On one of the more frustrating days of her career -- an unsuccessful penalty kick in the first half, multiple post-shot looks heavenward in disbelief -- Montana’s lone senior still found a way to get it done in the end.
Mackenzie Akins’ cross from the end line in the 87th minute was headed in by Allie Lucas, and the goal sent Montana to a 1-0 victory over Portland State Friday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula and gave the Grizzlies an important result in their push to make the Big Sky tournament.
“I definitely woke up with some nerves this morning and came into the game really wanting to take it to them, and I think I did,” said Akins, who took a match-high five shots. “This was one of my most dangerous games, but I got pretty unlucky with some things, things I usually put away.
“I’m thankful I could rely on my team. If it’s a rough day for me putting it in the back of the net, I know the team is going to do it for me.”
With overtime looking imminent, Akins took possession on the right side. She drove to the end line and instead of rocketing a pass across the box, Akins chipped it toward the far post. Lucas, all 5-foot-4 of her, headed it in for her second goal in five matches.
“Usually I go around the corner and play it back pretty hard, but what I had been doing didn’t seem to be working. I think they were reading that,” said Akins. “I decided to change it up and chip it, and little Allie Lucas finishes.”
And for the second time this month in a critical situation. Lucas also scored the game-winner in the second overtime in Montana’s 2-1 victory over Eastern Washington two weeks ago.
Not only did Friday’s result give Montana (7-9-2, 4-4-1 BSC) its first win over Portland State (5-12-0, 3-6-0 BSC) in Missoula since 2000, it moved the Grizzlies into fifth place in the Big Sky Conference standings and gave them a four-point cushion over the Vikings with one league game remaining for both teams.
Montana will host sixth-place Sacramento State (6-10-0, 4-4-0 BSC) Sunday at 1 p.m. in the Grizzlies’ final Big Sky match of the season. A win would send Montana to the league tournament, no matter what anyone else does Friday night, Sunday or next Friday, when the Grizzlies are playing at Texas.
“Each of these games you’re trying to get as many points as you can to separate yourself from teams that can catch you,” said fifth-year coach Mark Plakorus, who is attempting to lead his team to the Big Sky tournament for the fourth time.
“This result puts us in the position we wanted. We put another team behind us that can’t catch us. Now we have to get ready to compete again on Sunday.”
Montana wasted a number of chances to score earlier than 86:26 against one of the better defensive teams in the Big Sky Conference.
Montana had its first quality opportunity to take an early lead in the 18th minute. Emily Kardash’s shot was blocked by a defender, and Dani Morris was taken down on her way to the rebound and a clear look at goal.
Akins took the ensuing penalty kick. She went right with her shot, and PSU goalkeeper Angela Haluska was correct on her read. Her diving save kept the game scoreless.
Jenna Castillo had Montana’s next golden chances. Her header of Mary Gintz’s corner kick in the 63rd minute was punched over the goal by a leaping Haluska. On the resulting corner kick, Castillo headed Chanelle Pederson’s offering just wide of goal and into the side netting.
Taryn Miller headed a corner kick over the crossbar in the 77th minute; Ellie Otteson’s header in the 80th minute off yet another corner -- Montana had eight for the match to Portland State’s zero -- was saved by Haluska.
“We created a lot of chances today,” said Plakorus. “Their goalkeeper made a couple of nice saves, and we didn’t handle a couple of the opportunities we had very well.
“But credit the team and the girls. They keep fighting and working hard for each other. I was really happy they got the result they did.”
Haluska made six saves for the Vikings. Kailey Norman made three for the Grizzlies to record her fourth shutout of the season and 14th of her career.
In other afternoon matches Friday, Idaho remained undefeated and atop the league with a 4-0 victory at North Dakota. Weber State scored in the 88th minute at Southern Utah to win 2-1.
Idaho State plays at Northern Arizona Friday night, and third-place Eastern Washington plays at second-place Northern Colorado.