Texas scored in the seventh minute and added a pair of goals in the second half to defeat the Montana soccer team 3-0 Friday night at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.
It was the final regular-season match for both the Longhorns (8-5-4), who take the No. 3 seed into next week’s Big 12 tournament at Kansas City, and the Grizzlies (8-10-2), who will be the No. 5 seed at the Big Sky Conference tournament, which opens Thursday at Moscow, Idaho.
Montana lost 2-0 to Texas in 2014, and though the Grizzlies lost by a wider margin this trip to Austin, they had more possession and more scoring chances than they did last season.
But they were unable to get anything past Texas goalkeeper Abby Smith, who set a school record with her 30th career shutout Friday.
“It’s unfortunate that it ended up 3-0, because that wasn’t a 3-0 game,” said UM coach Mark Plakorus. “I thought the girls played really, really well. We possessed the ball pretty well and attacked pretty well, and gave ourselves a couple of really good looks.
“There is a reason their goalkeeper is one of the best in the nation and will probably be on the national team in the future. She’s really good.”
And when Montana did beat Smith, her teammates had her back.
With the Grizzlies trailing 2-0 in the 62nd minute, Mackenzie Akins played a ball from right to left across the field and into the box, where Dani Morris had gotten position inside her defender. Morris sent a screamer at the head of Smith, who got just enough of a touch to send the ball into the air.
Against any other team Montana played this year, the ball would have continued into the goal. Smith slowed the ball just enough that a Texas defender was able to get to the line and head it away.
“She’s going full-speed toward the goal, and the ball is going toward the goal, and she’s able to get it off the line with her head,” said Plakorus, still sounding incredulous after the match. “It was a great play by them.”
Texas opened the scoring just 6:38 into the match as the result of another play Montana would never see in the Big Sky Conference.
Instead of punting goal kicks high into the air, where players wait underneath to get a head on the ball, Smith sends low-flying rockets up the field. She did again in the seventh minute, and Alexa Adams, positioned just across midfield, flicked a header forward and past Montana’s back line.
Kelsey Shimmick, who was coached by Plakorus as a youth when he was still an assistant at TCU, outraced everyone to the ball and beat Kailey Norman inside the right post.
Allie Lucas and Morris both had nice opportunities to even the score in the first half, but it went to the break 1-0.
Texas made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute. Mikayla Flores got the ball on the right side, and her cross was touched into the goal past a helpless Norman by Alexa Adams from just a few yards out.
After Morris’s near goal, Jenna Castillo later headed a corner kick from Maddy Emerick across the face of the goal. While there were Grizzlies there, none was able to redirect it toward the net.
The Longhorns capped the scoring in the 81st minute when a free kick by Brinkley Field from 25 yards out on the left side carried into the goal inside the far post.
“We made some mistakes tonight, and they took advantage. That’s a good team,” said Plakorus. “You give a team like that chances, and they have the players who are good enough to punish you.
“There were a lot of positives to take out of it, and that’s why we play these games. It was a good experience for our team, and we got out of it relatively healthy, and that’s the important thing as we get ready for conference.”
While Montana was in Texas, the rest of the Big Sky Conference was completing the league schedule and setting the tournament field for next week.
Montana will take the No. 5 seed into the tournament and face No. 4 Weber State on Thursday at 2 p.m. (MT). The Wildcats defeated the Grizzlies 1-0 two weeks ago at Ogden, Utah.
In Thursday’s opening quarterfinal, No. 3 Eastern Washington will face No. 6 Sacramento State, which needed a win Friday and got it in dramatic fashion: 2-1 in overtime over Portland State.
The winner of the Montana-Weber State match will face No. 1 Idaho on Friday at 2 p.m. (MT). No. 2 Northern Colorado will face the winner of the Eastern Washington-Sacramento State match.
The tournament championship match will be played at 1 p.m. (MT) on Sunday.