Sehome’s boys’ soccer team can erase that preseason loss to Bellingham from its mind.
The Mariners’ stifling defense was at its best, helping Sehome to a 1-0 win over the Red Raiders in a Northwest Conference opener for both teams on Tuesday, March 24, at Civic Stadium.
As is the norm for games between two city schools, a lot of pride is on the line.
“A lot of these guys are on my club team,” Sehome forward Kiefer Thomas said, “so it’s a bigger rivalry.”
That fierce competition didn’t emerge until the last five minutes in what was overall a game played in the middle of the field.
Neither team played their hands early and both took rather conservative approaches, which was vastly different than the preseason matchup between the two on Monday, March 16, that ended in a 2-0 Bellingham win.
“It wasn’t the most intense game,” Bellingham coach Matt Zigulis said of Tuesday’s contest. “Last week it was back and forth and craziness.”
The lone piece of excitement that came in the first half ended up being the deciding factor.
Just moments before halftime, Mason Rathkamp played a ball across the field to Thomas, who pushed it around a Bellingham defender and delivered a beautiful cross to the middle of the box, where Evan Otterholt edged out the Red Raiders to it and headed it softly into the net.
While the Mariners’ primary focus is on defense, the Mariners knew when to pick their spots and the past week of crossing practice paid off.
“I think it’s huge,” Sylvester said. “We just started working on crossing and the flank play a little bit. The guys are getting it really quickly.”
For a Sehome team that’s struggled to score at times in past years, a flanking attack in the 4-3-3 scheme is a huge step forward.
The style is something Sylvester picked up from Sedro-Woolley, who scored three goals on a stingy Squalicum defense last week.
“We saw Sedro run some stuff from the flanks against (Squalicum) that worked really well,” Sylvester said. “We kind of tried to emulate that. It’s big because it opens up some doors for us offensively where we’ve struggled for awhile.”
For Bellingham, though, the goal late in the half was devastating. A not-great 40 minutes from the Red Raiders turned bad in a hurry.
Despite a much cleaner offense in the second half, the Red Raiders could never find a way past the Sehome backline.
“We wanted to get the ball on the ground, play the counter attack and move from side to side to get through,” Zigulis said. “We couldn’t find the through balls and we started getting frantic and playing long balls, which was out of our game. ... It wasn’t our brand of soccer.”
Bellingham had a few opportunities in the second half, but it wasn’t until the 77th minute when Bellingham finally registered a shot on target. It came off a 20-yard free kick and went straight into Sehome keeper Max Diehl’s hands.
The game got extremely physical after that as Bellingham sent every man forward including the goalie in an attempt to even the score.
Despite a flurry of shot attempts from Bellingham in the dying seconds, Sehome held firm and Bellingham walked off the field with their heads toward the ground and Zigulis let the team know his displeasure with the attitude with a lengthy talk after the game.
“It was more about attitude, dealing with adversity more than anything,” Zigulis said of the content during the team discussion. “We came off the field negative. In situations like this, it’s about accepting what we didn’t do or accepting what we need to do next and moving on.”
Sehome, however, can move on after a great opening to the season, knowing its defense is among the tops in the league.
“It’s huge to get off to a good start because it can set the tone for the rest of the season,” Sylvester said.
And the team doesn’t lack confidence.
“This is going to boost our whole season to hopefully get as far as possible and beat everyone,” Thomas said.
Sehome 1, Bellingham 0
Goal: Evan Otterholt (Sehome), assist: Kiefer Thomas, time 39. Goalies (saves) — Bellingham: Joe Worley (2); Sehome: Max Diehl (1). Shots on goal — Bellingham 1, Sehome 3.