Addressing a team earlier this week that felt saddled by injuries and was coming off a winless road trip to California, Montana soccer coach Mark Plakorus had a simple message for his squad: Let’s focus on the players we have available and the things they can do and not on what we’re without.
On Thursday the Grizzlies heeded their coach’s instruction.
Montana outshot Houston Baptist nearly 2-to-1, dominated possession in the second half and used a goal by junior Tyler Adair in the 52nd minute to post a 1-0 victory over the Huskies (0-4-0) at South Campus Stadium that gave the Grizzlies (1-2-2) their first win of the season.
Montana is without seven injured players, five of whom could be starting, and at one point in Thursday’s match, Plakorus had six players on the field who were either true or redshirt freshmen.
“This is the first time that we’ve been hit with this many things all at once, but good teams find a way to deal with adversity. They find a way to overcome it,” he said.
“When you’ve never been through something like this before, you don’t know how to deal with it, but you’ve got to move on and keep being competitive. That’s what we have to learn to do. Hopefully we took a step in the right direction today.”
The teams played a mostly even first half, and Montana went to the locker room tied at 0-0 for the fifth time in five matches this season. In the second half the Grizzlies upped the pace and the pressure they put on HBU keeper Stephanie Castellon.
Montana finally broke through in the 52nd minute when sophomore Mackenzie Akins, who was dynamic with the ball the entire match, found Adair, who headed in her first goal of the season inside the left post from seven yards out. It was Adair’s third career goal.
“We did a nice job of moving the ball around and found Mackenzie at the top of the box. She made a great decision to turn her girl,” Plakorus said.
“She chipped it to the back side, and Ty kept her run going to the weak side and did a great job getting her head on it.”
It was the sixth time in her young career that Akins has played a role in a game-winning goal for Montana, three times by scoring, three times via the assist.
Senior India Watne, seeking her first goal of the season on her 21st birthday, did not find it, but she was a thorn in the Huskies’ side for the 66 minutes she was on the field. She took a career-high five shots, putting two on goal.
The victory increased Montana’s unbeaten streak at South Campus Stadium to 10, the best run at home in program history.
“I thought we just played today,” Plakorus said. “We were much more relaxed and a lot more attacking. We had a lot of energy, and there was a lot of communication. The players fed off each other’s energy, and that was good for us.
“I’d still like it to be more. I thought the pace of our game was a little too slow. I think we can make better decisions in the final third and be even more dangerous, but I still like the fact that we just played today.”
Griz senior keeper Kendra McMillen faced an easier day in net than Castellon, but McMillen was solid when called upon, making two saves in each half. She helped thwart Houston Baptist’s three second-half corner kicks, and made a critical stop on a ball that got loose near the goal line late in the second half.
The shutout was McMillen’s second of the season and the third of her career and gives Montana nine shutouts in its last 13 matches dating back to last season.
“Part of your job as goalkeeper when your team has a lot of possession is to remain locked in. You still need to be sharp in terms of coming out on through balls and picking anything out of the air on set pieces,” Plakorus said.
“I thought Kendra was very good today on deciding when to come out. She was strong on the corner kicks that she had to defend and had a really solid effort for us.”
Montana will host Utah Valley on Monday at 5 p.m. The Grizzlies will get a chance to see the Wolverines, whom they played three times the previous two seasons, when Utah Valley meets Houston Baptist Saturday at 5 p.m.
Notes: Redshirt junior Stephanie Carl and true freshman Jenna Castillo both played Thursday for the first time this season. Both played 10 minutes. ... True freshman Carlee Bates, who debuted at Cal State Fullerton on Sunday, played 20 minutes Thursday in her second match of the season. ... Sophomore Taylor Rhodes played all 90 minutes at center back. Junior Brooke Moody played 87 minutes at the same position before being spelled late by senior Courtney Watson. ... Missing the match because of injury were seniors Carley Duvall, Mary Makris, Alyssa Nystrom and Ashley Tombelaine, the Simon sisters -- junior Allie and freshman Jamie -- and freshman Payton Agnew. ... Her assist Thursday was the fifth of Akins’ career. ... The loss kept Houston Baptist winless on the season. All four losses have come by a one-goal difference. ... Molly Missimer took four of the Huskies’ 10 shots while playing all 90 minutes. ... Houston Baptist used just four subs in the match. Montana employed nine.