Penalty kick concludes Falcon soccer’s shot at state

Bellingham senior defender Reed Welch pushes the ball across midfield to evade Falcon senior forward Noah Moeller. South Whidbey’s leading scorer was held to only a few shots on goal as Bellingham won 1-0 on a penalty kick in the 34th minute Saturday at Civic Stadium in Bellingham.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Bellingham senior defender Reed Welch pushes the ball across midfield to evade Falcon senior forward Noah Moeller. South Whidbey’s leading scorer was held to only a few shots on goal as Bellingham won 1-0 on a penalty kick in the 34th minute Saturday at Civic Stadium in Bellingham.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

BELLINGHAM — A penalty kick in the box gave Bellingham the only goal it needed to seal South Whidbey’s fate.

The Falcon boys soccer team’s season is over. The Red Raiders continue to the state 2A boys soccer tournament.

“It’s a big bummer. I was really looking forward to (winning), and I really thought we were going to do it,” said Falcon senior Noah Moeller, the team’s captain.

“I kept my hopes up all the way until the end.”

“It was just a PK.”

A five-minute offensive by the Red Raiders put too much pressure on the Falcon defenders. After a corner kick dropped in front of the Falcons’ goal, a hand ball was called on the Falcons. That gave Red Raider senior forward Arie Vanderstaay the penalty kick from 10 yards out that he drilled into the right corner as Falcon junior goalie Andrew Holt dove left.

“I thought we were effective and threatening. We did a good job of keeping the ball and getting opportunities,” said Red Raider head coach Matt Zigulis.

“(Vanderstaay’s) our leading goal scorer, he’s one of the leading scorers in the whole league and he’s capable of anything.”

Bellingham came out firing on its home turf at Civic Stadium on Saturday. Within the first minute, the Red Raiders had a shot on goal.

South Whidbey tried to transition quickly from defense to offense with long sends to its forwards. Moeller, the Falcons’ leading scorer, tried to break through the Red Raiders’ defense for a chance at a goal in the first half. He was shadowed and challenged by two defenders, Red Raider seniors Will Lewis and Sam Frakes, all 80 minutes.

“It was really difficult. They grabbed on quite a bit. It was like running through water,” Moeller said.

The Red Raiders maintained a shutout thanks to junior goalie Auden Schilder, who saved five shots on goal. Schilder, last year’s Northwest Conference first team goalie, caught a rifled shot by Moeller from 15 yards out in the first half.

“He was good, especially in the first half, he had that huge save and kept us in it,” Zigulis said of Schilder.

Producing opportunities on offense was a struggle for South Whidbey. The Falcons tried different formations. They tried limiting Vanderstaay, the Red Raiders’ top scorer. They tried deep sends from Holt to the forwards.

Bellingham kept coming, and kept shooting.

“Defensively, give that team credit. Their center back was phenomenal,” said head coach Joel Gerlach. “We were in a strategy to not let them score.”

“The ball just didn’t fall our way.”

On the tough turf field, Bellingham had the advantage. In the first half, the Red Raiders attempted eight shots on goal. The Red Raiders moved with precision into the Falcons’ half, dribbling along the sidelines, chipping over defenders, dropping back and shooting from as far out as 30 yards. It was a busy day for Holt, who finished with nine saves.

“He made some incredible saves today,” Gerlach said of Holt.

South Whidbey tasked junior defender River Ellis with stopping Vanderstaay, who attempted nine shots on goal and scored on the penalty kick. Ellis tried to stay in front of Vanderstaay, but any separation became a green light to shoot or a running start to dribble. Ellis tried to put a body on the Red Raider senior, but he’d spin off the pressure. Ellis saved a late one-on-one by Vanderstaay in the 62nd minute by cutting off the shot and gently tipping the ball to Holt. 

“He was obviously a really good player,” Ellis said.

“I tried to shut him down, but he got a lot of shots off.”

“We were supposed to keep our shape well. The only goal they got was a (penalty kick), and it was just a hand ball, so we did really well.”

In the final minutes of the match, South Whidbey transformed its formation. Gerlach moved junior defender Cameron Coupe to forward, brought in sophomore defender Calvin Shimada and played three forwards at the midfield line waiting for a transition.

“Our defense is good, we just always have a hard time connecting from the defense to the midfield or forwards,” Moeller said.

“They (the Red Raiders) were doing a better job of possessing the ball in the middle.”

South Whidbey had three attempts in the waning minutes. A shot by Coupe was saved, as was a shot by Ellis.

“It was stressful. It was a one-goal lead going to the end of it, and anything is possible,” Zigulis said. “We were on edge a little bit.”

The final attempt came from junior midfielder Guy Sparkman, but the kick had too much under it and the ball sailed high over the crossbar with less than 60 seconds left.

“I’m just really, really proud of my boys. This is the farthest a team from South Whidbey’s made it since 2002,” Gerlach said.

South Whidbey will lose five seniors to graduation next season, but returns the majority of its players, including all of its

midfielders, as well as Holt, who replaced senior goalie Garret Thomson at the end of the Cascade Conference season and proved a more than capable keeper.

“We’re looking good for the future,” Gerlach said.

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