Eastside tops Leesburg, advances to regional semifinals
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 11:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 11:30 p.m.
On a blustery night at Citizens Field that often altered the ball's flight, Joseph Malu had little trouble correcting its course to the back of the net.
After scoring two goals in Eastside's district title win last week, Malu once again spearheaded the Rams (21-2-2) with a hat trick in Wednesday's 4-1 victory against Leesburg (11-8-3) in the Region 2-3A quarterfinals.
“Malu is a big target; he's a big kid,” Eastside coach Ron Messick said. “He's really good with the ball on his feet, so once he gets it in there you have to play really solid defense. We just had too many weapons.”
A 6-foot-1 center forward, Malu frustrated the visiting Yellow Jackets' back line early on by finishing a fifth-minute loose ball five yards from the net for a 1-0 lead.
While Malu's height presented a challenge for Leesburg, Messick also credited Eastside's midfielders and defenders for creating a steady supply of chances and a 20-4 shot advantage.
Each of the Rams' four goals was assisted, including Malu's 35th-minute score off a Tucker Mastin cross that gave Eastside a 3-1 advantage at the midway break.
“I tried to make my touches count and just finish it,” Malu said. “I put a lot of power on to it, so even if the goalkeeper was there he couldn't stop it.”
Malu capped the Rams' scoring nine minutes into the second half following a service across the left side of the goal by senior defender Fen Bowen.
While Eastside was able to clear its bench for the bulk of the second half, the Rams did endure a defensive lapse in the first half.
Yellow Jackets forward Clay Walters curled a 20-yard left-footer over the right arm of junior goalie Cody Peterson (four saves) in the 14th minute to knot the game at 1-apiece.
However, two minutes after the Leesburg equalizer, sophomore forward Tyler Miller-Jones, who assisted on Malu's first goal, responded from just outside the right corner of the penalty box for Eastside's second score.
“Defensively, we had a hard time in the first half because of the wind,” Messick said. “We had to stress getting under the ball and getting it out instead of playing our game.
“In the second half, we were able to keep possession a little more out of the back.”
Advancing to the regional semifinals for the second straight year, the Rams travel Saturday to Inverness to play Citrus (10-5-4) at 7 p.m. The District 6-3A champion Hurricanes defeated Belleview, 3-1, in their regional quarterfinal.