Playoff Soccer Primer: Washington poised for another postseason run

Published 4:50 pm Monday, October 30, 2017

Washington is right back where it belongs. The ninth-seeded Pam Pack knocked off North Lenoir to grab the first seed out of the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference, ensuring they’d open the postseason at home.

The season-ending scenario was a familiar one for the Pam Pack. It had to battle North Johnston in a tiebreaker last season, but came out on the short end. Regardless, Washington managed to make it to the fourth round before being ousted, 2-1, but Carrboro. It knocked off top-seeded Bunn, 1-0, on the road in the third round in 2016.

Locking down the conference’s top seed has injected the already comfortable Pam Pack with extra confidence.

“The home game means a ton. We’ve got really good home fans,” coach Jim Kozuch said. “Just keep the momentum going. That’s 11 wins in a row. Playing with confidence is a key to the game.”

Even as good as Washington soccer has been lately — going to the fourth round a year ago and playing for the 2-A state championship in 2015 — confidence was at a premium entering the season. Cody Pinkham was the lone returning starter on defense. The unit still had sensational goalkeeper Kevin Avilla to backstop it, but the lack of experience in the back was noticeable.

Washington began the season 1-3-1 in non-conference play. It tied former conference foe North Pitt in its opener and was upended by Pitt County opponents Conley, South Central and Rose.

Fast-forward just over two months and that defense has made a complete turnaround, as evidenced by the shutout win over North Lenoir.

“We learned how to work the ball as a team and really distribute through defense. We couldn’t do that at the beginning of the season,” Pinkham said. “It’s really big. It shows we’ve got a good defense coming into the playoffs. If we have a good defense coming into the playoffs, as long as we score goals and finish up top, we’ll be straight on defense.”

It wasn’t just the defense early on. There was a whole feeling-out process Washington had to overcome, which is expected for a team replacing as many starters as it did.

“Pretty much every aspect of the game we’ve gotten better,” Kozuch said. “We’ve gotten different players in different positions. Above all, we’ve become a team. I don’t think we strung three passes along (in the season opener).”

That was far from the case last time out. Washington dominated midfield play against North Lenoir, helping to ease the load on defense and allowing for ball movement that set up scoring opportunities.

There are still concerns. Washington struggled to finish on those chances. The Pam Pack could’ve scored multiple times in the opening minutes, but couldn’t convert.

Regardless, this is a team that needs only to reach the postseason. The team’s three seniors have seen the team make runs in the playoffs. The high stakes won’t rattle them. Avilla, one of those seniors, takes his game to a new level.

The same can be said of the deep junior class. Players like Oscar Espinoza, Cody Pinkham and Tim Anglim were big components last year.

The Pam Pack is back in the playoffs. Now it’s time to take care of business.

“It’s just like a game of poker. If you’re in it, you’re in it to win it,” Kozuch said. “We’re there, which means we have a shot.”