When asked if his team has what it takes to win three games in a row to qualify for the Class 2A state tournament, Bellingham coach Matt Zigulis responded immediately, “100 percent, absolutely.”
Zigulis left no doubt that his team can win three loser-out games, a plight caused by the Red Raiders’ 4-2 loss to Liberty in the second round of the 2A Northwest District Boys Soccer Tournament on Saturday at Civic Stadium.
Bellingham (13-3-1), the second seed in the 12-team tourney, gave up four goals in the first 47 minutes but came back with a pair of pride-saving late scores in a 10-minute span.
Only Northwest Conference champion Squalicum, twice a 2-0 winner over the Red Raiders, had scored as many as two goals against the first string of the Red Raiders, who also had a free-scoring 8-3 win over Meridian in which numerous players participated.
“This was one of our better played games. Our league (Kingco 3A/2A) prepares us well for games like this,” said Liberty coach Darren Tremblay, whose seventh-seeded Patriots (7-6-4) are one of only two 2A teams in the league. “We see teams like (the high caliber of Bellingham) almost every night.”
Bellingham will play for survival Tuesday night at Civic against either Cedarcrest or Mountlake Terrace.
“We just made too many mistakes,” said Zigulis. “Liberty did a fantastic of capitalizing on our mistakes. Joe Worley (Bellingham’s standout senior goalkeeper) played well. He had nothing to do with those goals.”
Liberty peppered Worley with so many shots that the tough senior logged a dozen saves. Liberty junior Milo Larson logged 11 saves, including eight in the second half.
Down 4-0, Bellingham junior Aaron Carter scored in the 61st minute on a nicely executed drive. Bellingham senior Anders Mittet scored on a short power shot in the 70th minute off a cross from junior Casey Carter.
Ethan Diaz gave Liberty a 2-0 halftime lead with goals in the seventh minute on a direct free kick and in the 35th minute on a short power shot off a counter attack. Four minutes into the second half, Holden Kooiker scored on a penalty kick and three minutes later Thomas Nguyen scored off a near-perfect corner kick by Diaz.
Bellingham came in with a 9-0-1 record in its previous 10 games and a 61-11 season goal advantage with eight shutouts compared to Liberty’s 42-36 edge and only two shutouts. But the Patriots showed just how tough their league is.
The Red Raiders must win three in a row now because only the third-place finisher advances to state out of the consolation bracket.
“This was a wakeup call for us,” Zigulis said. “I stressed to the guys 80 minutes, not just 10.”