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Griz NCAA tournament-bound after shootout victory

Published: November 6, 2011
The Montana soccer team qualified for its first NCAA tournament since 2000 with a shootout victory over Weber State Sunday in the title match of the 2011 Big Sky Conference Championship at Greeley, Colo. The teams played to a 1-1 double-overtime draw, then the Grizzlies won the shootout, 4-3. Montana, the tournament’s No. 4 seed, also won its semifinal match against top seed Northern Colorado Friday in a shootout. It was the first Big Sky championship match to go to a shootout since 2006 and just the second in Big Sky tournament history. Montana, which lost 1-0 in the teams’ regular-season meeting, was kept off the scoreboard in the first half by No. 3 Weber State despite controlling play. The Grizzlies out-shot the Wildcats 10-1 in the opening 45 minutes and created eight corner kick opportunities. “I thought we were in a very good frame of mind before the match,” UM coach Mark Plakorus said. “They were nervous and excited, but they did not play like they were nervous. “One of the things we didn’t do when we played them the first time was attack them. We wanted to make sure this time that we went at them and made them defend us. “At halftime I told the team they were doing great things and to just keep going.” Montana’s persistence paid off in the 56th minute when sophomore India Watne scored her fourth goal of the season to break the deadlock. Montana played a ball to the left of the 18-yard box, and WSU keeper Ryann Waldman made an initial attempt to go after it. When she realized that Montana junior Ashley Tombelaine was going to beat her to the ball, she retreated back toward the goal. Tombelaine put a shot on the scrambling Waldman that the keeper deflected away. The ball went to the right side of the box, where Watne collected the rebound out of the air and scored high and to the left. With just one shot in the match to that point, Weber State started playing like its season was on the line, which it was. The Wildcats took 10 shots the final 34 minutes of the second half. Montana weathered the attack and was just minutes away from winning in regulation when Weber State scored the equalizer in the 85th minute. Jessie Baddley took the ball up the left side and sent a cross into the box that Roxanne Tebbs dove and headed past UM keeper Kristen Hoon. “Anytime it’s a championship game and a team is down, they are going to really come at you with everything they have,” Plakorus said. “They started throwing numbers forward and competing like you’d expect.” Unbowed, Montana generated a pair of corner kicks in the closing minutes and had a 4-2 advantage in shots over the two 10-minute overtime periods. But like both semifinal matches the championship would be decided on penalty kicks. The Grizzlies went with junior Ashley Tombelaine, junior Erin Craig, Watne, freshman Tyler Adair and junior Lauren Costa, in that order, for the shootout. Shooting second, Montana got the early advantage when Hoon stopped Weber State’s first attempt. Tombelaine scored to give the Grizzlies a 1-0 lead through one round. Both teams’ second and third shooters – Craig and Watne for Montana – converted, and when Hoon made her second save of the shootout on the Wildcats’ fourth shooter, the Grizzlies needed just one goal in its final two attempts. Adair sent her kick wide right, and after WSU evened the score 3-3, the match, for the second time at the tournament, came down to the right foot of Costa. The co-captain converted inside the right post, and the Grizzlies – picked sixth in the preseason – were quickly in a pile at midfield celebrating a victory few outside the program expected in early August. “I was confident before the shootout, because we did a great job this week training for that scenario,” Plakorus said. “I told Kristen that if she could stop one, that would do it for us. That she stopped two really put things in our favor. “There were a lot of tears of joy, and that was really neat to see. They are tired and exhausted, but everyone has a smile that goes from ear to ear.” Montana took 23 shots in the match, its second-highest output of the season, and generated a season-high 12 corner kicks. Eleven different players were credited with a shot. Hoon (5-9-3) went the distance in goal, making six saves. She limited Northern Colorado and Weber State to just a pair of goals in 220 minutes. Montana will learn its first-round opponent Monday at 2:30 p.m. when the NCAA selection show is aired live on NCAA.com. First-round matches will be played next weekend at host sites.
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