BELLINGHAM - There was no storming the field. Bellingham coach Matt Zigulis didn't get a Gatorade bath. No sentimental hugs were given. In fact, the Red Raiders soccer team acted as if they didn't know they'd just wrapped up a Northwest Conference title.
Pretty strange for a club looking to finish atop the league table for the first time since 2007.
Sure enough, the Red Raiders weren't aware of their accomplishment.
"Was that it?" Zigulis questioned with a smile when asked about Bellingham's impressive feat. "Did we wrap it up?"
Conlon Kiffney's reaction wasn't much different.
"I hope so," he said. "I haven't been on a team when we were a No. 1 seed."
Kiffney can't say that anymore thanks to a 1-0 Northwest Conference win against Burlington-Edison that clinched a NWC championship Tuesday, April 23, under the lights at Civic Stadium in a match between the league's top two teams.
"I showed them a highlight of Manchester United yesterday when they wrapped up their league, so maybe that helped," joked Zigulis about his Red Raiders' performance.
Perhaps Bellingham (13-0-1, 9-0-1 NWC) got its math wrong when it counted up all its wins. The 1-0 result marked the undefeated Red Raiders' ninth straight victory. Bellingham's lone blemish was a 1-1 tie against Lynden back on March 20.
Zigulis had a better suggestion to why Bellingham didn't have Tuesday's match pegged as the title clincher: The Red Raiders are honing in on a bigger prize.
"They are a special group," Zigulis said. "We realize how special we are. Not to be conceited, but we have our expectations and those expectations are high that we hold ourselves to. I don't want to label what it is, but there is a job to do, and we haven't done our job yet."
Kiffney added: "We can't stop now. We can't let it drop off now. It's the most important part of the season."
Bellingham looked as impressive against Burlington-Edison as Zigulis described his group.
There's no doubt Bellingham controlled the game throughout, despite the one-goal difference. The Red Raiders put 11 shots on frame to Burlington-Edison's 4, and the trio of midfielders/forwards Emile Diffley, Brad Dale and Conlon Kiffney kept the Tigers' middle off-balance most of the night.
Bellingham got great contributions from its defense, which posted its ninth shutout and fifth straight blanking, and veteran goalkeeper Auden Schilder made several outstanding saves. His most notable piece of defense occurred in the 54th minute when he showed off his reaction time snatching a ball out of the air off a Burlington-Edison header from eight yards out.
The Red Raiders' defense wasn't too busy, though, because Bellingham controlled pace and possession.
"We wanted to play our game," Kiffney said. "We wanted to get (the ball) down the middle with Brad, Emile and I, and I think we did that pretty well. It took them out of their game plan, and we settled down."
It was the trio that was responsible for Bellingham's game-winning goal.
Both teams spent the first 15 minutes getting their footing. Dale unloaded a number of hopeful chances before Diffley and Kiffney connected seven minutes before halftime.
Diffley had the ball at his feet from 45 yards out along the right side of the field. Kiffney saw a break down in the Tigers' back line and made a run left to right down the middle of Burlington-Edison's defense. Diffley played a beautiful ball in to Kiffney, who gathered, took one touch to his right and blasted a shot across his body from 15 yards out past Burlington-Edison goalkeeper Javier Navarro for his 10th goal of the season.
"It was a perfect ball," Kiffney said. "The outside back was too far out, and there was an opening behind the center back, so I ran in, (Diffley) saw it, knew exactly what I was doing and played a perfect ball. I didn't have to do anything."
Bellingham had several more scoring chances in the second half, but Kiffney's goal was all the Red Raiders needed.
Bellingham travels to play Lynden Christian next at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Bender Fields. The Red Raiders play one more game following LC before they'll host the Cascade Conference No. 3 seed Saturday, May 1, at Civic Stadium during the first round of the Class 2A Northwest District Tournament.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
BELLINGHAM 1, BURLINGTON-EDISON 0
Scoring: Goal: Conlon Kiffney (Bellingham), assist: Emile Diffley, time: 33. Shots on goal: Burlington-Edison 4; Bellingham 11. Goalies (saves): Burlington-Edison: Javier Navarro (7); Bellingham: Auden Schilder (4).