BRADENTON -- Walter Preston has proven to be quite an opportunist.
The Manatee High junior hasn't played a lot this season, but when a teammate came up injured, Preston delivered in the biggest game of the year so far for the boys soccer team.
He scored the game's only goal with 17 minutes left in the first half in Manatee's 1-0 victory over visiting Sarasota Riverview Wednesday night in a Class 5A-District 8 semifinal match.
"I always tell the players the door closes for one person and swings wide open for someone else, and you've got to make yourself take advantage of that," Manatee head coach Mike Gully said.
It was only the second goal of the season for Preston, who nailed rebound shot from about 25 yards out after the ball was punched by the goalie.
"I had a very good angle on it," the outside midfielder said. "I don't get much of a chance to score and I was hoping it would be enough. We were trying to get another one to insure the win, but we did what we had to do. Our defense was rock solid and did a phenomenal job."
While Preston filled in admirably, the Hurricanes defense -- along with goalie Nick Null -- kept the Rams in check. Things got particularly hectic in the final six minutes when Riverview pulled everybody up and bombarded the nets.
"Nick had about seven saves and his last two were the best he had all season," Gully said. "Our three guys in the back really stood out for us (Travis Dye, Cameron Roskamp and Santiago Cruz). Since we've come back from Christmas and we moved to three defenders, those guys have been playing very well. They've all known each other since they were little and they have chemistry." Manatee and Riverview have battled all season. The Canes (13-2-2) played the Rams to a 1-1 tie in their first meeting before taking a 3-2 victory in the rematch.
Manatee moved the ball around in the first half, but missed several scoring opportunities. It flipped in the second half with the Rams dominating the ball, but they couldn't get anything past Null.
"You need your goalie to step up in this type of game and Nick certainly did that," Gully said. "To score that early and be up 1-0 for the rest of the game is not easy. He really took charge at the end and insured us the win."
Null, the kicker for the Manatee football team, is used to pressure and enjoys it to some extent, but he wouldn't mind his teammates scoring more goals.
"In the last couple of minutes it was hectic. They brought everybody to try and put the pressure on, but our defense stepped up really well and made my job easier," Null said. "Sometimes, these close games are fun, but I'd rather us put up by four or five. It makes my job a lot easier. I've always done well under pressure, but have more goals would be nice."
Manatee will be at St. Petersburg High Friday night for the district championship game.