BELLINGHAM - Three senior leaders with remarkable numbers, along with a raft of mostly younger defenders and midfielders with plenty of intangibles, showed why undefeated Bellingham has the best soccer statistic in the Northwest District.
That would be 16-0-1 - the Red Raiders' record following their 4-0 win over Lakewood in the opening round of the Class 2A District Tournament on Saturday, May 4, at Civic Stadium.
Those who still haven't seen the talent and teamwork of Brad Dale, Conlon Kiffney and goalkeeper Auden Schilder will have the chance when top-seeded Bellingham faces Cedarcrest in the championship semifinals on Tuesday, May 7, at 7 p.m. at Civic.
Kiffney had two goals, both assisted by Dale, and Dale scored on a penalty kick. Schilder, meanwhile, received support from a suddenly younger-than-usual back line as freshman Will Mascioli and sophomore Nick Bippley stepped in as starters alongside reliable regulars Hunter Hadfield, a junior, and Blake Langei, a freshman.
With numbers rare for any team that has played only 17 games, center-mid Dale now has 39 points (13 goals and 13 assists) and striker Kiffney has 34 (13 goals, 8 assists). Meanwhile, Schilder, who has surrendered only 7 goals all season, posted his 11th shutout.
"Those point totals are insane (for two players on the same team)," said Bellingham coach Matt Zigulis.
Zigulis, however, was even more enthusiastic in talking about how his back line responded to the absence of reliable regulars Noah Silverman (who was ill) and Lars Botterill (who had a red card in his previous contest and was forced to miss Saturday's game.
"I really have to give Hunter Hadfield a lot of credit," said Zigulis. "Hunter really stepped up and showed leadership when he had to. He did a great job."
Leadership, of course, is Dale's forte as the "quarterback" of midfield. In fact, very few midfielders have amassed his statistics in recent Northwest Conference seasons.
Dale, who was denied three times by Lakewood goalkeeper Sam Roe in the opening 20 minutes, didn't let that shake his poise.
Dale scored the only goal of the first half on a penalty kick 14 minutes into the game. In the second half, he assisted Kiffney's goals in the 46th and 54th minutes.
Kiffney made an effective run on his first goal, but his second score was a stunner. Dale launched a 40-yard free kick across the field to Kiffney, who found himself unmarked about the 5-yard line for a one-touch redirected gem.
"We've had some good connections this season," said Dale. "We've had more-spectacular goals than that, but that was a real good goal."
Kiffney couldn't help but agree.
"I was unmarked on that play and at that distance I should finish," said Kiffney, who plans to play for a club in Norway next year instead of going to an American college right away. "But Brad definitely gave me a perfect (long) ball."
Dale thought there was yet another statistic worth mentioning.
"We had six freshmen on the field at one time in the second half," Dale said.
Another solid young prospect, sophomore forward Noe Betancourt-Cruz, added Bellingham's fourth goal in the 77th minute off a nice cross from freshman Christian Mittet.
Bellingham's only other seniors, Joel Betancourt-Cruz and Emile Diffley, helped dominate the doings at midfield, as usual. They weren't needed for scoring plays, even though both have 15 points.
Keegan Nutt, yet another starting freshman, also helped the Raiders stifle Lakewood.
The fourth-seeded Cougars, who next face Burlington-Edison on Tuesday, forced Schilder to make seven saves, including five in the second half.
Six of the saves were routine for Schilder, but the other was a spectacular sliding stop against Lakewood's Jamie Johnson to preserve the shutout with 17 minutes remaining to play.
"You know, (Schilder, Dale and Kiffney) have shown not only what they can do on the field, but as people with personalities and character," said Zigulis. "I really feel we'll be competitive throughout the postseason. Our guys show up for every game."
BELLINGHAM 4, LAKEWOOD 0
Scoring: Goal: Brad Dale, penalty kick; time: 14:00; Goal: Conlon Kiffney; assist: Dale; time: 46:00; Goal: Kiffney; assist: Dale; time: 54:00; Goal: Noe Betancourt-Cruz; assist: Christian Mittet; time: 77:00. Shots on goal: Bellingham 15, Lakewood 7. Goalkeepers (saves): Bellingham: Auden Schilder (7); Lakewood: Sam Roe (8).