BELLINGHAM - The effects of a long week and a looming spring break took their tolls on both the Bellingham and Squalicum boys' soccer teams.
The two programs each navigated three games over a six-day span entering their matchup Saturday, March 29, at Civic Stadium, and the weary legs showed to the tune of a 1-1 tie in a non-league game, testing the depths of their respective rosters.
"People were just kind of holding it together," Squalicum coach Joe McAuliffe said. "Injured players were trying to stay on the field. Both sides, they all wanted to win badly, but I don't think everybody had the legs underneath them to do as well as they can."
Despite the fatigue and missing players on both sides, the city rivals played with the same vigor, Bellingham coach Matt Zigulis said, minus the energy to make good on what precious few offensive chances each had.
The Storm were the early aggressors, controlling the ball for much of the first half, eventually leading to a goal by sophomore forward Eli Bacco-Guidroz in the 19th minute. Bacco-Guidroz was the recipient of a favorable bounce and an open net after David Abbott-Smith sent in a corner that deflected off several players. He sunk the tap-in after Bellingham keeper Logan Schilder was out of position trying to deflect the corner.
That exchange leading to the Storm's 1-0 lead was indicative of the Red Raiders' struggles throughout much of the first half, Zigulis said.
"That whole first half we were just letting them come in, letting them play - couldn't deal with their crosses, losing the 50-50 balls and things like that," Zigulis said. "It was just lazy, so at halftime we just had to wake up."
Bellingham, which generated just three shots on goal in the first half, looked relegated to a 1-0 deficit until Noe Betancourt-Cruz exposed one of Squalicum's trouble so far this season: lapses in focus after taking an early lead.
The Storm did so against Burlington-Edison on Tuesday, allowing the Tigers a tying goal early in the game after scoring one itself to take the lead. Some credit had to be given to Betancourt-Cruz, though, McAuliffe said, as the junior midfielder made an exceptional play on the ball in between two defenders to get the shot off in the 39th minute.
"Every team is vulnerable in the last five minutes," McAuliffe said, "and we know that, and we let our marking get sloppy. ... I think that's also a part of being tired."
After receiving a leading pass from sophomore Keegan Nutt, Betancourt-Cruz controlled the ball and shot a low liner past Squalicum keeper Trenton Langer into the back-right corner of the net to tie the game.
"I was running, saw the keeper come out and I got a little nervous," Betancourt-Cruz said. "I felt the defender. I was lucky (the ball) landed right there because I didn't know where it was when I pulled it back. It was a good shot. ... That goal made me feel good, especially because it's Squalicum."
The goal provided a spark to a Red Raiders squad that Zigulis thought played uninspired soccer in the first half. In the locker room at the break, the Bellingham coach asked for 40 more minutes of soccer before his team would head out for break, and he got the response he wanted.
Red Raiders senior captain Lars Botterill led a stingy defensive group in the second half, keeping the talented and lethal Storm forward Christian Chala from getting strong looks at Schilder. In one particular instance in the 55th minute, Chala looked to have a breakaway that was quickly snuffed out by Botterill, who chased him down and defused of the threat.
"He's our most experienced defender," Zigulis said. "He's a very composed center back. ... It was good for him to rise above and improve off his first half. Our whole back four, everybody was kind of down, and for him to step up in the second half and take control, it was great to see."
That second goal never came for either team, although Nutt, who scored Bellingham's lone goal in its 1-0 win over Lynden Christian on Friday, had two free kicks that sailed wide left in the later stages of the game.
But with the game not counting toward league standings, both Zigulis and McAuliffe were happy with the outcome.
"I'll take the tie. I'll definitely take a tie," Zigulis said. "Obviously, I'd be greedy and take a win, but I don't want a loss, and I think that's a fair result considering where both teams are at right now in the season."
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
BELLINGHAM 1, SQUALICUM 1
Goal: Eli Bacco-Guidroz (Squalicum), assist David Abbott-Smith: time: 19:00; Goal: Noe Betancourt-Cruz (Bellingham), assist Keegan Nutt: time: 39:00. Shots on goal: Bellingham 15; Squalicum 5. Goalies (saves) Bellingham: Logan Schilder (8); Squalicum: Trenton Langer (2).