By Aaron Swaney
BELLINGHAM — This may be Archbishop Murphy boys soccer coach Mike Bartley’s first season with the Wildcats, but his players made it clear who they were targeting this season.
The powers up north.
Consider it mission accomplished. Archbishop Murphy kept its perfect season rolling, relying on another strong performance by its defense and an early goal by Christian Thode to beat previously unbeaten Squalicum 1-0 in the 2A District 1 championship game at Civic Stadium on an unseasonably hot afternoon.
The win came four days after the Wildcats dispatched another Northwest Conference power Sehome by the same score in a semifinal match. The past four 2A state champions have come from the Northwest Conference, including Squalicum (2009) and Sehome (2008).
“My team has always talked about how Sehome, Squalicum and Bellingham have always been the strongest teams in the state and they’ve won state championships so we measure ourselves against these guys,” said Bartley. “So to win both of these past two games 1-nil I think now these guys will believe. We have a ton of respect for these guys up here.”
After Saturday’s game, the respect seems to swing both ways.
“They are the most big, physical and fast defense we’ve played this year,” said Squalicum midfielder Spencer Wolfe. “I’d love for us to play them again in the (state) finals.”
The win means Archbishop Murphy, as the district’s top seed, receives two home playoff games in the state tournament, which begins on Wednesday.
Saturday Archbishop Murphy, which has allowed just two goals all season, rested again on its defense, shutting out a Squalicum team that won the Northwest Conference title and averaged nearly three goals a game during the regular season and scored four goals in each of the two wins in the district tournament.
“We worked as a team,” said Murphy defender Ale Kramer on the key to the defensive effort. “We knew they’d be a good team but we just kept our composure. Our goal was not only to win but also to not let them score.”
Coming into the game Squalicum’s offensive effort centered around its strength at midfield, especially midfielder David Starkovich. But the Wildcats agitated the senior all day long and kept the Storm nowhere near the goalbox for most of the game.
“We knew they wanted to run things through Starkovich,” Bartlett said. “So we basically wanted to take Starkovich away and not let him distribute and counter as much as we could on their defense.”
Whenever Squalicum got near the goal Archbishop Murphy’s goalkeeper Jordan Trinka was there to turn the Storm away. Trinka made a nice kick save on a low shot late in the first half and also had a couple of aggressive jump saves in the second half to squelch any attempts Squalicum had.
Jordan’s our backbone,” said Bartlett. “He’s steady; he’s a rock. It’s really organizational saves. Everybody is in their spot marking their players and Jordan just has to clean up a lot of stuff and be strong, but the thing is he’s fearless and that’s what makes a great keeper. Like today a lot of his gathering was through crowds and he’s just confident in doing it.”
The game’s lone goal was born of a pair of miscues by Squalicum players, including its goalkeeper. With the ball on Squalicum’s side of the field, Archbishop Murphy midfielder Christian Thode took advantage of a mistake by a Squalicum defender and was able to push the ball up towards the Storm’s goal, where its goalie jumped forward to corral the ball at the top of the goal box. But Ryan Lowery bobbled the ball and it squirted out to Thode, who, with an unimpeded look, buried it into the goal.
“I was pressing the center-back and he had a little bobble and I was able to pick it up and scrap it out from the keeper and I scored,” Thode said of the goal.
Bartlett was impressed with his midfielder’s hustle.
“That was Thode at his finest, not giving up on a ball,” Bartlett said. “He just worked really hard and got rewarded for that.”
At Civic Stadium
Goals—Christian Thode (AM) 1. Goalkeepers—Archbishop Murphy: Jordan Trinka. Squalicum: Ryan Lowery. Records—Squalicum 15-1-3. Archbishop Murphy 18-0.