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Underdog Westcastle continues surprising run to Jackson Cup semifinals

Westcastle United is trying to pull off a Wigan Athletic. And so far, doing a pretty good job of it.
Westcastle United is trying to pull off a Wigan Athletic. And so far, doing a pretty good job of it.

Wigan, which upset Manchester City 1-0 in the 2013 final, became the first team in English soccer history to win the FA Cup and be relegated in the same season.

Westcastle continued its quest to do the same for the first time in the 101-year history of the Vancouver Island Soccer League’s Jackson Cup.

The glass slipper has yet to fall off as Westcastle advanced to the 2016 Jackson Cup semifinals following its 3-2 quarter-final victory on the weekend over Lakehill at Braefoot Park. It was going to be a longshot tale either way because regular-season second-to-last Westcastle and last-place Lakehill are both facing relegation from Division 1 down to Division 2 next season.

It again shows anything can happen in soccer cup competitions because the brackets are drawn randomly.

Westcastle, which got two goals from Zack Bougraine, advanced to meet annual Division 1 contender Bays United Liquor Plus in the semifinals at UVic in the period from March 18-20 with the date to be finalized.

“We’ll be the underdog again, but we kinda like that,” said Westcastle coach Scott Strickland, of his team’s Jackson Cup run.

“Here we are, one win away from playing in the Province Cup [both Jackson Cup finalists earn automatic berths into the B.C. championship tournament].”

Bays United has already survived a giant-killer bid with a 2-0 quarter-final win over the weekend against upstart Nanaimo of Division 2 on two goals by Jordie Hughes and the clean sheet by former UVic Vikes goalkeeper Elliot Mitrou.

The other semifinal will feature regular-season champion and defending Jackson Cup holders Cowichan FC against the 2015 Cup-finalist Saanich Fusion, guaranteeing there will not be a repeat matchup between the clubs in the 2016 final.

In another quarter-final underdog storyline, Prospect Lake of Division 2 led nearly the entire game on a goal by Bryden Massey before a late Saanich Fusion goal by Chris Peereboom tied it 1-1. After a scoreless 30 minutes of extra time, Fusion pulled it out in penalty kicks.

The random draw gave Cowichan FC, the overall Jackson Cup tournament heavy favourite, the stiffest quarter-final matchup against fellow Division 1 club Nanaimo. The scored was knotted 1-1 in the first half and the game swung on a Nanaimo red card, after which Cowichan pounced and scored twice in the second half to seal the deal. Cooper Barry, Jesse Winter and Kevan Brown counted goals for Cowichan. Hussen Sayed replied for Nanaimo, which has built its team by making ample use of players from the Vancouver Island University Mariners powerhouse collegiate program.

Strickland vowed Westcastle, promoted two years ago, will do its best next year in the VISL Division 2 to eventually get back to Division 1. (But it’s not something Wigan has been able to do in the far headier levels of English pro soccer, although it is now second place in the third-tier League One and perhaps ready to begin its climb back).

The Jackson Cup championship game is April 3 at Royal Athletic Park.