The curse of the Big Sky Conference tournament host lives on. No. 5 Idaho State scored a pair of second-half goals and rallied past No. 1 Montana 2-1 in the second semifinal of the Big Sky tournament Friday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula.
It’s the sixth time in the last seven seasons that the host of the tournament will not hoist the championship trophy.
Idaho State (10-8-1), which defeated No. 4 Northern Colorado 2-1 in double overtime in Thursday’s quarterfinal round, will face No. 3 Northern Arizona Sunday at noon for the tournament title.
The Lumberjacks rallied from their own 1-0 deficit to post a 2-1 victory over No. 2 Portland State in Friday’s opening semifinal.
The Bengals will be attempting to win their second tournament title in three years Sunday. The Lumberjacks are seeking their first championship since 2009.
Redshirt sophomore Savannah Witt put Montana up 1-0 in the 36th minute Friday when she headed in a cross from freshman Allie Lucas for her third goal of the season.
The lead held through 70 minutes, but Amanda Ellsworth, who on Thursday became the Big Sky Conference’s career scoring leader, tied it in the 73rd, and four minutes later Katherine Roberts scored the game-winner.
It was the first loss for Montana (12-6-2) since falling to Hawaii on Sept. 21.
“It’s disappointing. I thought the girls played their hearts out and competed with everything they had. It just wasn’t our day today,” said fourth-year coach Mark Plakorus, who lost his first Big Sky tournament match (1-1-3) in three postseason appearances.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Idaho State. They battled and fought and kept themselves in it, and gave themselves a shot. That’s what you have to do in tournament soccer.”
It was the type of match that will keep a coach up at night as he replays the missed opportunities that could have put the match out of reach before halftime.
Freshman Hallie Widner had a bicycle-kick shot that was saved in the 14th minute, and senior Tyler Adair got enough of her foot on a rebound of another Widner shot in the 24th minute to send it inching toward the goal line, but not enough to keep ISU keeper Sheridan Hapsic from scrambling for the save.
Witt opened the scoring in the 36th minute to energize the season-high crowd of 743. Lucas got free on the right side and sent in a cross that Witt lunged for and headed in off the left post.
Montana allowed just two shots in the first half and led 1-0 at the break.
Montana had a flurry of golden opportunities in the 71st minute that could have put the Grizzlies up 2-0 and maybe punched their ticket to their third tournament championship match in four seasons.
Witt got behind the defense, but her shot was saved by Hapsic. The rebound went to junior Mackenzie Akins, whose shot was blocked right to Witt. Her second shot in 14 seconds was also saved by Hapsic.
Just over a minute later the tide turned when Ellsworth, who had been a nonfactor for 70 minutes, got the ball on the right side and scored her 16th goal of the season.
Four minutes later Allyssa Kenney took a shot from 15 yards out, and Roberts redirected it past Griz sophomore goalkeeper Kailey Norman. And Montana was all of a sudden facing its first deficit in 40 days.
“Their keeper made two fantastic saves on our breakaway and follow-up shot. That kept them in the game and gave them an opportunity,” said Plakorus.
“And then Amanda did what she does. She got a look, and she finished it. That’s what a quality player does.”
Montana was only able to generate a single shot after Roberts’ game-winner.
The loss ended an historic season for Montana, which finished its season with a record of 12-6-2 and went unbeaten at 8-0-2 through its 10-match Big Sky schedule.
The Grizzlies are hosting the Big Sky tournament for the first time since 2000.
“After the sting of this goes away, we’ll be able to look back on all the things we accomplished,” said Plakorus. “The year we had was pretty special and another step forward in our program as we keep building it. This team has set a standard for the teams that follow it to strive for.”