside the box to push the Pam Pack’s early lead to 2-0.

Eric Ruiz then used his skill to gain possession in the box and score from point-blank range. Two minutes later, Zerniak found twine for the second time with a strong shot off of a low corner kick.

“Obviously, scoring goals at the beginning of the game is a must,” Pam Pack coach Jim Kozuch said. “Every team plays much better when they have a cushion. After not scoring many goals against North Johnston, I was a little worried that we were in a drought. I was happy to see a couple of quick ones.”

The Bulldogs got one back in the 16th minute. Zerniak completed the hat trick in the 32nd minute to give the Pam Pack a 5-1 lead at halftime.

“We’re going to need our big guns to fire on all cylinders from here on out. There’s no days off, and (the seniors) know that one day off means the end of their high school soccer careers,” Kozuch said.

Ben McKeithan scored 10 minutes into the second half. Blake Parker wrapped up the offensive effort with a picture-perfect strike that curled into the top-left corner of the goal.

Pam Pack goalie Kevin Avilla made a handful of impressive saves in the second half, but was beat for another goal in the 55th minute. The defense in front of him was questionable at times, which is something Kozuch plans to address before Tuesday’s second-round contest.

“We’re having trouble picking up guys in the box,” Kozuch said of the team’s defensive miscues. “Guys are coming through the middle and midfielders didn’t pick them up. They’re rolling through to the defense, and our defense is a little lost.”

Washington hosts Red Springs Tuesday evening. The Red Devils, after edging a sub-.500 Northeastern 1-0, have won their last seven in a row. Sophomore Francis Rodriguez has a team-best 16 goals.

Red Springs hails from the 1-A/2-A Three Rivers Conference. It finished the season in a three-way tie for second place, along with South Columbus and St. Paul’s. Outside of Whiteville, which walloped Northside 9-0 in the first round, the conference doesn’t have much to offer.

East Duplin thrashed St. Paul’s, 9-0, in the first round. Fellow 2-A Eastern Plains Conference member North Pitt scooted by South Columbus, 3-2, to move on.

The Red Devils average less than 3.5 goals per game. Meanwhile, their defense is allowing less than two goals a game, albeit against lesser competition.

Red Springs hasn’t seen anything like Washington this season. Its defense will struggle to manage the plethora of scoring options the Pam Pack has, and its offense simply doesn’t have the firepower to keep up. Neither Oscar Espinoza nor Victor Hernandez scored in the Pam Pack’s seven-goal showing in the first round, so the ceiling is still higher for Washington’s offense.

The game is slated for 6 p.m. in “Choppy” Wagner Stadium.