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Northwest advances to state tournament on long free kick from Najib Ortiz in 1-0 win

Northwest advances to state tournament on long free kick from Najib Ortiz in 1-0 win

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The left foot of Najib Ortiz contained a little magic Saturday.

Northwest’s junior midfielder sent a 35-yard free kick on goal in the 30th minute. The ball eluded both Vikings and Ralston players trying to make contact with it during the Class B, District 6 final.

It also missed the keeper. But it didn’t miss hooking inside the post into the bottom left corner of the goal.

That proved to be the difference and allowed Northwest to qualify for a second consecutive trip to the Class B state tournament with a 1-0 victory.

“It’s surreal. It’s something you live for,” Ortiz said. “Growing up playing soccer, this is something I wanted.”

The free kick barely missed connecting with Northwest’s leading scorer, Parker Janky.

“I was trying to find Parker, but I guess it just kind of curled in,” Ortiz said. “That’s what we wanted, so it was all good.”

Northwest’s coaching staff certainly considered it all good.

“That was a good little ping,” co-head coach John Kenna said. “We crowded that box and Parker ran right by it. I think he distracted the goalie a little bit, and that ball just found the bottom corner of the net. That was a 30-, 35-yard rip, so that was nice.”

Co-head coach Ann Purdy said Ortiz has the perfect demeanor for a high-pressure match.

“He’s so calm. He doesn’t get frayed,” she said. “He just gets out there and plays the game. We’ve got him playing exactly where he needs to play, and he can disseminate that ball wherever it needs to go. He is an awesome player.”

Ralston (10-9) generated some opportunities to tie, especially in the second half, but never found the equalizer.

No. 5-rated Northwest (13-3) thought it got an insurance goal in the second half, but Alex Lesiak’s score was disallowed by an offside call.

“We kind of thought for a little bit we had a cushion, but they called that offside,” Kenna said. “But they regrouped. They didn’t let that deflate them or cause them to lose their focus.”

Ralston pulled its goalkeeper up to help out on a late corner kick, but the Vikings were able to survive. The Rams were going to get another corner try when time expired.

“It takes everything,” said Ortiz of holding onto the lead. “You’ve got to put your heart on the field and leave everything out there.”

Northwest carries a seven-match winning streak into Thursday’s first-round of the state tournament at Morrison Stadium in Omaha.

“This is exciting,” Kenna said. “They deserve it and worked super hard. We’re now 13-3, which is phenomenal. It’s a good way to reward them by going to state. We can’t be prouder of them.”

Northwest makes its fifth state tournament appearance and second in a row after also qualifying in the most recent event in 2019.

The fifth-seeded Vikings will aim for their first state tournament victory when they take on fourth-seeded Bennington (15-3) Thursday at 7 p.m.

Purdy said defense and depth helped Northwest reach this point.

“What got us here was a lot of defense,” Purdy said. “Our back line did an awesome job. Those are a lot of our seniors – Eli Sattley, Connor Blackburn, Jacob Kaminski -- then (sophomore) Alex Korte. They all played a fantastic back line.

“(Goalkeeper) Zeke (Koenig) has 10 shutouts now, and if it wasn’t for our back line, that wouldn’t happen. Then we have some good midfielders like Trevyn Keene. They’ve all added so many parts and it has taken all of those players. We have 15 players who are key to our varsity team right now.”

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