Two Missoula soccer teams dodged the first bullets of the Western AA playoffs Tuesday with twin 2-1 wins over Butte in home play-in games.
The Big Sky boys and Hellgate girls moved on to matches later in the week against defending state champions, as each scored the winning goal in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
For Big Sky, junior Zeke Baied took a pretty feed from freshman Dylan Torcoletti behind the Butte defense and scored on a breakaway run from 30 yards out. The Eagles meet Missoula Sentinel, last year's state champion, at 11 a.m. Saturday at Sentinel's field for the right to go to state in Billings next week.
Hellgate's winning score in the girls' match at Fort Missoula developed at the front rim of the 18-yard box when freshman Kelsey Bernius executed a perfect lead pass to junior Megan Gaskill on the right side. Gaskill shot it inside the far post in almost the same motion from 10 yards away.
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The Knights go to Helena on Friday to do battle at 3:30 p.m. with Helena Capital, winner of the past five girls' state titles.
Big Sky boys 2, Butte 1: Big Sky (6-5-1) scored first 18 minutes into the match on a penalty kick by Rusty Anderson, after an Eagle forward was taken down from behind in the box.
Butte, which ended its season at 0-12-1, made it interesting 12 minutes later when a hard shot by Jason Decker deflected off Anderson's back and into the net. It was the Bulldogs' first goal since they tied Big Sky 1-1 on Decker's goal on Oct. 2, also at Big Sky.
"I have to give a lot of credit to Butte," Big Sky coach Scott Moorcroft said. "Every player that stepped on the field played their hearts out. They left everything on the field."
Big Sky, which outshot the Bulldogs 21-11 and had three shots hit the post, was hoping to ride the wave of Saturday's 1-0 victory over Kalispell to something more inspiring.
"To be honest with you I was disappointed in the way we played," Moorcroft said. "We weren't very sharp. I don't think we played as well as we can play tonight."
Moorcroft said senior Abe Jindrich was Big Sky's most aggressive player on defense, while Torcoletti led the way on offense.
Big Sky last went to state in 1996. On Saturday the Eagles will catch the Spartans coming off a 12-day layoff that included two forfeit losses because of numerous player suspensions.
Hellgate girls 2, Butte 1: The Knights hadn't scored for three matches and had to survive an own goal after a Butte corner kick three minutes in. Hellgate (3-5-4) bounced back quickly when Bernius rifled a shot in two minutes later.
The Knights controlled most of the match and outshot Butte 34-4. But they didn't take the lead until the second half, when Bernius calmly looked for an opening and connected with Gaskill for the winning score in the 47th minute.
"What you hate about playoff games is that you just want to get through," Hellgate coach Geoff Birnbaum said. "I thought we played the first half as if we wanted Butte to get back on the bus and leave us alone."
Two minutes after the Knights took the lead, they lost senior defender Terah Blake to a red card after Blake pushed Butte's Angie Richards as they disentangled. It left the Knights a player down the rest of the game.
"For a moment we were like a deer caught in the headlights," said Birnbaum, who'll be without Blake in Helena Friday. "We forgot that we could play with 10. Once we realized that it might make the game flow better, I thought we actually played our best soccer in the last 30 minutes."
Hellgate ended Capital's 68-game winning streak on the opening day of the season by tying the Bruins 1-1. Capital, Western AA's third-place team, later beat the Knights 3-0 in Helena.
Hellgate girls 2, Butte 1
B - Own goal, 3:00
H - Kelsey Bernius (Heidi Gaskill), 5:00
H - Megan Gaskill (Bernius), 47:00
Shots - Butte 4, Hellgate 34. Corner kicks - Butte 1, Hellgate 8. Saves - Butte 8 (Amanda Marinovich 8), Hellgate 4 (Kelsyn Bevins 2, Andrea Hafar 2). Fouls - Butte 17, Hellgate 12. Red cards - Terah Blake, Hellgate.
Big Sky boys 2, Butte 1
BS -Rusty Anderson (penalty kick), 18:00
B - Jason Decker, 30:00
BS - Zeke Baied (Dylan Torcoletti), 50:00.
Shots - Butte 11, Big Sky 21. Corners - Butte 0, Big Sky 4. Saves - Butte 12 (Cory Harvey 12), Big Sky 6 (Keegan Connell 6). Fouls - Butte 16, Big Sky 13. Red cards - none.