BELLINGHAM - The chants billowing from Bellingham's locker room were clear: "Mia, Mia, Mia."
The Red Raiders had good reason to fill the crisp November air with Mia Hodges' name, seeing as her goal in the 71st minute against cross-town rival Sehome in an elimination game on Tuesday, Nov. 5, in the Class 2A Bi-District girls' soccer tournament kept Bellingham's season alive for at least one more game.
"Obviously, our biggest rivalry is Sehome," Hodges said, "so I think that was really awesome to just feel that last goal that no one expects.
"End of the game - everyone is putting everything into it. It was a really good feeling."
Hodges' goal proved to be all that Bellingham needed to defeat the Mariners 1-0 at Civic Stadium. The Red Raiders will face Burlington-Edison in a winner-to-state contest at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7, at Civic Stadium.
The Bellingham-Sehome game was everything an inner-city rivalry should be. Tenacious, physical and both of their seasons's hung in the balance. Something that was less obvious, though, was the Mariners' six-year unbeaten streak against Bellingham. The last time Bellingham beat Sehome was Oct. 27, 2008, with a 2-0 shut out.
Nobody on Bellingham's roster had ever tasted victory against the Mariners, and when the final whistle blew, that was a fact not lost on any of them.
"It's like a big bubble finally popped for us," Bellingham coach Mark Wright said. "There's been a protective shield around Sehome for us. ... They still have the mentality that they are a strong, superior team, and it's hard for us to break through that.
"When that goal went in, it was like, 'Finally.'"
Hodges said the girls had spoken of the streak before the match with the intent of doing everything possible to end it.
"The (seniors) were ready to die for this game," said Hodges, who is a junior. "They wanted it so badly, and it meant so much to all of us to be able to give that to them their senior year. We finally beat Sehome."
Hodges' goal also brought with it a giant sense of relief, seeing as how entering its game with Sehome, Bellingham had struggled to find the back of the net.
The Red Raiders were held scoreless against Archbishop Murphy in the first round, and Wright said after the game that his team needed to get more pressure so to create better opportunities. Through 70 minutes, Sehome's senior keeper, Hannah Lauffer, was only adding to Bellingham's frustrating trend.
"... We have such a hard time putting the ball in the net," Wright said. "Any goal counts, and we always preach to the girls that crappy goals count, messy goals count, funky goals count, and I just felt like we were battling so hard the whole game. ... It was kind of appropriate that was the kind of goal we got."
The goal was by no means an individual effort. Hodges, standing at the top of the box, found herself in the right place after a Bellingham player snuck a shot from outside the right side of the box that deflected of a Sehome defender to the feet of Hodges.
"I saw that the keeper was off to the right-hand side of the net, so I went toward the other side," Hodges said, "but other than that, it was really just lucky placement of the ball, and everyone's hard work finally paying off."
The battle between the two senior keepers, Lauffer for Sehome and Hannah Jacobus for Bellingham, led fans in the grandstands to believe this game was heading toward penalty kicks. Lauffer held Bellingham scoreless already once this season, and Jacobus withstood several shots on goal in the early part of the second.
The difference, as so often it is in sports, was just a matter of inches, as Lauffer was fully extended to her right trying to prevent Hodges' goal from reaching the back of the net.
Jacobus, on the other hand, was able to stave off the Mariners' final flurry.
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or 360-715-2238. Follow on Twitter @bhamsports for other Whatcom County sports news.
BELLINGHAM 1, SEHOME 0
Goal: Mia Hodges (Bellingham), assist NA: time: 71:00. Shots on goal: Bellingham 10; Sehome 11. Goalies (saves) Bellingham: Hannah Jacobus (11); Sehome: Hannah Lauffer (9).
Time and location of winner-to-state game corrected on Nov. 6.