The pulse is faint, but it’s still beating.
Redshirt junior Ashley Robertson scored in the 85th minute to give the Montana soccer team a 1-0 victory over Eastern Washington Friday afternoon at South Campus Stadium and keep the Grizzlies’ hopes of making the Big Sky Conference tournament alive.
Montana (5-7-4, 2-4-1 BSC) remains in a tie for seventh with Southern Utah, but the Grizzlies picked up three points it had to have to climb to within four points of five other teams holding their own tournament dreams as the end of the regular season approaches.
“All we can do is take care of ourselves,” UM coach Mark Plakorus said. “We can’t worry about anybody else. We just have to keep coming out and performing, and at the end of it, we’ll see where we stand.”
Anything less than a win Friday would have been major disappointment in a match that Montana mostly controlled from start to finish.
The Grizzlies created a number of quality, but ultimately unrealized, scoring chances, and they started early. Junior Tyler Adair put a good head on senior India Watne’s corner kick in the second minute and sent it just over the crossbar. In the third minute Watne sent a screamer high as well.
And that set the trend. Montana outshot Eastern Washington (3-13-0, 1-6-0 BSC) 12-1 in the first half and created 11 first-half corner kicks, but only one of those dozen shots was put on goal.
“It was a little frustrating,” Plakorus said. “We controlled the game from the get-go and were creating some very dangerous opportunities, but we weren’t focused and composed enough to even put them on goal.
“You start to wonder when you miss the opportunities we had if maybe this is going to be the day when you give up a goal and the result doesn’t go your way. Fortunately the girls hung in there, and we did what we needed to do.”
Montana’s opportunities continued in the second half. The Grizzlies’ best chance of opening the scoring came from junior Allie Simon, but her shot in the 72nd minute that was headed just inside the right post was saved by a diving Nathalie Schwery, the Eagles’ junior goalkeeper.
Eastern Washington almost came up with what likely would have been the game-winner in the 84th minute when its leading scorer, Cassie Black, got free and only needed to beat Griz senior keeper Kendra McMillen. But McMillen closed out on Black and forced a shot that bounced just wide of the right post.
On Montana’s next push up the field, Simon found Robertson, who chipped the ball over Schwery from 12 yards out. The goal came on the Grizzlies’ 23rd and final shot of the match and a little more than a minute after Robertson checked into the game.
“When Mark told me to go in, he told me to make a difference,” Robertson said. “I knew we had to get a goal or we were going to go into overtime, and we weren’t going to do that. Allie played an amazing ball, and right as my foot touched the ball, I knew it.”
It was the third goal of the season for Robertson, one off senior Maddey Frey’s team lead, and the fifth of Robertson’s career.
“Ashley did a great job of being in the right place at the right time. She came in, worked hard and got rewarded for it,” Plakorus said.
As did Montana, but barely. The Grizzlies finished with a 23-6 advantage in shots and a 13-2 edge in corner kicks for their second straight nail-biter over the Eagles at South Campus Stadium. In 2011, Paytyn Wheeler’s goal in the 86th minute gave Montana a 1-0 win.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game for us in terms of scoring a lot of goals, but I thought we played well. And any time you come away with a result, that’s a good day,” said Plakorus.
“You can talk about how you want to look when you play and how many goals you’d like to score, but the most important thing is to end up with one more than the other team.”
It was the fifth shutout for Montana this season and the fourth for McMillen, who needed to make just a single save to improve to 4-5-4. McMillen was back in goal Friday after Plakorus opted to start freshman Kailey Norman the previous three matches.
“We have two very good goalkeepers, and I just had a gut feeling today that it was Kendra’s turn to give it a go again,” he said. “She wasn’t tested much, but she did what she had to do.
“She came out well on the one opportunity they had and made (Black) push it wide, and we used her a lot to help us keep possession.”
Watne, Adair and Frey combined to take 14 of Montana’s 23 shots, though only Adair’s attempt in the 27th minute was on goal and required a save from Schwery, who made four for the match.
Montana is done playing for the weekend and as of Friday evening is still alive to make the four-team tournament, but five Big Sky matches remain to be played over the next 48 hours, all involving the teams the Grizzlies are chasing.
Montana will host Northern Arizona and Southern Utah next week in its final home matches of the 2013 season.