Westcastle United FC were close enough to qualifying for the provincial championships that they could taste it.
Playing the Jackson Cup men’s soccer semifinal on Friday at the University of Victoria, the West Shore-based Vancouver Island Soccer League Div. 1 side came from behind to tie Bays United Liquor Plus 1-1 in the second half, but wound up losing 5-4 in penalty kicks.
“It was a very close game throughout and the chances were probably equal for either team,” said Westcastle coach Steve Hodges.
Jackson Cup finalists gain automatic entry into the Province Cup. Bays will play Cowichan FC for the cup title on April 3 at Royal Athletic Park.
After allowing an early second-half goal to Bays on a long shot that went over the outstretched hands of their goalkeeper, Westcastle went into attack mode, changing up its formation and pushing the midfield forward.
One of those players, Arbnor Jusufi, made good on a foray deep into Bays territory, scoring to make it 1-1 at about the 70th minute. He finished off a nifty passing play started by recent substitution Colin Rayner, whose fresh legs saw him burst through a pair of attempted tackles and feed the ball to team captain Jordan French, who then crossed to Jusufi for the equalizer.
Neither team could score in the two 15-minute extra time periods, despite many chances, leaving the match winner to be determined by the dreaded penalty kicks format.
After a first-round bye in the Cup draw, Westcastle, whose 4-13-1 record left them ninth in the regular season, knocked off First Division second-place club Comox Valley United 1-0.
“That was a surprise for everyone,” Hodges said of the outcome, which saw Westcastle eliminate a team that finished 26 points better in the standings.
Jon Shah scored the lone tally for the winners.
In the quarter-finals, Westcastle downed Lakehill United 3-2, paced by a two-goal performance from Zack Bougraine and a single from French. Lakehill, who finished 10th in Div. 1, had beat Cowichan United’s Div. 2 side 4-0 in their opener.
The season is not quite finished for the West Shore club. Given their placement in league play, they must play Lakehill United’s Div. 2 team in a relegation/promotion match. Should the latter win, they would move up to Div. 1 and Westcastle would drop down to Div. 2.
Hodges said his players are keen to remain in the upper tier and will be fired up for the game. No date has been determined for the match, but it will be played at either of Westcastle’s home fields of Westhills Stadium or PISE.