Raiders endure painful ending to soccer season

Mario Cruz sat on the field at the Ashton Brosneham Complex Wednesday night, his face, with tears streaming down it, buried in his hands.

Navarre head soccer coach Abdalla Elbaioumy walked over to him, knelt down and did his best to console the senior, who was just beginning to feel the sting of a 1-0 District 1-4A tournament semifinal loss to powerhouse Washington sink in.

A little later, Elbaioumy took a moment to hug two other players who were both devastated by the loss that lowered the curtain on their season.

Scoreboards don’t always tell the whole story. They don’t account for heart and hustle. They don’t measure the kind of relentless effort where players leave everything they have on the field.

Unbeaten Washington is arguably the best team in the area, but for 40 exhausting and intense minutes on a mild January evening in Pensacola, that didn’t matter to Navarre, which went toe-to-toe with the Wildcats only to come up short in its bid for an upset.

“We had a lot of chances. It was just our luck tonight. It’s a tough loss for us,” Elbaioumy said.

Defeated twice in the regular season by the Wildcats – the Raiders lost 5-1 and 2-0 – Navarre felt as if it put together the perfect game plan for this latest showdown with its district rival.

The Raiders knew what to expect and spent Thursday reliving the two regular-season losses, hoping the lessons from the experience would pay off.

“We had a video session the night before and talked about the game and what we had to do differently,” Elbaioumy said. “One mistake cost us tonight. You saw we controlled the game most of the night. It was our best game of the season.”

That mistake occurred less than 10 minutes into the game. Jessi Piazza shot the ball through the defense and past goalkeeper Zack Gonzalez for a 1-0 lead.

“That isn’t what we planned for,” Gonzalez said. “We did a good job of keeping our heads up and fighting until the end.”

Washington (17-0-2) never scored again, getting few opportunities to do so. The Raiders (10-9-3) tried to counter, creating several chances but never cashing in against a fast and physical Wildcats team.

Elbaioumy was hoping to see his team go further. In the wake of the loss, he reflected on his first season as the head coach of the Raiders.

“I feel bad I won’t be able to coach these seniors next year. They are a great group of players,” Elbaioumy said. I’m proud of this team. I feel bad about the way it turned out but we’ll try to build our team up for next year.”

Read more in the Feb. 2 edition of the Navarre Press or subscribe online here.

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