The Montana soccer team rallied from a 2-0 deficit and came away with a 3-2 overtime victory over Eastern Washington Friday afternoon at Cheney, Wash. The teams will meet again on the same field in five days.
After falling behind 2-0 in the opening 25 minutes, Montana pulled within one at the half on a goal by Ellie Otteson.
Ashlee Pedersen tied it midway through the second half, and Aspen Peifer put away a perfect cross from Jacey Delaney in the third minute of overtime to keep the Grizzlies on a late-season roll.
Montana (9-5-5, 5-2-3 BSC), which beat Eastern Washington for the seventh straight time, has lost just once in its last nine matches and finished the regular season tied with Northern Arizona for third place in the Big Sky Conference standings.
The Grizzlies will take the No. 4 seed into next week’s Big Sky tournament, which will be held in Cheney after regular-season champion Idaho passed on hosting because of the condition of its field.
Montana will face No. 5 Eastern Washington (11-4-3, 5-3-2 BSC) on Wednesday in a quarterfinal match. In the other quarterfinal, No. 3 Northern Arizona will take on No. 6 Northern Colorado.
Idaho still retains the No. 1 seed and will play the Montana-Eastern Washington winner. Sacramento State is the No. 2 seed. Both get byes to Friday’s semifinal round.
Despite its late-season surge, Montana entered the day without a spot secured in the tournament. That changed after Sacramento State won at Portland State earlier Friday afternoon, which left Montana playing not for its postseason life but for postseason seeding.
It was the Eagles who looked like the better team early in the first half.
Jenny Chavez opened the scoring in the 11th minute, and Chloe Williams scored her Big Sky-leading 14th goal in the 25th to make it 2-0. The Eagles also hit the crossbar and post on shots in the opening 15 minutes.
“They really came at us the first part of the game,” said coach Mark Plakorus. “They created some pretty dangerous situations and scored on two set pieces.
“(Goalkeeper Kailey Norman) made two or three fantastic saves to keep it 2-0. Then we kind of started finding our rhythm and got ourselves back in the game.”
Montana got the play it needed late in the first half.
Charlene Burger used a hard cutback to drop her defender near the top of the box and sent a shot off the left post. The rebound went to Otteson, who scored into a mostly empty net for her second goal of the season.
It brought Montana within 2-1 at the half.
“That gave us a big lift right before halftime,” said Plakorus. “We’d started to play better as the half went on. That goal gave us a lot more confidence and relaxed us too. It made the deficit more manageable.”
After Eastern Washington finished the first half with a 9-4 shots advantage, Montana held the Eagles to just four in the second.
The Grizzlies tied it in the 61st minute on Pedersen’s third goal of the season. Janessa Fowler took a free kick from right of goal. The ball bounced around between a number of players in front of the net before Pedersen kicked it in.
The game had a lengthy delay in the 85th minute as trainers tended to an injured Montana player. She was replaced by Jacey Delaney, who hadn’t played to that point, and her fresh legs would be the difference.
In the 93rd minute, Delaney got the ball in space on the right side of the goal. After surveying the situation, she lofted a pass that Peifer knocked in, giving Delaney her first collegiate point, Peifer her third career goal and Montana another win over Eastern Washington.
“We thought they might be tiring in their back line a bit, so we put somebody in with fresh legs,” said Plakorus.
“The thing I liked was that Jacey was very calm and composed. She had a player to her left and recognized that wasn’t the best pass. Then she saw Aspen and played a really good ball. And Aspen did a good job putting it in the goal.”
The results of the day send Montana to its fifth Big Sky Conference tournament in six years under Plakorus. The Grizzlies will be trying to win their first tournament title next week since 2011.
“I’m pleased with how we played once again,” he said. “It’s been a good month. We’ve been training well, and we’ve been playing well. Hopefully we can keep it going.
“(Eastern Washington) will come out with a lot of energy next week and look to try to get us back for this one. We just have to keep playing at a high level and being dangerous and believing in ourselves.”