Savannah Witt entered the weekend seeking her first collegiate goal. Two matches later the redshirt sophomore has a pair, both game-winners, and they gave the Montana soccer team its first road sweep of Sacramento State and Portland State since 1998.
Witt scored the match’s lone goal in the 55th minute Sunday afternoon and sophomore Kailey Norman made five second-half saves, six overall, to lead the Grizzlies (8-5-0, 4-0-0 BSC) to a 1-0 victory over Portland State at Hillsboro, Ore., two days after picking up a 2-1 victory at Sacramento State.
It was Montana’s first win at PSU since 2006 and gives the Grizzlies their first 4-0-0 Big Sky Conference start since 1997.
“To be able to get two wins is really nice, but bigger than that, I’m just really pleased how we performed and how we handled ourselves in both situations this weekend,” said UM coach Mark Plakorus, whose team went from playing on grass at Sacramento State to the springy artificial turf of Hillsboro Stadium.
“I really like how hard we played and how attentive the girls were to the tactics that we had to adjust to for each game. It was just a great weekend for them.”
Neither team had many dangerous looks in the first half, but that changed as soon as the teams took the field to start the second.
Three minutes in, freshman Hallie Widner got free on the left side near the end line. Her cross found Witt charging to goal, but she sent her header wide right.
Ninety seconds later Portland State’s Cori Bianchini lofted a shot from 20 yards out. It got over Norman and hit the crossbar to keep the match scoreless.
Montana’s goal came in the 55th minute, and it recreated the dangerous Widner-to-Witt dynamic that barely failed to click just moments earlier.
Widner found space at the top of the box and took a left-footed shot. A PSU defender stuck her foot out and knocked the ball away. Witt was waiting nearby, and her shot off the deflection beat PSU keeper Caitlin Plese.
“We talk all the time about making sure we’re aggressive in the attack, and that means our wing forwards have to make sure they are pressing up against the back line to threaten them,” Plakorus said.
“It was a great job by Savannah being in the right place at the right time when the ball bounced toward us.”
Like they did on Friday, after Sacramento State had cut their second-half lead to a goal, the Grizzlies had to hold on as Portland State (4-5-3, 1-2-1 BSC) sent an extra player forward in an effort to find the equalizer.
After being held to just three first-half shots, the Vikings took 10 in the second, five of which were saved by Norman.
The one she didn’t save, or need to, proved to be one of the match’s defining moments.
A Viking attacker was played forward in the 59th minute, and Norman came out of goal to challenge the threat near the top of the box. The shot was wide left, and the player’s momentum sent her tumbling over a sliding Norman. The keeper was called for a foul, and Portland State was awarded a penalty kick.
Ariana Cooley pinged the PK off the left post, and Montana’s defense took it from there as the Grizzlies posted their fifth shutout of the season.
“I thought we defended extremely well throughout the game but especially late when they were pushing numbers forward,” said Plakorus.
“It ended up being another one of those where you kind of grind it out. You’ve got to have some heart, and you’ve got to have some fight.”
The win sets up one of the most exciting October matches to be hosted at South Campus Stadium in a number of years.
First-place Montana will host second-place Idaho, which is off to a 3-0-1 start in league play, on Friday at 3 p.m. It will be the Grizzlies’ only match of the week.