Under first-year head coach Jared Fields, the Bellingham girls soccer team won the Northwest Conference title this fall – the Red Raiders’ first championship in 11 years. On Saturday, in their first postseason game, the Red Raiders actually had to show the heart of a champion.
Despite numerous near-miss scoring opportunities throughout the first half and early parts of the second, Bellingham found itself in a two-goal hole against Lynden in the first round of the Class 2A Bi-District Tournament on a brilliant fall afternoon at Civic Stadium.
Thanks to second-half goals from Hannah Hodge and Eden Fawcett, the Red Raiders tied the game 2-2 and forced overtime, before winning in a shootout 4-2.
“For some reason, I don’t know, we were just kind of off,” said Jillian Langei, who assisted Hodge’s goal in the 55th minute and booted the game clincher in the shootout. “Then in the second half, we just came out with everything, like we really wanted to win it back. We knew that we could.”
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What it means
With the win, Bellingham (13-2-2) moves within one victory of advancing to the state playoffs for the first time in four seasons and will host Cedarcrest in the bi-district semifinals Tuesday.
The quest for a second straight trip to state is not over for Lynden (5-10-3), though the Lions must now win back-to-back elimination games, starting Tuesday at Sedro-Woolley.
Lions strike early
Despite a number of early scoring chances for Bellingham, it was Lynden that struck first. Ellsie Saldivar got Lynden on the board in the 10th minute, when she received a pass from Amanda Mata on the right side of the Bellingham box, made a pirouette to get some space and fired into the upper left corner from about 20 yards away.
The Red Raiders had a couple of chances to even the score, but Jenna Smith doubled Lynden’s lead in the 34th minute, when a bouncing pass settled at her feet, she took one step to her right to avoid Bellingham goalie Mia Ludwig and singed the net.
Believing in themselves
Despite the score, Langei said there was no panic in the Bellingham locker room at halftime, saying “We weren’t defeated; we’ve been there before, and we believe in each other.”
Fifteen minutes after the break, she set up Hodge for a blast past diving Lynden keeper Emily Czesak, and a few minutes later, Fawcett tied it up off an assist from Peyton Schwinger.
“I’m just happy with the girls’ composure – their ability to keep together after the slow start,” Fields said. “Then in the shootout, I thought they just looked fantastic. The moment didn’t look to big for any of them.”
Bellingham’s Kaelyn Devaney and Fawcett traded successful penalty kicks with Lynden’s Ali VanZanten and Ruby VanderHaak the first two rounds. Schwinger converted the Red Raiders’ third attempt, but the Lions’ sailed high and left.
Czesak kept Lynden in things with a save, but Bellingham’s Brittney Butcher, who came on in the second half, answered with one of her own to set up Langei for the potential game winner.
“That took lot of pressure off,” Langei said. “I knew Brittney had done a good job saving them, and that takes a lot of the pressure off when you know there is another chance if you don’t make it.”
And without that pressure, she calmly stroked a shot to the right side of the net to complete Bellingham’s comeback.