A year ago the Montana soccer team experienced the highest of highs when it won the Big Sky Conference tournament in a shootout. This year the Grizzlies lived the other side of those emotions.
Idaho State claimed a 4-3 shootout victory over Montana Sunday afternoon in the championship match of the 2012 Big Sky Conference tournament at Pocatello, Idaho. The shootout came after the teams battled to a 0-0 double-overtime draw.
The Bengals (11-5-3) advance to the 2012 NCAA tournament, their first since 2006. Montana ends its season 12-6-3 and on an eight-match unbeaten streak.
After 110 minutes of tightly-contested, back-and-forth action, the teams went to a game-deciding formula familiar to both programs.
Montana advanced twice at the 2011 Big Sky Conference tournament in shootout wins, and Idaho State made Sunday’s championship match after a shootout victory over Weber State in Friday’s semifinals.
The Big Sky’s co-offensive players of the year opened the shootout. Amanda Ellsworth converted for Idaho State and senior Erin Craig scored for Montana.
ISU missed on its next two attempts, putting one off the crossbar and sailing one high, and when junior Britta Hjalmarsson scored for Montana in the third round, the Grizzlies held a 2-1 lead and were in control of their own five-round fate.
The Bengals would not miss again. ISU’s Anna Pingree scored to open the fourth round, and Idaho State keeper Sheridan Hapsic, who would be named tournament MVP, made a save on Griz sophomore Shannon Lindsay to even the score at 2-2 through four.
Mikaela Carrillo and UM senior Lauren Costa traded pressure-filled goals in the fifth round, and ISU’s Allyson Stainbrook converted to open the sixth and put the Bengals on the brink of a championship.
Hapsic ended Montana’s season when she made a diving save to her left of freshman Mackenzie Akins. It was Hapsic’s third save on Montana’s six shots.
“In a shootout anything can happen,” UM coach Mark Plakorus lamented after the match. “Last year we were on a high. Right now we’re experiencing the low.
“But I couldn’t be more proud of the team. They represented Montana and our program well.”
Lost in the shootout dramatics was the fact that Montana shut out an opponent for the seventh time in eight matches. But unlike the previous six shutouts, all wins, the Grizzlies were unable to score themselves Sunday.
Montana outshot Idaho State 15-7, and opportunities to win the match in regulation were there, but the Grizzlies only put three of their shots on goal.
Montana did score midway through the first half, but sophomore Allie Simon’s rebound of an Akins shot was nullified because of an offside call, the kind of whistle totally agreeable to half the crowd and totally debatable to the other half.
UM’s other golden chance came early in the first overtime when Craig played a ball into the box from the left side. Junior Mary Makris collected it and took a shot from less than 10 yards out, but an ISU defender got just enough of her foot on the ball to send it over the crossbar.
Idaho State put just two of its seven shots on goal.
“We created a number of good opportunities today, but we just didn’t put any of them away. As the game went along, I think both teams got a little tight,” Plakorus said.
Craig took a match-high four shots for Montana, giving her 202 for her career, third-most in program history. Sophomore Tyler Adair took three.
Hoon made two saves in the match and finishes her career with a record of 18-16-7 and 13 shutouts. Her shutout Sunday was her 10th of the fall, a new program single-season record.
The loss marks the end of the careers for five seniors -- Costa, Craig, Hoon, Lauren McCreath and Kate Wilkins -- who guided the program through a coaching change, to last year’s NCAA tournament and within a break or two of another.
Craig and Costa were named to the all-tournament team, along with Akins and Makris.
Montana opened the 2012 season with a 1-3 record through its first four matches. After losing to Texas Tech at TCU’s tournament in late August in their fourth match, the Grizzlies lost just three times in their final 17 outings. Their dozen wins are the most for the program since 2000.
“It was a hell of a year for us,” Plakorus said. “This team really grew up and got better and better as the season went along. I’m proud of them.
“At the same time I’m heartbroken, especially for the seniors, because they’ve done so much for this program. That’s a tough way for them to end their careers.”