Wheatmore shocks Washington in first round of playoffs

Published 8:08 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Quality scoring chances were hard to come by in the late stages of Washington’s first-round playoff game against Wheatmore. Coach Jim Kozuch brought Kevin Avilla down for a late corner with the Pam Pack trailing 1-0.

The senior goalkeeper got his head on the ball, but it wouldn’t trickle over the goal line for the tying score. It was as good a chance as Washington had to level the game in the second half. Instead, the ball went the other way and Warrior senior Wyatt Garrison was able to put it in the empty net to ice the 2-0 win for the visitors.

“The boys from Wheatmore, they came and they were a lot more physical than we’ve seen all season,” Kozuch said. “They got very physical and it was not something we’re used to this year. We had three or four guys get injured and they fought through injuries.

“Kevin is our most athletic player. I truly thought he could score on it. He’s our biggest guy. He’s the most physical. I truly think that should have been a goal. I think there was a handball on the goal line.”

It marked the first-ever postseason win in Wheatmore soccer history.

“I’m proud of my kids,” Wheatmore coach Ricky Manness said. “They get their first playoff victory and we move on.”

The early going saw Washington dominate. Players like Marcos Bolivar and Tim Anglim had chances, but the Pam Pack failed to capitalize as many missed their target.

It was tough to get many shots through the five-man defensive structure Wheatmore implemented. The Warriors did well to prevent the Pam Pack from moving the ball into the middle in its attacking third. That limited clean looks at the net and made Washington’s playmakers force things.

“Honestly, that’s been our unfortunate Achilles heel this year. We’re just not a strong finishing team,” Kozuch said. “We’ve possessed the ball well. … We were doing a good job keeping everybody in check. But, five minutes into the game, we should have been up 2-0.”

Washington’s defense highlighted the first half. Wheatmore didn’t threaten until the 15th minute. The Warriors nearly broke through on a corner a few minutes later, but Avilla stood tall.

The visitors found twine in the waning moments of the first half. A defensive lapse saw the ball land right on the boot of Garrison, Wheamore’s top scorer, and he tucked it into the bottom corner past Avilla.

Tension mounted as time ticked away in the second half. Washington, down by a goal, continued sending more and more players up on attack. Oscar Espinoza got a rare shot through uncontested, but junior Warrior keeper Joshua Mayfield answered each test.

“He hasn’t played in probably the last three or four games because he’s been hurt with a shoulder injury,” Maness said. “Today, we came in here fairly healthy. Getting him back was more psychological. He had some big saves. He’s just smart. You can’t coach IQ.”

The physical game saw Washington and Wheatmore exchange fouls throughout. The Warriors were issued a pair of yellow cards in the opening half. The Pam Pack was also shown a yellow.

That marks the end of the road for the Pam Pack. Seniors Avilla, Bolivar and Mitchell Cobb played their final games. Wheatmore advances to host No. 25 Southwest Onslow, which upset eighth-seeded North Johnston.