Montana jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening 14 minutes and never trailed in the No. 3 Grizzlies’ 3-2 victory over No. 2 Portland State Friday afternoon in the opening semifinal of the 2012 Big Sky Conference soccer tournament at Pocatello, Idaho.
The victory, the team’s seventh straight win, sends Montana (12-6-2) to its second consecutive Big Sky tournament championship match and its eighth title match in the 16th year of the tournament.
The Grizzlies will face either No. 1 Idaho State or No. 4 Weber State Sunday at 1 p.m., with the winner advancing to the NCAA tournament.
Montana wasted little time putting Portland State (9-8-2), which beat the Grizzlies 2-0 in the teams’ regular-season matchup, back on its heels.
Senior Erin Craig scored in the sixth minute and junior Mary Makris made it 2-0 in the 14th when she sent a Craig shot that had hit the crossbar and come back into the field of play into the back of the net, her third goal of the season and Craig’s team-leading fifth assist.
Craig’s opening goal came from five yards out when she one-timed a crossing pass from sophomore Allie Simon, who had been set up nicely by sophomore Tyler Adair. Both players received assists on the play.
The goal was Craig’s team-leading seventh of the season and 20th career goal, making her one of just eight players in program history to reach a score of career scores.
“When you’re in a tournament setting, it’s always good to start fast,” said UM coach Mark Plakorus, who remains unbeaten (1-0-2) in Big Sky tournament matches. “When you can get a lead in an elimination match, it gives you a little breathing room and puts pressure on the other team.”
Montana more than doubled (9-4) Portland State’s shot output in the opening half and put six of those nine shots on goal. The Grizzlies had an opportunity to go up 3-0 in the 32nd minute when junior India Watne’s shot went off the crossbar.
After dodging a three-hole bullet, Portland State answered back immediately and got on the board in the 34th minute when Daniela Solis scored her fourth goal of the season. The first half ended with the score 2-1.
Montana regained a two-goal lead early in the second half. Makris played a through ball to freshman Mackenzie Akins, and Akins drilled a shot from 15 yards out past PSU’s diving keeper to make it 3-1 in the 56th minute.
The two-goal advantage held until the Vikings once again closed to within one when Amanda Howie made it 3-2 in the 72nd minute with her sixth goal of the season.
Both teams had opportunities in the final 18 minutes -- Montana to score its fourth goal and put the match out of reach, Portland State to tie it -- but neither scored the match’s sixth goal.
The Grizzlies generated four corner kicks after the Vikings had pulled to within one and took five more shots. The Vikings took three shots and put two on goal, but senior keeper Kristen Hoon was there to make both saves.
Montana finished the match with a 19-11 advantage in shots and put 10 shots on goal to Portland State’s five.
Craig, the Big Sky’s co-offensive player of the year, took a match-high five shots and accounted for four of the Grizzlies’ 10 shots on goal. Craig’s 74 shots on the season are the second-highest total in program history. Makris, Adair and Akins all took three shots.
“Both teams attacked today and put everything they had out there. I’m just glad we came out on top,” said Plakorus. “All I can ask from the team is that it plays hard and plays well. And then you just hope that’s enough.”