PANAMA CITY — It’s fairly easy to forgive keeper Zac Watson and his Bay teammates for not focusing too much on what usually is a patented January surge by the Tornadoes heading into the boys soccer playoffs.
Bay, a loser of four straight games to close the regular season was thinking more about survival than gaining its seventh regional tournament in eight years.
The first half of the Tornadoes’ 2-0 District 1-2A triumph over South Walton Tuesday at Tommy Oliver Stadium was emblematic of the issues facing a program that has freshmen dotting the starting lineup where last season seniors prevailed.
The Seahawks, seeking their first regional tournament in four years, and with Tuesday’s district semifinal survivor securing a berth in next week’s 1-2A bracket, outshot Bay 13-9 and dominated serious scoring opportunities.
Bay had Watson on the back line, however, and he not only corralled a hard shot by Roberto Delatorre 10 minutes into the game but stonewalled Edgar Florez on another solid scoring opportunity prior to the first water break.
Jackson Hannan was just as staunch for South Walton, smothering a rebound by Jacob Morrow and making a diving stop Christian Wilkins shortly before halftime to preserve a 0-0 deadlock.
When Bay’s Michael Layfield directed a low shot past Hannan inside the left post 6 minutes into the second half Watson became especially prominent. That also mirrored head coach Ron Houpt’s anxiety every time Watson dashed out to aggressively confront a scoring chance.
“He wants me to stay on the line, but I have to do what my instincts tell me,” Watson said.
South Walton made a bid to even the match in the 76th minute when Jesus Gordillo unleashed a blast from two yards outside the box.
“I virtually saw it all the way even though it had to go through a few bodies,” said Watson, who momentarily bobbled Gordillo’s hard shot.
“I thought it was going to bounce in front of me, I was thinking about the rebound,” Watson said. Instead the ball dropped harmlessly to his right and the Seahawks didn’t have a player in front to challenge.
Their other chance for the equalizer had come 2 minutes earlier when Delatorre got loose down the left wing. He crossed over to free up a right-footed shot from directly in front of Watson, but defender Zach Smith timed his slide to easily deflect the shot well wide of the net.
The Tornadoes, 9-10-1, settled the outcome and advanced to Friday’s District 1-2A finale at Pensacola Catholic when Corey Joseph converted a penalty kick with 1 minute remaining.
Joseph generated most of the Tornadoes’ offense from midfield and got off nine of their 22 shots.
South Walton 0 0 — 0
Bay 0 2 — 2
First half: none. Second half: 1. Bay, Michael Layfield (William Clemo), 46th minute. 2. Bay, Corey Joseph penalty kick, 79th minute.
Shots: South Walton 13-5-18, Bay 9-13-22. Shots on goal: South Walton 7-2-9, Bay 4-7-11. Saves: South Walton (Jackson Hannan) 4-5-9, Bay (Zac Watson) 7-2-9. Corner kicks: South Walton 1-1-2, Bay 1-1-2. Yellow cards: South Walton: bench, German Hernandez.