Capitalizing on opportunities has been something Navarre’s boys soccer team has struggled to do at times this season.
But the story was different Monday night, the Raiders executing their offense perhaps as well as they have all season in a 4-1 win over Crestview in the opening round of the District 1-4A tournament at Bennett C. Russell Stadium.
First-year head coach Abdalla Elbaioumy, who took time to console several Crestview players after the loss before heading back to his own bench, was thrilled to see his team play at a high level in a win-or-go-home situation.
“We talked about our mistakes after other games this season and how we kept missing chances and it kept the game close until the end,” Elbaioumy said. “Today, we made things a little easier by scoring off our chances. It’s a good win for our guys.”
Navarre (10-8-3) wasn’t exactly riding a wave of momentum heading into its showdown with the Bulldogs (7-12-1), having lost its last three games, including two in which they didn’t score a goal.
“The past three games were tough,” Elbaioumy said. “We took it a little too easy.”
Intensity and effort weren’t an issue against Crestview and mid-way through the opening half, Mario Cruz scored the first goal of the night.
Morgan Richard stretched the lead to 2-0 with just under two minutes remaining in the half, easily nailing a penalty kick to give the Raiders a two-goal cushion at halftime.
Sam Golden and Zack Gonzalez both scored in the second half while Kyle Hickman made two clutch saves in a span of three minutes late in the second half to prevent the Bulldogs from getting back into the game.
“Kyle provided really good support,” Elbaioumy said. “It was great to see him come in and make plays.”
Navarre now shifts its attention to Washington in a district semifinal showdown Wednesday night at the Ashton Brosneham Complex in Pensacola. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
The Wildcats are the top seed in the tourney, running the table in district play in the regular season by winning all 13 of their games. They defeated Navarre twice, winning 5-1 in the second game of the season and earning a 2-0 win Jan. 13.
Elbaioumy is confident his team can get the job done against Washington, believing all of the training the Raiders have done throughout the season has prepared them for this moment.
Second-seeded Tate and third-seeded Niceville played in the other semifinal. The winners play Friday night for the district championship.
“We have to focus on our chances and play with confidence,” Elbaioumy said. “Every game is 50-50. We have to believe in ourselves and play hard until the end.”
District Quarterfinal Results
Navarre 4, Crestview 1
Washington 8, Milton 0
Niceville 8, Pace 0
Tate 4, Escambia 1
Read more in the Jan. 26 edition of the Navarre Press or subscribe online here.