The Montana soccer team’s season came to an end Friday afternoon with a 3-2 loss to Idaho in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament at Guy Wicks Field in Moscow, Idaho.
The top-seeded Vandals (14-4-2) scored the match’s first three goals and led 3-0 at the half. The No. 5 Grizzlies (9-11-2) got goals from Payton Agnew in the 49th minute and Kaitlin Crowell in the 88th to draw within one, but time would run out before Montana could score the equalizer.
Idaho, unbeaten in its last 13 matches, advances to face No. 2 Northern Colorado in Sunday’s championship match. The Bears moved on with a 3-1 victory over No. 6 Sacramento State Friday.
The Vandals scored on their first two shots of the match to make it 2-0 before the semifinal was eight minutes old, a significant hole against a team that had allowed just five goals in its previous 12 matches.
Idaho scored again in the 41st minute to make it 3-0 at the break.
“The early goal we gave up kind of put us back. That’s not the way you want to start,” said coach Mark Plakorus. “Then you give up another goal a couple of minutes later, and you’re down 2-0 seven or eight minutes into the game. At that point you’re just hoping the wheels don’t fall off completely.
“We did a nice job of settling down and started to keep the ball a little bit better. Then we gave up the third one, and that really hurt.”
Idaho, which looked early on like a team that did not play Thursday, outshot Montana 8-3 in the first half. Six of the Vandals’ first-half shots were on goal. The Grizzlies did not put a single first-half shot on goal.
“It wasn’t our best half of soccer. Certainly we expected to come out and play a lot better,” said Plakorus, whose team defeated No. 4 Weber State 2-0 on Thursday.
“At halftime we told the team, Let’s give everything we have to get back in this game. We’ve got to fight. I thought they did a really good job of that. They put the first half behind them and really dominated the entire second half and created a bunch of chances.”
Given Idaho’s defensive stinginess, a comeback was unlikely, but if it was to happen, an early goal would be needed to spark it. It came less than four minutes in when Agnew headed in Mary Gintz’s corner kick, Agnew’s first career goal.
Montana took 12 second-half shots and generated six corner kicks, but the Grizzlies would have to wait until the final minutes to pull within a goal.
“We got the first goal to pull within 3-1, then I thought we had four or five different chances to make it 3-2 a lot earlier than we did,” said Plakorus. “Time ran out on us.”
Crowell scored her first career goal at 87:18 to make it 3-2. The ball was played to the right of the goal, and Ashlee Pedersen, a defender and Idaho keeper Amanda Poertner went for it. Pedersen played it back into the box, where Crowell was waiting to send it past a solitary Idaho defender.
Montana took a corner kick and got off three final shots after Crowell’s goal, but none became the goal that would have capped the comeback.
“It was a disappointing start to the game,” said Plakorus. “But I’m proud of the way the girls played in the second half and competed. They easily could have mailed it in and rode out the second half, but they didn’t. They competed and fought to get back into it.”
The match marked the end of the career of senior midfielder Mackenzie Akins. In her swan song she took a team-high six shots and played all 90 minutes, 24 hours after playing 82 in terrible conditions against the Wildcats.
“Kenzie was everything you could want from a young lady playing in this game,” said Plakorus. “I thought she played her heart out. It’s unfortunate her career has to end short of what our goals were.
“I couldn’t be more proud of her and what kind of player and leader she was this year. As our only senior, she had a lot on her shoulders, and she was spectacular.”
Montana has advanced to the Big Sky tournament four times under Plakorus, who just completed his fifth year.