Emotions from outside distractions had bothered Josh Gross all season.
He channeled that pent-up frustration through his right foot Monday evening.
And it turned into a senior night to remember.
In the final game of his career on the Eastern Wayne pitch, Gross provided all of the offense — a memorable natural hat trick in a 3-0 victory over county rival Southern Wayne.
“I just appreciate my team, they’ve been behind me the whole time,” Gross said.
Just 11 days ago, the Warriors missed Gross’ field presence and ball-possession skills in an overtime loss to the Saints.
He quickly established himself within a two-minute stretch in the opening half.
Gross ripped a 40-yard shot that barely cleared the crossbar in the 12th minute. Two minutes later, he just missed a back-heel flick on goal off Mike Guthrie’s corner kick.
“We knew with him coming back, we were going to do great things,” EW head coach Scott Summers said. “I told him before the game ‘you’re going to get a hat trick today.’”
The storybook night started in the 37th minute.
A stoppage in play resulted in a yellow-card booking for the Saints, who committed a total of 21 fouls and drew three yellow cards. Once the center-field referee gave his explanation to SW head coach Alex Rodriguez, he put the ball back in play.
Gross, admittedly, didn’t get all of the free kick — a low strike to the near post.
“I tried to just hit a knuckle, but it didn’t seem to go my way,” Gross said. “He [SW keeper] tipped it in. I’m glad that happened.”
Leading 1-nil at the break, Eastern Wayne (5-13-1 overall) carried its aggressive mindset over into the second half. Junior Alex Thomas curled a 40-yard free kick toward the back post that the Saints’ keeper managed to corral with a Warrior charging toward him to pick up a possible deflection.
As play turned physical, a passion-filled Gross drew a hard foul that left the EW faithful howling for a yellow card. Instead, they cheered when Gross curled a goal-scoring shot around the Saints’ four-man wall that settled into the upper right 90.
“The keeper wasn’t ready. He was trying to get the wall situated, so I put it at the far end where he wasn’t,” Gross said. “I was just aiming for that top right corner, and I put it right there.”
Nearly midway through the second half, Gross completed his hat trick — a 30-yard effort that floated around the Saints’ four-man wall and landed in the same place as before.
It was Gross’ first hat trick of the season and the third of his three-year varsity career.
The deciding goal occurred barely 6 ½ minutes after EW keeper Amjad Sarah stopped a point-blank penalty-kick attempt by the Saints’ Wildrens Doliscar. Sarah finished with five saves between the pipes for the Warriors, who filed their second straight shutout.
“The boys had that fight and sense of urgency knowing that this was the last game [of the season],” said Summers, whose team had a 0-6-1 worksheet against the Saints since 2015.
“The fact that our defense held it tight back there and didn’t allow No. 10 (Doliscar) to get through … we knew we had to lock him down and have cover behind him as well. That was one of our goals today.
“The boys came out and gave 150 percent … gave everything they’ve got for the seniors and themselves.”
And Gross did the rest.