MARBLEHEAD — Marblehead's Isaiah Pina boasts speed and skill on the attack. He displays a keen ability to strike the ball into the back of the net, too, and with Magicians' leading scorer Kyle Hart out for the foreseeable future with an injury, the boys soccer quad will need Pina to fill some of that void offensively.
On a brisk Monday afternoon at Piper Field, he did just that.
Pina scored just over a minute into action against visiting Salem, then added another in the second half to help the Magicians earn a 3-0 conference victory.
"We've seen flashes of (his ability), but he had been dormant for about 3-4," explained Magicians' head coach Elmer Magana, his team now 4-3-2. "We kept talking to him and advising him what to do, and he finally remembered today the skills that he's had from the beginning. We're extremely happy that he was awakened."
Pina's first goal came off an assist from Harrison Curtis on the Magicians' first scoring chance of the afternoon. Salem quickly regrouped, however, and went toe-to-toe with their NEC counterparts for the majority of the first half.
Witches' (4-7) senior captain Chris Qirjazi was particularly impressive, running all over the field with a purpose and winning a number of 50-50 balls in the middle of the pitch. He helped Salem register four shots on goal in the opening half as it went into the break trailing just 1-0.
"He played a hell of a game" Witches' head coach Padraic Slattery said of Qirjazi. "He's the leader and has been a captain, and he definitely shows it. He's a captain who talks the talk and walks the walk, he's our leading goal scorer, and I think he has the most heart out there as well. Just an all-around great player and he was excellent today."
Despite Qirjazi's valiant efforts, the Magicians remained driven to net that decisive second goal. The chance finally came with just over 27 minutes remaining, as Pina found some open space in the attacking third, patiently deked his way past a defender and slipped a shot past Salem keeper Malcolm Edwards who had come out of his post to defend.
Marblehead added one more late goal when Marc Grazado slipped a low cross into the box and Matthew Sherf was there for the easy finish. The Magicians controlled possession in the second half, firing four of their 16 total shots on goal after the break and connecting on two of them.
"We've been telling the guys if they give you an opening just make one cut and take shots," said Magana. "That's what they did today. I told them if two of them miss, at least one will go in so keep shooting. Sometimes we take way too many touches and we must release the ball quickly, so that was good to see today."
Despite the loss, Salem got some excellent goalkeeping from Edwards, who stopped 13 shots in total. Perhaps the two biggest ones came in the opening half, when the athletic Edwards quickly thwarted one shot before leaping to swat another way off the rebound.
Both Chris Pierre and Lucas Dias also played well for the Witches, helping generate a number of attacking opportunities, particularly via the outside.
For Marblehead, keeper Rory Zampese made seven saves for his fifth shutout this fall.
Magana was certainly pleased with the win, and gave credit to a much improved Salem team that had won just two games a season ago.
"I give lots of props to Salem and to Padraic. His program is upcoming and he has a very refined team," said Magana. "There are no easy victories anymore in our conference; Salem and Saugus, they're different teams now and it just makes us better which is great. It's what we need."