BELLINGHAM - Squalicum's offensive arsenal is vast and bountiful.
If it's not Christian Chala, it's Gabe Bacco-Guidroz. If it's not Bacco-Guidroz, it's B.J. Flood. And if it's not Flood, well, then apparently it's David Abbott-Smith.
Abbott-Smith, with a garbage bag taped around the cast encasing his broken left thumb, provided Squalicum all the offense it needed to defeat the Red Raiders 2-0 as the two Northwest Conference powers met Tuesday night, April 15, at Civic Stadium.
In handing Bellingham (5-1-4, NWC 4-1-1) its first loss of the season, Squalicum (7-0-2, NWC 5-0-0) also took over sole possession of first place in the NWC, holding a slight two-point lead over both the Red Raiders and Anacortes heading into its matchup with also-unbeaten Sedro-Woolley on Thursday, April 17. Bellingham has an equally-as-tough matchup with Sehome on Thursday, pitting the two city rivals against one another with postseason positioning in the balance at Civic Stadium.
The Storm's offensive capabilities have shown no bounds, and Abbott-Smith proved to be no exception.
After coming off the bench, the senior forward provided a savvy maneuver in the 28th minute to break through two defenders and score a near-post goal against Bellingham's keeper Logan Schilder.
"I saw the (defender) coming in, and I knew he was going to come so I just tried to do what I could to get it over him," said Abbott-Smith while removing the black bag protecting his cast. "The bounce came my way. Logan didn't cover his near-post and I got pretty lucky there. (Logan's) so big, he gets down fast, but he didn't get down fast enough."
On display in Abbott-Smith's goal, his coach Joe McAuliffe said, was not just crafty footwork. When he got the deflection within two yards of the net, McAuliffe said his senior didn't panic like most would in such a case.
"He's extremely intelligent," McAuliffe said. "All he did was dink it small and on the ground. It was just sheer wisdom."
A goal by Bacco-Guidroz in the 79th minute off a cross from Flood all but neutralized any comeback Bellingham was trying to stage late in the game.
"This and Sehome are defining wins for our season," Abbott-Smith said. "Those are the two games we want the most - everyone wants it the most because it's our city rivals. It's a big deal to come out with a shutout, especially against a good offensive and defensive team."
It was just inches that separated Squalicum from the shutout win Abbot-Smith and the Storm were so proud of at the end.
The Red Raiders had their chances to score, and none were more dangerous than a lofted shot from Dane Thurston in the final moments of the first half.
Thurston's high-arching shot from just beyond the box forced Squalicum keeper Trenton Langer to make a diving punch, sending the ball safely over the top crossbar.
"We forced an insane save out of their keeper," Bellingham coach Matt Zigulis said, "so give him credit. If something happens there, if one of those goes in, it's a different game."
In a mirror image of Thurston's shot, another shot from a Red Raider forward in the 46th minute called upon Langer to do as he did earlier: preserve Squalicum's shutout. He did so, sending it over the crossbar and again defusing a dangerous situation.
The Storm, while still nursing a 1-0 advantage, have struggled at times holding leads this year. It happened when these two teams met on March 29 in a non-conference game when Noe Betancourt-Cruz tied the game right before half, and it was something McAuliffe said his boys weren't going to allow happen again.
"Last time we had a one-goal lead and showed overconfidence and they stung us in that most deadly time," he said. "This time, we weren't taking anything for granted. ... We weren't going to let any laxness happen in those critical periods."
The Storm's defensive physicality and the play of its midfield relegated Bellingham's offense to only a few tries, and exposed the Red Raiders' need for more options, Zigulis said. With that said, he believes the youth on his team is maturing.
"The grit was there - the determination and belief was there," he said. "There could have been no better motivation for Sehome. ... Squalicum is an insanely good team. For us to compete at that level, we know that we can hang, and we want to see them again."
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
SQUALICUM 2, BELLINGHAM 0
Goal: David Abbott-Smith (Squalicum); Assist: NA; Time: 28:00. Goal: Gabe Bacco-Guidroz (Squalicum); Assist: B.J. Flood; Time: 79. Shots on goal: Bellingham: 9; Squalicum: 13; Saves (goalies); Bellingham: Logan Schilder 10; Squalicum: Trenton Langer 7.