By PEDRO VELAZCO
---- — RUSSIAVILLE — Western's boys soccer team snagged a 2-0 lead on Kokomo at halftime, then answered each of the Wildkats' rallies Monday night in a 4-2 victory over the visiting Wildkats.
Panther defensive midfielder Chris Root netted Western's goals in the opening 40 minutes, and Panther forward Mason May bagged two after halftime as Western improved to 2-0 on the season.
Western had the better of the chances in the first half. The breakthrough finally came in the 37th minute when Root converted a penalty. He doubled his tally with 31 seconds left in the half. Brady Crowell passed up from the backline to Chris Carter, who then found Root. Root stepped by a defender and hit the side netting from 16 yards out.
"We had several shots on frame [in the first half] and they were quality shots," Western coach Mike Roe said. "We really only had, in the first half, three or four shots that weren't a quality, high-percentage shot. Eventually, that's going to take its toll on the defense."
Kokomo scored eight minutes after halftime on a set piece. Jordan Eley's corner found an open Arland McIlrath, who thumped his header home. The rally didn't last however, as Western scored three minutes later when Jordan Roe fed May, who worked hard for his chance in the box against physical challenges from two Kat defenders to score and put the lead back up to 3-1.
"That's something we've worked on this year as far as making sure that we counter every score with a fast-paced, we're-going-right-back-at-your-goal [attitude]," Mike Roe said. "Those first five minutes are critical after a goal. A lot of times you can catch a team relatively flat, kind of relishing the moment."
The goal made Kokomo fight back from a two-goal deficit all over again.
"We've got a bunch of new guys and that just boils down to experience," Kokomo coach Kismet Morrison said. "The five-minute rule [not giving up a goal quickly after scoring], we've spoken about that but somehow we couldn't keep it clean for five minutes."
Kokomo's last strike came in the 69th minute on the counter when McIlrath's slicing ball from midfield put free Austin Doehrman to race in on goal from the left side. Western again had a reply as 10 minutes later a long throw from Nick Downing put May in position to score in the box and May hammered home from point-blank range.
Morrison wasn't disappointed with the play of the Kat squad, which fell to 1-2.
"I asked them to just put a little bit of passing together. We did that," he said. "I thought we did fairly well, it's just that our chances in front of goal, we could have done a little bit better. We were coming back, we were coming back, only to be hit again."
Wildkat freshman goalie Caleb Cook had nine saves. Western's Edgar Sanchez had three stops, and saw most of his action snagging crosses and other passes before the Kats could turn those balls goalward.
The Panthers turned the game their way in the first half.
"I really liked the way we maintained possession [in the first half] and the short passing game on the sidelines, especially on the left," Mike Roe said. "I thought Chris Carter and Jordan had several combinations and Root was tremendous, our defensive midfielder for us, in the midfield, not just the two goals he scored but the other things that don't get put in the stat sheet."
Kokomo 2 Western 4 Next: Kokomo visits Peru today; Western hosts Tipton Thursday.