By Billy Owens
Baltimore County, Md. - Offensive persistence paid off for the Knights as they blanked Hagerstown Community College 3-0 in the quarterfinal round of the 2018 NJCAA Region XX Division I Men's Soccer at CCBC Dundalk on Saturday afternoon.
Seeded No. 3, the Knights (12-5-1) attempted 24 shots over the course of the match, with 12 on goal. By contrast, the No. 6-seeded Hawks (8-9) only managed three shots and one shot on goal the entire afternoon.
"We tried to spread them out wide and pick them apart, and we did a pretty good job of it," head coach Joe Fiedler said. "It's just hard to play, we beat them earlier and I think we did a really good job of keeping that field wide so we could get some of our guys in."
In the two teams' previous matchup this season, Essex shut out Hagerstown 5-0 at home on Oct. 4.
Hagerstown would be the first to seize some early offensive opportunities, taking a corner kick and landing what ultimately became its lone shot on goal within the first ten minutes of play.
It didn't take long for Essex to turn the tables on offense as they rattled off three shots and a corner kick over the next six minutes. One minute later, freshman forward Oscar Cruz-Osorio () put Essex on the board with an unassisted goal.
The Knights' defense neutralized almost every offensive chance the Hawks had well before they reached goal-scoring areas.
Along with sophomore goalkeeper Kyle Cooper (Calvert Hall), the Knights' four starting defenders — sophomores Walter Avila (Bladensburg), Logan Funk (Sparrows Point), and Tongwa Aka (Parkdale) and freshman Trevor Hoffmann (Patapsco) — anchored a nearly impenetrable defensive line.
"They did a nice job of just moving the ball as soon as they got it, and it was really nice to see," Fiedler said. "The four backs did a wonderful job."
Essex added to its lead in the 26th minute with a goal scored by Avila, assisted by freshman midfielder Opare Asihene (Battlefield), to make it 2-0.
Hagerstown didn't get another shot attempt until the 30th minute of play and didn't take another corner kick until the 33th minute.
By halftime, Essex had already attempted 12 shots, taken three corner kicks and landed four shots on goal.
The Hawks began the second half with what became their final offensive chances of the day: a quick shot attempt that sailed high in the 46th minute, followed by a corner kick in the 50th minute.
From that point it was all Essex. The offense bombarded Hagerstown goalkeeper Yusupha Fofana with six shots on goal between the 50th and 67th minutes.
The Knights scored again in the 74th minute as freshman forward Isaiah Price (Bowie) sped past the entire Hawks defensive line and found the back of the net, putting the Knights comfortably in front 3-0.
Including that solo goal, Price would finish the game with five shots and two shots on goal, nearly matching sophomore forward Nehemiah Crawford's (Baltimore City College) five shots and three shots on goal.
All three of Crawford's shots on goal were saved by Fofana over a 15-minute span in the second half.
With the win, the Knights move on to the regional semifinal round, a familiar position for the 30-time Region XX champions. They are also the six-time defending champions.
The Knights will face No. 2 seed Frederick Community College, who comes off a 5-0 drubbing of No. 7 seed Harford this past weekend and handed the Knights a heartbreaking 3-2 come-from-behind defeat on Sept. 4.
The semifinal match hosted by CCBC Catonsville is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.