LYNDEN - The Squalicum boys' soccer team was in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar spot two weeks ago.
The 2012 Northwest Conference champions were buried in the bottom of the league table. Twelve days and six wins later, the Storm have put themselves in a much more favorable position.
"We started out rough against some of the harder teams," Squalicum makeshift central defenseman Conner Stevens said. "We have worked our way up and have kind of picked off teams as we went up. It's been really exciting to go on this six-game streak."
Squalicum has hurtled over Lynden, Sedro-Woolley, Meridian, Anacortes, Ferndale, Sehome in the conference standings, and the Storm made Lynden Christian its latest victim Thursday, April 25, with a hard-fought 1-0 Northwest Conference victory against the Lyncs at Bender Fields.
The win clinches Squalicum a Class 2A Northwest District Tournament berth based off a hypothetical head-to-head tie breaker over Sedro-Woolley.
Squalicum has outscored opponents 32-2 during its win streak, and its blanking against LC marked the Storm's fourth consecutive shutout.
Squalicum's strong defensive play has occurred without the services of top defender Hans Kogan, who has missed the past several games but is expected to "be back soon," Storm coach Joe McAuliffe said.
"Conner (Stevens), who's filling that sot, usually plays on the outside or in the midfield," the Squalicum coach said. "He's very sure and smart, and Avery (Wolfe) is one of the pieces that has come together for us. He's already strong and smart, and now he's playing like a big, tough man."
The Storm needed its defense to be in top form against LC. The Lyncs' defense put together their "best performance by far" based off LC coach Brent De Ruyter's account, and Lynden Christian's attack strung together several scoring chances.
"I haven't played defense much lately," Stevens said. "I've been filling in for Hans, but we've been playing really good. We have a lot of depth on the defensive end. We have like nine people that can play defense on the team, so, I mean, Hans is a loss. He's good, but we have a lot of people who can fill in for him."
Squalicum put six shots on goal to Lynden Christian's five. Quality shots came at a premium, but the Storm's Gabe Guidroz and Quinn Carpenter provided the one game-changing play.
Carpenter played in a perfect through ball in the 62nd minute to Guidroz, who made an intelligent run to get behind the Lyncs' back line. Carpenter put the perfect amount of pace on the ball so it landed close enough to Guidroz's foot that LC goalkeeper Brady Harvey didn't have time to reach the ball before Guidroz did. Squaliucm's leading goal scorer had a one-one-one against Harvey from close range, but before Guidroz could shoot, Lynden Christian defender John Van Dalen ran into the back of the Squalicum forward, prompting a penalty kick.
Guidroz blasted a shot into the right side of goal, giving the Storm a 1-0 lead and the eventual game-winner.
"The beauty of (Carpenter's pass) was that he put the right pace on it, because Gabe is so fast and unfortunately a lot of our through balls got swallowed up by the keeper today," McAuliffe said. "We knew we had more speed than they had man-to-man in the back, so we were looking for that situation. The guy had to let (Guidroz) finish or do the foul."
De Ruyter was thrilled with his side's performance despite the losing result.
Lynden Christian began pressing in the final five minutes and put a flurry of goals on frame in the dwindling moments. The Lyncs' best chance came on LC's second-to-last possession. Sophomore midfielder Cody Fransen nearly got his leg on a ball in front of Squalicum's goal off a heading cross, but Fransen couldn't quite reach far enough to poke the ball past Storm keeper Zach Hart.
"I would call it a preparation match," De Ruyter said of LC's loss. "Anytime you can play well and play with a team of Squalicum's caliber, especially going into postseason next week, it's a real shot in the arm for these guys."
LC still left Bender Fields in high spirits. Lynden Christian locked up the Class 1A Northwest District Tournament's top seed Tuesday thanks to Sehome's 6-4 win over Meridian.
"We really have stressed the importance of shooting for that," De Ruyter said of earning the top spot. "It's been a focus in training and just a reminder of, 'Hey, that's what we want. That's something we're shooting for.'"
SQUALICUM 1, LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 0
Scoring: Goal: Gabe Guidroz (Squalicum), time: 62. Shots on goal: Squalicum 6; Lynden Christian 5. Goalies (saves): Squalicum: Zach Hart (4); Lynden Christian: Brady Harvey (4).
Reach Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.