Sacramento State scored a pair of goals in the opening nine minutes and added another in the 25th, and they held up for a 3-0 victory over Montana Friday afternoon at South Campus Stadium.
The Hornets (6-4-2, 2-0-1 BSC) scored their three goals on just six shots. Sac State keeper Kimberly Mata faced 23 shots from the Grizzlies and made 12 saves as the Hornets posted their third shutout in three Big Sky Conference matches.
Montana (3-5-4, 0-2-1 BSC) saw its 12-match unbeaten streak at South Campus Stadium come to an end by the last team to beat the Grizzlies at home. Sac State won 1-0 back on Oct. 7, 2011, and Montana had been 7-0-5 in the dozen matches between visits from the Hornets.
Sacramento State went up 2-0 before the Homecoming-weekend crowd was even settled in South Campus Stadium’s metal bleachers.
Ashley Cella took a free kick from 35 yards out in the eighth minute, and Griz senior keeper Kendra McMillen came out of goal to track the potential threats in front of her even as the ball was going over her head and into the goal.
It was Cella’s first goal of the season, and it held up as the game-winner despite Montana’s 23-6 advantage in shots and 10-0 edge in corner kicks.
Jordyn Rolling scored her second goal of the season just 88 seconds later when she redirected Jennifer Lum’s centering pass from six yards out past McMillen.
The Hornets’ final goal came at 24:24. Lum played a ball ahead to Alyssa Anderson, who had gotten behind Montana’s defense, and McMillen left her goal and tried to beat Anderson to the ball.
She didn’t, and Anderson tapped a well-played ball toward an empty goal from 20 yards out that the pursuing Griz defenders could only chase but never catch.
The goal was Anderson’s seventh of the year, a total that leads the Big Sky Conference.
The three-goal halftime deficit matched the largest Montana has faced under third-year coach Mark Plakorus. In the other, the Grizzlies rallied back from a 4-1 halftime score at Southern Utah in 2011 to forge a 4-4 tie.
There would be no comeback on Friday, even though the Grizzlies had a 14-1 advantage in shots in the second half and took eight of their 10 corner kicks over the final 45 minutes.
“Soccer is a game where you can’t just play a half,” Plakorus said. “Finding our identity and making sure we come to compete every day is something we’ve been struggling with this year. And that’s my responsibility. I’ve got to make sure the team is prepared and ready to come out firing.
“We came out and played in the second half, but that’s because we had to. We had no choice. We need to become a team that comes out and starts that way from the beginning.”
Freshman Kailey Norman replaced McMillen in goal for the second half and played her first minutes of the season. She faced just one shot and made one save, but with the Hornets holding a 3-0 lead, they didn’t need to generate any more offense.
“It was a change we needed to make,” Plakorus said. “Unfortunately Kendra was a little shaky today and not her normal self. We needed to shore things up back there.”
Montana kept 90 percent of the second-half possession, but Mata handled the pressure with aplomb. Her 12 saves in the match gave the junior keeper her Big Sky-leading fifth shutout of the season.
Plakorus tipped his cap to Mata but put part of the blame on his own team.
“We had way more opportunities than they did, but the difference was they put theirs in and we didn’t,” he said.
“We have to make sure when we have opportunities that we’re putting a good strike on the ball. That was part of the problem today. We didn’t hit it well. We were so worried about where it was going to go that we didn’t worry about making sure we struck the ball well.”
Junior Allie Simon, who was playing in her third straight match after missing the season’s first nine games with a knee injury, took a team-high four shots for Montana, which had 14 different players take at least one shot.
Sophomore Mackenzie Akins, the Big Sky Conference leader in the category, took three shots, including one that hit the right post in the 76th minute.
Montana will face another challenging opponent on Sunday when the Grizzlies host league-leading Portland State (6-4-1, 3-0-0 BSC). The Vikings, who have allowed just two goals in their last eight matches, won 2-0 at Eastern Washington Friday afternoon.
While to some Sunday might feel like a must-win match for the Grizzlies as they continue their quest to make their third straight Big Sky Conference tournament, Plakorus is more interested in simply how his team performs than in the result.
“The biggest thing for us is we just have to compete,” he said. “We’ve got to play with a little bit of pride and a little bit of urgency and more as a team. Once again we were a bunch of individuals out there today.
“We’ve got to be more together and trusting of one another and fight for each other. If we do that, results will take care of themselves.”