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Goalkeeper Mike Pagano coming up big for Washington Township in soccer

The senior leads the Minutemen into the Group 4 state semifinals.

Washington Township soccer goalie Mike Pagano.
Washington Township soccer goalie Mike Pagano.Read morePHIL ANASTASIA / Staff

The school's athletic director refers to him as the "Seabiscuit" of the soccer team.

"He's too small. He's too this. He's too that," Washington Township athletic director Kevin Murphy said of senior goalkeeper Mike Pagano, the last line of defense for the five-time South Jersey Group 4 champions.

Pagano has heard it all before. He's maybe 5-foot-7, maybe 150 pounds. He knows he doesn't exactly cut an imposing figure between the pipes.

His teammates have heard it all, as well.

"People look at him and they don't think he's much," said Washington Township's Chad Yates, a senior striker. "But they find out what kind of player he is."

Yates delivered an assist on a perfectly-served restart and Jake Logar and Arturo Serano scored goals as Washington Township beat Jackson, 2-1, Thursday in the South Jersey Group 4 title game.

It was a typical big-game performance for the Minutemen, who have won every sectional tournament since 2014 as well as state crowns in 2014 and 2015.

It also was typical performance by Pagano, who made a pair of saves — including snaring a laser by Jackson's Ben Patti — punched away a dangerous corner, and deftly directed the Minutemen defense.

"He reads the game well, he's sure-handed," Washington Township coach Shane Snyder said of Pagano. "He's been solid for us and we really needed it."

Pagano has been playing with many of his classmates for about 10 years. He's always been a goalie.

"He's a soccer guy," Snyder said. "He's played longtime. He knows where to be. He positions himself well, reads the ball. You could see that early."

Pagano suspects opponents sometimes underestimate his ability because of his smaller stature. He uses that as motivation.

"I've got a little bit of a target on my back," Pagano said. "I'm not the tallest goalie out there. Teams try to take advantage of that.

"But my defense has been incredible in helping me out. My teammates, they are everything to my success."

Washington Township (23-1) has allowed just 17 goals all season. Pagano has 13 shutouts after registering 14 in 2017.

"Sometimes there's some pressure and sometimes it gets to me," Pagano said of playing goalkeeper. "But it's great feeling when you make that save that can change the game. You dive, tip it wide, it's a great feeling.

"In big situations, knowing I have to throw my body in there even though I'm not too big, that gives me that fight in me that I'm not going to just not let them take advantage of how small I am. I'm going to come out and show how good I can be."

Pagano is one of 12 Washington Township seniors who are determined to end their careers with a state championship.

In each of the last two seasons, the Minutemen lost in the state semifinals.

"We're 0-2, don't want to be 0-3," said Snyder, whose team meets East Brunswick in the Group 4 state semifinals Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Rowan University.

For Pagano, these last games of the season have added significance, since he's not likely to play soccer in college. He's probably down to the final games of his career.

"I don't want to end my soccer career crying on the bus home," Pagano said. "I want to be celebrating. I want to be smiling with my friends."

State Soccer Semifinals


Group 4 at Rowan University

Boys: Washington Twp. (23-1) vs. East Brunswick (17-3-2), 5 p.m.

Girls: Eastern (23-2-1) vs. Hunterdon Central ( 19-3-1), 7:30 p.m.

Group 3 at Toms River North

Boys: Seneca (19-1-3) vs. Ocean Township (19-3-1), 5 p.m.

Girls: Moorestown (19-4) vs. Brick Twp. (17-4-2), 7:30 p.m.

Group 2 at Hopewell Valley

Boys: Delran (17-5-1) vs. Holmdel (20-0-1), 5 p.m.

Girls: Delsea (20-1-2) vs. Gov. Livingston (19-4), 7:30 p.m.


Group 1 at Paul VI

Boys: Glassboro (19-2-2) vs. Highland Park (19-2), 5 p.m.

Girls: Audubon (16-4-2) vs. Shore (17-5), 7:30 p.m.