The Stadium High School Tigers had a similar opportunity last spring. But they failed to finalize the deal against rival Silas in the Pierce County League boys’ Class 3A football championship game.
The stadium more than made up for that disappointment Thursday night at Harry E. Lang Stadium in Lakewood as they defeated Bainbridge 1-0 to win the 3A West Central/Southwest Bidistrict title.
“It’s a surefire redemption,” said Senior Owen Bliskis. “Last year was bad luck. We lost the final at home 0-2. It wasn’t a great day. But we came back, worked really hard and see where we are now.”
Where the Tigers are now will play at one of four locations in the 3A State Bracket next Friday, May 20. They’re in the tournament and holding the top qualifying spot of the bidistrict tournament, but won’t find out who their opponent is until this weekend’s seeding draw is conducted by the WIAA.
That opportunity didn’t exist for Stadium or anyone else a season ago, when the WIAA canceled all state postseason tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s state tournament will be the first since 2019, as spring sports were also suspended when the pandemic really started in March 2020.
Bainbridge of the 3A Metro League advance as the runners-up team from the bidistrict tournament.
“We’re enjoying every minute right now,” said stadium coach Jeremy Leffel. “We take every game as it comes. It just feels like a gift. I told them today that being here is a gift. We’re just happy to play. No expectations. We want to take everything, but we only take it one day at a time.”
Bliskis scored the decisive goal in the 45th minute when he hammered a turf burner of a shot into the lower right corner of the Spartans’ net on a free-kick opportunity from just over the 18-yard box. Bainbridge used seven bodies to create a defensive wall in front of the right side of the net, where Bliskis had his shot from, and positioned goaltender Caleb Saks just behind the left edge of that wall.
“The goalkeeper was right behind the wall, so I knew he couldn’t see the ball,” said Bliskis. “So I just passed it to the side he wasn’t on and he couldn’t reach it.”
The opportunity was created by a skillful move by Max Hymer, who eluded an attempted attack by a Bainbridge defender and drew the foul when Hymer instead fell at that point.
“Max drew the foul well,” said Bliskis. “Then my boys gave me the ball and I just had to do what I had to do and that’s the game.”
It was just “the game”, thanks to excellent defensive work throughout the competition in front of keeper Sam Walter and then several big stops by the senior himself. The first of the big saves came in the 27th minute when Damoni McKenna-Greenawalt spun off the right Carved free on the side of the goal, dribbled close and fired a shot with a flat ball that seemed destined for the left corner of the goal.
Instead, Walter slid over, going deep and raising both hands to hit the ball just outside the post to keep the game scoreless. Walter came out big again twice in the final five minutes as the Spartans pressed action.
“At this point, it’s just instinct,” Walter said. “You just go where your body takes you.”
First, he lobbed a ball up and over the bar with a jumping save, then dove horizontally to his left in the last two minutes for another potential try to end the game.
“We knew Bainbridge was a tough opponent,” said Walter. “They played against Silas, who was our toughest opponent this season. You beat her. We knew this was going to be a tough game.”
Bellevue Christian 2, Vashon Island 0: The defending 1A state champions will have to wait two days for another chance to redeem their state tournament ticket after losing in 1A West Central District’s title game on Thursday night.
Bellevue Christian (12-3-2) controlled possession for the most part, taking a quick first-half lead from Andrew Wei’s early goal, and Alex von Fuchs adding another after the break to lead the Vikings to the district championship at the Stadium Bowl .
The loss was the first of the season against a 1A Nisqually League opponent for the top seeded Pirates (14-3-1) who played Bellevue Christian to a goalless draw in their first meeting in March and then the Vikings 2-1 to finish last month.
Vashon was short-handed for Thursday’s third meeting, coach Scott Nicolino said. He was missing two key attacking players and will try to regroup in a must-win situation this weekend.
The Pirates are playing for a repeat of the tournament after winning the program’s first title in 2019 — the last time it was played before the entire 2020 season and 2021 postseason were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hopefully we can get healthy in the next few days and get into the state tournament through the back door and have a run and defend our title,” said Nicolino.
The Pirates play Life Christian (6-5-6) at 1pm on Saturday afternoon at the Stadium Bowl.
Vashon has won both encounters with Life Christian this season, including the 3-1 win over the Eagles in a semifinal game on Monday.
Staff writer Lauren Smith contributed to this report.