Joni Almendarez isn't afraid to exude a lot of confidence. The Hempstead junior defender knows he is good and he's not hesitant to let you know it.
After Wednesday's game, it's difficult to argue with him. Almendarez anchored a defense that was superb and he scored the lone goal on a penalty kick to lift No. 6 Hempstead to a 1-0 win over host and third-seeded Elmont in a Nassau Class AA quarterfinal boys soccer game.
Hempstead (8-3-2) will play No. 10 Great Neck South in the semifinals at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Mitchel Field.
"I closed the defense down as usual," Almendarez said. "I had my brother next to me and we defended well."
It's the truth. Almendarez, along with his younger brother Eduar, Kevin Lopez and Miguel Sarravia faced the daunting task of shutting down speedy Benjamin Alonge, who scored 23 goals, and Clemson-bound Richard Robinson of Elmont.
"We put pressure on the ball," Lopez said. "We didn't let them turn around."
After a scoreless first half, Hempstead drew a penalty kick with 34:20 left. Joni Almendarez took it and scored. "I was looking bottom left trying to hit it as hard as I can," Almendarez said. "It comes out every time. There were no nerves. I'm used to it."
Elmont (10-3-3) also was awarded a penalty kick with 21:42 left, but Robinson missed wide right. "I think we had more scoring opportunities than Hempstead did," Elmont coach Patrick Corvetti said. "We missed a penalty kick, we hit a post, and sent shots wide. We played well. In Elmont's history no one even knows when there was a home playoff game. It's an amazing accomplishment."
The same applies to Hempstead. According to Hempstead coach Franckle Gauthier, it has been at least 20 years since the Tigers reached the semifinals. "We were on our toes," Gauthier said. "I skipped my lunch. I knew we were in for a challenge. I'm going to go back and eat my lunch now."
Hempstead keeper Ynosencio Bonilla left with 5:06 to go in the first half with a back injury and was replaced by freshmen Jose Guerra. Bonilla returned with 22:25 left in the second half.
"We had to defend well," Joni Almendarez said. "It was a hard game."