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Patient Episcopal Beats Defensive-Minded SSSAS

Maroon remains undefeated with pair of second-half goals.

St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes senior Will Hathaway turned toward the goal in the closing seconds of the first half against Episcopal and sent a shot that traveled wide right.

"How about that: a shot on goal before the half," Saints head coach Bo Amato joked on the sideline. "We’ve got a game."

Offensive opportunities were few and far between for SSSAS, which spent most of its Oct. 19 match against Episcopal sagging back on the defensive, hoping to manage the flow of play against the nationally ranked Maroon. The strategy worked into the second half as the teams remained scoreless, but Episcopal junior Ntokozo Tshuma put the Maroon on the board in the 49th minute, propelling Episcopal to a 2-0 home victory.

Tshuma scored on a corner kick from Ross Higgins and junior Arnaud Adala Moto added a second goal in the 58th minute.

"We’re not a prolific team going forward, but we make it difficult for people and it’s worked well for us," said Amato, who used the defensive strategy against Episcopal earlier in the season, losing 1-0 on Sept. 28. "We don’t play this defensive against anybody else. … For the most part, we bought in and did the right thing."

Episcopal was prepared for the defensive strategy having faced SSSAS earlier in the season, but that didn’t stop head coach Rick Wilcox from feeling the nerves produced by limited scoring opportunities. After the game, Wilcox said he was pleased with the way his players stayed focused.

"Our style of play is not about pumping balls into the box and hoping for a goal off of a knockdown," Wilcox said. "We’re all about stretching a team out, possessing, working the ball laterally, creating angles and then being dangerous when we get to the attacking third. It’s difficult because [the Saints are] very disciplined, they know their roles, their kids defend hard and they’re good athletes, so we really had to make sure that we were patient.

"On the bench, I was getting a little anxious, but thankfully the guys on the field were not."

The win improved Episcopal’s record to 13-0-1.

The Maroon have outscored their opponents 51-6, including nine shutouts. The two-time defending IAC champions are undefeated in their last 59 games and are ranked No. 20 in the country in the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll. Episcopal finished last season ranked No. 3.

Tshuma, a midfielder/forward, is Episcopal’s leading goal scorer. The junior missed the 2009 season due to knee surgery after scoring 18 goals as a freshman.

"Having him back with the team this year has been a huge lift," Wilcox said, "because he’s such a dynamic player and goal scorer."

The 6-foot-6 Adala Moto, a forward, senior midfielder/forward Dominique Badji and junior midfielder Ross Higgins are also offensive threats for Episcopal. Senior goalkeeper Bennett Jones is committed to William & Mary. Badji, Jones and senior forward/midfielder Trevor Bobola are team captains.

The loss dropped SSSAS to the .500 mark, but Amato said he’s pleased with the effort his team puts forth.

"We’re very young and we compete with everybody," he said. "We’re 5-5-2 and I’m amazingly proud of the group I have for that accomplishment."

Amato said sophomore midfielder Taylor Jackson played well against Episcopal and spoke highly of junior goalkeeper Ryon Huddleston.

"The keeper is amazing," Amato said. "He made some great saves. He’s just extremely athletic and brave. He’s 5-9 but he plays like he’s 6-3, 6-4. He comes off his line extremely well."

Episcopal will travel to face St. Albans at 4:15 p.m. on Oct. 22. SSSAS will travel to face Bullis at 4:15 p.m.