BELLINGHAM - Bodies were falling over and over again onto the unforgiving Orca Field turf. Legs were tangled, jerseys were pulled, heads and shoulders collided and play was chippy as ever.
Lynden Christian didn't back down. Not an inch.
Coach Brent De Ruyter, choked up and a tad emotional after the match, had difficulty at first describing the Lyncs' grueling win.
"It's a lot of hard work," said De Ruyter before taking a moment to collect himself. "Great group of kids."
Senior Ben Knibbe, one of nine LC seniors, provided Lynden Christian the winning goal early, and the Lyncs' defense repelled Seattle Academy's attack time after time to lift LC to a 1-0 Class 1A State Tournament win against Seattle Academy Saturday afternoon, May 18, at Whatcom Community College.
The win sends the Lyncs to the state semifinals for the first time since 2002, when LC finished fourth in state. Lynden Christian will face Chelan at 4 p.m. Friday, May 24, at Sunset Chev Stadium in Sumner.
"They've just worked so hard and put together some good stuff today," De Ruyter said, "and Ben's finish was huge. The opportunities were few and far between, but they kept pressing and fought incredibly hard. That's a real physical team, and I thought we matched it. ... We made plays when we had to. Guys in the back were stellar. We really did a great job limiting their opportunities, too. That was just a war, an absolute war."
De Ruyter's emphasized physical play all season, and Lynden Christian rose to the challenge Friday. The Lyncs hung with Seattle Academy the full 80 minutes and didn't lose their cool after a pair of Cardinal players were booked with yellow cards.
"Our guys can all handle the physicality the other team is bringing," Lynden Christian defender Liam Kroontje said.
Defenders Trevor Dalla Santa, John Van Dalen, Hunter Weinert and Kroontje combined with goalkeeper Brady Harvey to post the LC's fifth postseason shutout. Lynden Christian has outscored its seven opponents 17-6 during districts, tri-districts and state.
Midfielders Cody Fransen, Luke Reardon and especially Trevor Kamena supported its back line tremendously throughout the match, but more importantly, during the final 15 minutes when Seattle Academy began pressing forward for an equalizing score.
"He was like a fifth defensive back today," said De Ruyter of Kamena. "He really was. He challenged their best ball winner (Torin Corr) all day long."
Kamena was everywhere. He supported Lynden Christian's attack, controlled possession in the middle third and flustered Seattle Academy's attacking players by knocking them off the ball from behind.
If it wasn't for a perfect through ball from Fransen to Knibbe, who made a heads-up diagonal run to get behind the Cardinal's defensive back, in the 10th minute, the match would have been completely different.
"We always have a system where we take it into the front and the outside mids take diagonal runs in, and we just got the defense on its heels, timed it perfectly and executed well," Knibbe said.
Fransen's ball squeezed between the right inside and right outside back, as Knibbe sprinted down the left side of the field. The pass landed on his foot in stride, and Knibbe held off a defender on his back to blast a shot past the charging Seattle Academy goal keeper from 15 yards out.
"Cody just played the ball perfectly, and Ben was ready," De Ruyter said. "He wasn't waiting for the ball to be played. He just timed the run perfectly, and the guy was just a half step off of him, and I give Ben credit for holding him off behind him. ... To slide it past the keeper was huge. A huge start for us. Huge."
Seattle Academy wasn't able to create many scoring chances. Corr sent a slow rolling cross through traffic in front of Lynden Christian's goal in the 53rd minute but neither a Cardinal Lyncs player put a foot on it. Seattle Academy midfielder John Reynolds found enough open space to take a promising shot on goal in the 72nd minute, but Harvey easily blocked the shot. Those chances were the only serious Seattle Academy could conjure up.
Knibbe nearly sealed the game in the 74th minute. He received the ball wide open on the left wing after LC mid Colin Robinson made a hustle play to save the ball from going out of bounds. His save went to Reardon, who sent a cross to Knibbe, who was wide open, but Knibbe struck the ball on an off-bounce and his shot went flying over the crossbar.
Robinson and LC forward Murphy Zhang were running all over the field making plays in the final five minutes to ensure the win.
"It's a real big accomplishment," Kroontje said. "It's been a long time. This is the first time we've made it this far in a long time, and we're really hoping for good results next weekend."
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 1, SEATTLE ACADEMY 0
Goal: Ben Knibbe (Lynden Christian), assist Cody Fransen: time: 10. Shots on goal: Lynden Christian 7; Seattle Academy 5. Goalies (saves) Lynden Christian: Brady Harvey (4); Seattle Academy: Oliver Galanti (6).
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.