LYNDEN - An inch here, a misstep there, and Lynden Christian's girls' soccer team would have secured a much more comfortable win over Mount Baker in the first round of the Class 1A Northwest District Tournament.
Nonetheless, a 4-0 win aided by a hat trick from Sally Vlas will have to suffice as they move on to face Kings on Friday, Nov. 1, at Kings High School, with the winner of that match moving on to the district championship game on Nov. 2.
"I thought we just grounded out a really tough one," Lynden Christian coach Brent De Ruyter said. "Baker played incredibly physical and made everything tough. I thought our ability to withstand that really was the key."
If not for Mount Baker keeper Jamie Johnson, who recorded 13 saves in the match, Lynden Christian might have been looking at a four-goal lead entering halftime. Instead, the senior goalie faced three different one-on-one situations in the first half alone, and each time she made a sprawling, diving save that kept the Mountaineers within striking distance.
Finally, though, Courtney Hollander received a corner from Sara Dougan in the 23rd minute that fluttered in between several players to find the back of the net, giving Lynden Christian its much awaited first goal.
It also released a giant of sigh of relief, as Johnson had up until that point snuffed out any offensive opportunities the Lyncs managed to create.
"There was a little bit of frustration there," De Ruyter said. "So for us to be able to understand, 'Hey, OK, we got one. Let's play our game. Let's not force the issue and be patient.' And I thought our girls did a really nice job of that."
Following the goal, only a few minutes later Johnson found herself alone against a free-charging Shaye Brandsma down the left side. Brandsma struck the ball from the left edge of the box into Johnson, who smothered it while also taking a clean shot to the face. Johnson would later have to be checked out by her trainers, but she remained in the game to do as she had done all afternoon: prevent Lynden Christian from running away with the match.
"She was great - she was really aggressive," Mount Baker coach Jason Jorgensen said.
De Ruyter echoed Jorgensen's thoughts: "Unbelievable. She kept her team in it."
Even Johnson, though, couldn't prevent Vlas from doing what she does best: score goals. And her goal in the final moments of the first half gave Lynden Christian some much-needed breathing room entering the second half.
Vlas received an over-the-top pass from Haley Hollander that she was able to control, outrun her defender and place past a diving Johnson.
Coming out of the half, the Lyncs gathered and spoke of intensity; of putting more pressure on Mount Baker's back line; of making more of their chances on goal. And while Johnson continued to frustrate Lynden Christian, Vlas continued to find runs down the left side that sooner or later were going to lead to goals.
Vlas finally found her opening, albeit a small one, in a place she rarely looked to shoot earlier in the season.
"Courtney (Hollander) always told me to go near post," Vlas said. "Most of the time, I kind of just kick it. But halfway through the season, she was like, 'Sally, you need to go near post.' So I've been working on that and keeping it low on the ground."
That advice came in handy again four minutes later as Vlas made a nearly-identical run down the left side that resulted in another near-post goal for Vlas, sealing her hat trick.
Despite the win, De Ruyter made a point of telling his team that moving forward, it will have to convert on more of those open scoring opportunities.
"When we have opportunities in the playoffs, we have to capitalize," he said. "Once (Vlas) did that and made runs in, and other players were getting opportunities, that is where our confidence went through the roof."
LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 4, MOUNT BAKER 0
Goal: Courtney Hollander (LC), assist Sara Dougan: time: 23:00; Goal: Sally Vlas (LC), assist Haley Hollander: time: 39:00; Goal: Sally Vlas (LC), assist NA: time: 73:00; Goal: Sally Vlas (LC), assist NA: time: 77:00. Shots on goal: Mount Baker 4; LC 14. Goalies (saves) Mount Baker: Jamie Johnson (13); LC: Daphnee Manderson (2).