Millbrook's quick strike fuels boys' soccer win over James Wood

By ROBERT NIEDZWIECKI | The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Millbrook boys’ soccer coach Keith Kilmer couldn’t help but be a little amused at the comment made by infrequently used junior Sam Nicol at halftime on the goal he scored 20 minutes into the first half.

“He said, ‘Coach, I didn’t know I was that fast,’” Kilmer said.

The Pioneers didn’t let any limitations — perceived or real — hold them back Thursday.

Despite the absence of two of its best players and despite going into the wind in the first half, Millbrook scored both of its goals before the break and went on to a 2-0 win over James Wood at the Colonels’ Kelican Stadium.

The Northwestern District and Conference 21 West rivals only played 60 minutes because of lightning. After a 20-minute delay, the game was called at 8:35 p.m.

Millbrook (8-3-2, 4-1 district, 2-1 conference) took only six minutes to get on the board on a Patricio Ramirez rebound goal, and the Pioneers didn’t rest on that advantage.

During a first half in which Nicol scored at the end of a 30-yard run with the ball, Millbrook was even with James Wood (5-6, 2-3 district, 0-3 conference) on shots at 7-7. The Pioneers could have been up more at halftime if not for a couple of spectacular saves by Colonels freshman goalkeeper Ethan Russell (five saves total).

Not bad considering that Millbrook was without senior midfielder Paul Blanco and senior defender Kevin Valyear — two of the Pioneers’ three returning 2016 all-conference selections — because of a DECA competition in California.

“We had to come out and play as a team without those guys,” said senior stopper Zach Hicks, who assisted Nicol’s goal with a pass that traveled about 30 yards in the air for Nicol to run onto. “Some people got moved around [from their normal positions], but I didn’t see any difference in our play without them.”

A fact that pleased Kilmer immensely.

“We’ve been very fortunate this year in that we’ve managed to stay healthy for the most part, so this was my first test in dealing with a little adversity and being without two starters,” Kilmer said. “I thought the guys stepped up great.

“I don’t want to say we didn’t miss them. We certainly missed Kevin and Paul. But they played great. They stepped up to the challenge, which is exactly what you expect your boys to do. It doesn’t matter which kid gets on the field, you’re expected to do the job of whatever spot you’re in.”

Millbrook’s other all-conference player, Darin Douglas, kickstarted the Pioneers’ first scoring opportunity by kicking the ball over his head from about 25 yards out toward the Wood goal. Alex Morris — who only started because of the Pioneers’ missing players — sent a low shot to the left that Russell stopped, but Ramirez pounced on the rebound and knocked it in.

“When that first goal went in, we definitely put our heads up high and kept fighting,” Ramirez said. “Every single ball, we fought for it.”

Nicol then outran the James Wood defense down the left side after collecting Hicks’ long ball and beat a charging Russell on a grounded shot to make it 2-0.

“He was on that field for less than a minute,” said Kilmer, who subbed for his forwards frequently. “When Sam made that comment, I said, ‘Could you do that a little more often?’”

Millbrook as a whole couldn’t find another finishing opportunity, but that didn’t matter as the goalkeeper spotlight shifted from Wood’s Russell in the first half to Millbrook’s Chris Kozlowski (five total saves) in the second half.

The Pioneer senior made two diving stops after halftime. One was on a bullet from Jairo Reyes from the 18 that he deflected for a corner kick, the other was a sliding save in which he came off his line to stop Aidan Houser on a shot from less than 10 yards away.

The game was called five minutes after Kozlowski’s stop on Houser.

James Wood coach Brian Sullivan obviously wasn’t happy with the loss, but he was glad the Colonels showed a lot more energy in the second half.

The Colonels had to make their own lineup adjustment since sweeper Matt Digman was on vacation, and they did not start well.

“We talked about how we can’t come out slow in games,” said Sullivan, moments after a team discussion in the locker room. “I’ve watched Milbrook a number of times this year, and they get their opportunities and they finish them. We had our opportunities at the end of the first half and in the second half, but Chris made some great saves.

“We need to put a complete game together. Tuesday [against Harrisonburg] will be the first game all year we’ll have a full team because of injuries and vacations, so we’ll see what happens then.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1

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