BLAINE - A year ago, Blaine's boys' soccer team entered the Class 1A District Tournament a 13-loss team quickly approaching the end of its season.
The Borderites, a year removed from that 6-0 season-ending defeat to South Whidbey, are now advancing to the second round after putting together a convincing 4-2 win against Lynden Christian on Wednesday, May 7, at Pipeline Fields in Blaine.
When senior team captain Nick Butschli arrived as a freshman, the program was at the tail end of a horridly bad losing streak. The culture wasn't that of a winning team, he remembered, with the victory over Lynden Christian in the district opener affirming his belief in a group of players that once dwelled at the bottom of the Northwest Conference.
"I was proud of how freshman year we were changing something and moving in the right direction," Butschli said. "Throughout every year it has been getting a little bit better, a little bit better."
He's had a hand in that change, being the prominent scorer Blaine has needed him to be throughout the season.
But the 4-2 win over the Lyncs was by no means an individual performance, or even that of two or three players.
In the opening minutes of the game, Zack Oakley broke free after a long ball was played out of the back. He navigated through two defenders to get a shot off past the outreached arms of Lynden Christian keeper Daulton Lootens, giving Blaine a 1-0 lead before the five-minute mark.
Butschli then added to his team-leading total after placing a free kick from 25 yards out into the back-left corner of the net, giving the Borderites a 2-0 lead entering halftime.
"I knew I could put it to the far post, not necessarily to score, but I know if I could put it up I could help someone," he said. "When I hit it, it came off just right. It was going for the far corner, and the keeper was a little bit off his line probably because most people cross from there, so I just snuck it in over him."
Blaine coach Giovanni Quesada, who's in his first season at the helm of the Borderites' boys' soccer team, pointed to the first 25 minutes as what set the tone for the rest of the game.
LC coach Brent De Ruyter did, too, albeit without the positive outlook Quesada had.
"Really both of their first two goals are things we felt we could control," De Ruyter said. "We just didn't execute, and they were hungry for it and beat us to the ball and made a couple plays."
For much of the season, the Lyncs have struggled to find the net. It's a departure from last year's club, which finished with 59 total goals and earned a third-place finish.
Blaine had no such struggles scoring Wednesday.
Garren Economy grew the lead to 3-0 after placing a low-lining kick from the top of the box past Lootens in the 50th minute. Economy received the center from his brother, Colton, who would later score himself.
"The kids never refused to attack, attack, attack," Quesada said. "That's the mentality of my team. If you score one, you score two. If you score two, you score three."
Lynden Christian's Liam Kroontje fought his way past several defenders to close the score to 3-1 in the 57th minute, but it was just nine minutes later that Colton would account for the Borderites' fourth goal after Lootens had trouble handling a shot played into the box.
A Cody Fransen header off a cross from Justin Brester in the 74th minute proved too little, too late for the Lyncs' comeback attempt.
"As far as the attack goes, the second half I thought we were lights out, spraying the ball around," De Ruyter said.
Blaine had just built up too much of a cushion, something Butschli pointed to as evidence that his team is maturing, and at the right time, no less.
"I'm glad we could come back and restore the lead again and again," he said. "That's important. I'm really excited to be with this team - new coach. This is great."
The Borderites advance to play King's at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 9, at King's High School. The Knights dispatched of Nooksack Valley in the first round earn a spot in the semifinals.
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
BLAINE 4, LYNDEN CHRISTIAN 2
Goal: Zack Oakley (Blaine); Assist: NA; Time: 5:00;Goal: Nick Butschli (Blaine); Assist: NA; Time: 32:00; Goal: Garren Economy (Blaine); Assist: Colton Economy; Time: 50:00; Goal: Liam Kroontje (Lynden Christian); Assist: NA; Time: 57:00; Goal: Colton Economy (Blaine); Assist: Kai Griffin; Time: 66:00; Goal: Cody Fransen (Lynden Christian); Assist: Justin Brester; Time: 74:00. Shots on goal: Lynden Christian: 13; Blaine: 16; Saves (goalies); Lynden Christian: Daulton Lootens 6; Blaine: Ful Schonborn 6.