BELLINGHAM - Squalicum's dominance thus far this season lacked a defining win.
The Storm's victories had come against some solid clubs, such as Lynden and Burlington-Edison, but in the two games against top programs Sehome and Bellingham, only ties came.
That wasn't the case Tuesday night, April 8, at Civic Stadium, when Squalicum (5-0-2, Northwest Conference 3-0-0) secured two late goals in the final 10 minutes to hand the Mariners (3-2-3, NWC 1-2-1) their second conference loss of the season, 3-1, furthering the belief that Squalicum is a team primed for a late-season run.
"It's huge. This is the most important game in the season to me because Sehome is our rival," said Squalicum forward Gabe Bacco-Guidroz, who scored the go-ahead goal in the 70th minute. "It's always fun beating them."
The game looked every bit like the city rivalry it was pegged to be, with the two teams providing strong defensive performances that would have held most teams in the NWC scoreless.
The Storm broke open the scoreless affair when Brandon Burbank headed in a goal off of a throw-in from Quinn Carpenter in the 31st minute. Burbank was a force for Squalicum in the middle throughout the game, winning balls in the air, Storm coach Joe McAuliffe said, and that goal was no exception.
"He was still very big for us - very physical with the ball, sure with the ball," McAuliffe said.
Squalicum held a slight 1-0 advantage going into the break, limiting Sehome to just three shots on goal.
The Mariners were able to even the game up after senior captain Sam Diehl converted on a penalty kick from just within the 20-yard line in the 51st minute. A low liner to the right of the Storm's keeper Trenton Langer tied it, providing Squalicum a sense similar to the two teams' last meeting when the Storm squandered an early lead.
"It went low and just under the wall. (Sam) kicks the ball so hard, it just scooted right underneath the goal keeper," Sehome coach John Sylvester said. "That was huge, and right when we needed it. Nine times out of 10, we would have been able to hang on."
The minutes wore on, with Squalicum shots twice finding the top bar before Christian Chala got a free run along the left side in the 70th minute that left the Mariners' back line vulnerable. Chala's pressure forced a foul from within the box, giving Squalicum a chance to take the lead in the same fashion Sehome tied it: a penalty kick.
Bacco-Guidroz went the same spot he always does - low and to the right.
"It's my shot. Every time," Bacco-Guidroz said. "I think Sam (Diehl) went up there and told his brother (Max Diehl) that I shoot there because he guessed the right way, but I placed it."
He gave the Storm the go-ahead lead it had so desperately fought for, opening up the offense to later add another goal, only this time Chala made good on his attempt in the 74th minute.
"We were pleased we were able to hang with such an explosive team that long and shut down most of their opportunities," Sylvester said. "We just had four or five moments where we let down a little bit, and we're trying to shoot for having zero moments."
The go-ahead goal, while converted by Bacco-Guidroz, was more a testament to the challenge Chala presents, McAuliffe said. It's not easy containing a forward with the skill set and size he has, and that was on display in a play he won't receive any official credit for, forcing the foul that led to the penalty kick.
"Chala is scary when he has the ball," McAuliffe said. "Defenders can come hard sometimes, and the kid, he probably even had to foul in that situation."
Squalicum, regardless of the reliance on a late surge, found what it had searched for so far this season, McAuliffe said - a defining win.
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
SQUALICUM 3, SEHOME 1
Goal: Brandon Burbank (Squalicum); Assist: Quinn Carpenter; Time: 31:00. Goal: Sam Diehl (Sehome); Assist: NA; Time: 51:00. Goal: Gabe Bacco-Guidroz (Squalicum); Assist: NA; Time: 70:00; Goal: Christian Chala (Sehome); Assist: NA; Time: 74:00. Shots on goal: Squalicum: 11; Sehome: 5; Saves (goalies); Squalicum: Trenton Langer 4; Sehome: Max Diehl 6.