ROCK HILL - Northwestern struck quick and often to defeat Blythewood 5-0 in the first round of the Class 4A Upper State boys soccer playoffs Tuesday.
Missing was the sluggish start that Trojans coach Dom Wren has bemoaned all season. In its place was a Trojans team that didn't score until nearly 20 minutes in but was agressive throughout. The Trojans were sharp, playing perhaps one of their best halves of the season.
"I'm very, very pleased with this team," Wren said. "We played from the first whistle. And although we didn't score in the first 20 minutes, we were effective in what we wanted to do.
"We got into a rhythm tonight and stayed with it."
Northwestern (23-2) hosts Boiling Springs, a 2-1 winner over Easley, at 7 p.m. Thursday. Blythewood ended its season with an 8-13 record.
The Trojans scored first on a close-in goal by Alex Martinez. It came at the 20:44 mark and was the first of four Northwestern goals in the half. Martinez took a long pass from Ricky Garbanzo and slammed the ball home.
Garbanzo took advantage of a pair of Blythewood mistakes. The first resulted in a direct kick at the 16:52 mark. Garbanzo set up slightly to the right-center of the net, staring down four Bengals in a line between him and the net.
Rather than trying to force the ball past the wall of Bengals, Garbanzo lofted it over the heads of the four defenders, high enough to escape the reach of goalie Ethan Mayes.
Garbanzo took a penalty shot at the 8:30 mark. This time he went for the fastball and rocketed his shot into the left corner of the net.
Garbanzo completed his hat trick with 40 minutes to play when he took a cross in the box from Martinez and scored his third goal to put the Trojans ahead 4-0.
"We decided to come out and give it to them (Blythewood)," Garbanzo said. "We should have scored 15 minutes in, but the shot was just a little off. Tonight, we played soccer the Northwestern way. It's going to take that every night for us to win another championship."
The Trojans were just as effective on defense, limiting Blythewood to one shot on goal.
Northwestern 5, Blythewood 0
Goals: N - Alex Martinez 2, Ricky Garbanzo 3. Saves: B- Ethan Mayes 5, Boone Benson 1. N - Sam Faris 1, Tyler Gross 0. Rec: Northwestern 23-2, Blythewood 8-13