The Bellarmine Prep Lions are on their way back to the Class 4A state quarterfinals — and scored a pair of thrilling second-half goals to punch their ticket.
Wednesday evening in Tacoma, after trailing by a goal heading into the break, Bellarmine sophomore Jaggar Judkins netted the equalizer moments into the second half.
Then, in the closing minutes, senior Peter Radovich scored the game-winner, assuring this impressive season would continue with a 2-1 win over visiting Eastmont.
“We’ve got a great group of guys who never stop fighting,” Lions coach Jim Dempsey said. “Very proud of them.”
Bellarmine entered Wednesday’s first round as the tournament’s No. 5 seed after making an earlier undefeated run through the 4A SPSL — the Lions finished the league season 14-0-1, playing Puyallup to a draw once — and placing third in last week’s 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament.
The Lions controlled possession much of the way against Eastmont, but it was the Wildcats, the No. 12 seed, who struck first.
Eastmont won an early corner kick, Osvaldo Sanchez lifted the ball into the box, and Juan Vargas jumped up and headed the pass inside the left post in the fifth minute.
“We didn’t get our head on it and we should have, and good teams make you pay, and so that’s what they did,” Dempsey said.
Bellarmine’s attack never slowed after conceding the early goal, and the Lions attempted 11 shots in the first half.
“After they got up on us early, we knew if we worked hard and played as well as we could we would be the better team, and that showed through the first half,” Radovich said. “We had chance after chance and we just couldn’t put it away. Their keeper was outstanding. And in the second half, we said, let’s get a quick start.”
Though Bellarmine entered the break still trailing, 1-0, it seemed more chances were ahead.
“The message was just to keep doing what we know we needed to do,” Dempsey said. “It wasn’t really to change anything. It was just to be patient, be composed, take our opportunities.
“We had opportunities in the first half that we didn’t finish. We hit right to the keeper a couple times. We were making opportunities, we were possessing the ball, so we just needed to keep focused, and we knew it would come eventually if we kept doing what we were supposed to do.”
The Lions didn’t have to wait long. Less than two minutes into the second half, Judkins corralled a long pass, weaved through two defenders and curled a shot inside the right post in the 42nd minute.
“Jaggar’s been incredible for us all season,” Radovich said. “ … We just gave it to him out wide. We let him do what he does best.”
Bellarmine sent in several more shots as the half continued on, but it wasn’t until the 74th minute the Lions scored the game-winner, when Christian Salas lofted a pass into the box and Radovich sent a header bouncing into the back of the net.
“He crossed the ball in, and it was over their outside back’s head, perfect ball, and I just saw it into the goal,” Radovich said.
Following two consecutive seasons without state playoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dempsey noted the Lions were “just happy to be out here at the start of the season.”
“We’ve got such a great group of guys,” he said. “Just so happy to be able to keep going with them. It’s been a fun season.”
It will continue this weekend.
“Ever since the start of the year, we’ve just been believing in each other, and we proved it out there on the field today,” Radovich said.
In the program’s first trip to the state quarterfinals since 2015, Bellarmine (16-2-1) travels to play No. 4 seed Newport of Bellevue this weekend. Newport topped Chiawana, 2-1, in the first round Wednesday.