Facing the No. 4 seed from the conference, the undefeated Wildcats were pushed as hard as they have been all season in a 1-0 victory.
"I think I was nervous because it was playoffs and during the scouting report before the game we knew that they had good players," Murphy senior captain Cali Crisler said. "We knew we'd have to pick up our game in order to beat them."
The Red Raiders (7-5-5) had plenty of losses entering the playoffs, but played as if they deserved to advance just as much as Murphy.
"Obviously (Murphy) is extremely talented," Bellingham coach Mark Wright said. "They have some players at certain positions that have advanced beyond some of our girls, but I can't be any more proud with how much heart my girls played with."
The University of Arizona commit Crisler was the difference. She linked up with Kristi Bartz in the 67th minute after the Red Raiders frustrated the team's leader in assists and goals for the first half.
Murphy coach Mike Bartley said the Bellingham game plan was clearly to slow down his star midfielder and keep her from making anything happen with the forwards especially Tena Ungvarsky.
In the 64th minute Crisler stepped into a quality shot from the top left side of the penalty box and Red Raider keeper Hannah Jacobus couldn't handle the save and the ball tipped off the bottom of the crossbar. Ungvarsky was in position for the clean-up goal, but the ball bounced over her head. A few minutes later defensive captain Melissa Rivera started a counter-attack up the left side.
"Mel played the ball down the line to me and I was thinking about cutting it back because I'm left footed, but then I was just like, 'No, I need to get it in,'" Crisler said.
She streaked down the sideline and an unselfish play meant a cross across the goal where Bartz was there for the header on the back post.
"I was so excited when she got it in," Crisler said.
The first half was all Murphy and the Wildcats held a 15-4 shot edge on the game, but Bellingham wouldn't let anything come easy.
The second half began the same way, but Bellingham stepped up its offense and took advantage of a few Murphy fouls to move the ball into the Wildcat end. The Raiders got a great chance from Kayla Heidenreich in the 56th minute. The freshman forward laced a laser shot at the goal, but it settled into the chest of keeper Crissy Talley, who recorded a clean sheet.
After the game Bartley marveled at the quality of play in Bellingham's conference.
"Their top four are all really good," the Murphy coach said of the NWC. "They get to play that schedule. We have some really good teams too (in Cascade), but it's not that kind of intensity game. We just don't see that a lot."
Both Cedarcrest and Lakewood lost to Northwest foes Saturday.
"I still think they'd be the best team in our league talent wise," Wright said of the Wildcats. "We have a tendency to play our butts off. We just play hard all the time. That might be a little different for them, but I would still say they have more talent than anybody in our league."
Defending district champion Sehome is the No. 2 seed from Northwest, but was upset by Lake Washington 2-1, which means Murphy will host somewhat of a mystery team Tuesday night.
Lake Washington plays its regular season in the Kingco 3A league and, though it usually doesn't boast a strong record, is always battle tested.
Now that the first playoff game is behind her team, Crisler feels like this season is a special one. The Wildcats won the state title when she was in eighth grade and finished third her sophomore year. But Murphy lost in the second round of state a year ago.
"I feel like this is our year to actually win it," Crisler said. "I feel like our team chemistry is good this year -- a lot better than last year -- and I feel like that helps a lot with the team. We all really know each other well and how we play."
At Everett Memorial Stadium
Goals--Kristi Bartz (A). Assists--Cali Crisler (A). Goalkeepers--Bellingham: Hannah Jacobus. Archbishop Murphy: Crissy Talley. Records--Bellingham 7-5-5 overall. Archbishop Murphy 17-0-0.
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