With chances to clinch a league championship or at least better their standing ahead of the Western AA soccer playoffs next week, both Missoula Sentinel’s boys and girls finished a little short of their expectations Tuesday.
The Spartans played to matching 1-1 draws with underdog Big Sky at Sentinel’s Playfair Fields, closing the regular season with a crosstown matchup.
A win for the Sentinel boys would have made a No. 2 seed in the league playoffs quite likely, while the Lady Spartans now must hope unbeaten Helena High loses one of its remaining two contests for Sentinel to earn a league title and a bye into the state tournament.
“Hoping for a bit more,” Sentinel boys’ coach Dan Lochridge said. “We’ve been looking forward to this one for a couple weeks and felt that this is one that we could win, that we wanted to win, that we needed to win.”
Play-in games to state will be next week with teams ranked 2-4 hosting teams 5-7. The State AA tournament is in two weeks in Great Falls with the first round slated for Oct. 30.
Sentinel boys 1, Big Sky 1
Leading Kalispell Glacier and Helena High by three points in the standings, a win for Sentinel (5-3-4) would have forced one of those teams to sweep both their remaining matches just to force a tie. That’d be tough, too, considering they play each other Friday.
“We definitely could have made our own destiny by winning this game, within reason,” Lochridge said.
Instead the Eagles (3-6-3) put everything they had into shutting down dynamic Spartan scorer Adam Mickelson and stymied Sentinel’s offense to tie a season-low goal output.
Mickelson still found the net once for his 12th goal of the season, the most in Western AA and third-most in the state, but was ineffective otherwise. He scored in the 36th minute on a feed from Todd Thayer.
That goal pulled the match to even after a corner kick resulted in Big Sky’s first goal just four minutes earlier. The ball launched into the box and Sentinel couldn’t clear it. Tim Mocabee bumped it back to Viktor Lemeza, who hammered it home.
“From the past couple corner kicks that we’d had, they had headed it out around (the 18-yard box),” Lemeza said. “I thought, ya know what, I’ll give it a shot and stick back there. It popped out right there.”
The mess of players in front of the net blinded Sentinel’s goalkeeper to the shot.
“Sometimes some of those messes end up in the back of the net and it sucks, but you’ve just got to move on and get the next one,” said Kai Block, the keeper.
Sentinel did move on, blocking every Big Sky attempt from there until the final whistle. Block finished with eight saves and his Eagle counterpart Nathan Mahler stopped 10 to preserve the draw.
A win would have been great for fifth-place Big Sky – Helena Capital has a chance to overtake the Eagles in the final week – but Big Sky is happy with an even showing against their crosstown foes.
“Yeah when we get beat 4-1 in the first game, it’s nice to get a tie out of this one,” said Big Sky coach Ross McMonies, whose team was gashed at home by Sentinel three weeks ago. “It shows that we are improving.”
Big Sky 1 0 – 1
Sentinel 1 0 – 1
MBS – Viktor Lemeza (Tim Mocabee), 32:00
MS – Adam Mickelson (Todd Thayer), 36:00
Shots on goal – Big Sky 19, Sentinel 16. Saves – Big Sky 10 (Nathan Mahler), Sentinel 8 (Kai Block). Corner kicks – Big Sky 5, Sentinel 6. Total fouls – Big Sky 5, Sentinel 9. Cards – none.
Sentinel girls 1, Big Sky 1
The Big Sky girls muscled their way to a draw in the late half of Tuesday’s soccer doubleheader at Playfair Park. The Eagles’ (2-6-4) style of play rattled Sentinel and tossed the Spartans out of their rhythm.
“Things were getting pretty vocal and we just don’t play that way; I think it just took us out of our game a little bit,” Sentinel coach Keri Grasky said. “Our first half was great and I’m proud of the girls for our first half.”
In that first half, Sentinel (8-1-3) jumped ahead in the 11th minute when Brittany Delridge boomed a pass from near midfield over the pressing defenders. All a sprinting Libby Walker had to do was evade the keeper, which she did, to find an empty and inviting net.
Sentinel had plenty of other good looks to score, but Big Sky keeper Chelsea Todd put the clamps on the Spartans. She had nine saves – as did Sentinel’s Bekah Joy – including a game-saver in the 78th minute. A nice strike from Anna Melugin from 15 yards out was trained on the upper 1/3 of the goal, but a leaping Todd got just enough of the shot to bounce it off the crossbar and over the net harmlessly.
“The thing about soccer is you can have the great chances and not finish,” Grasky said. “I don’t feel like that’s something that’s plaguing us so much any more; our patience is just running a little thin.”
Big Sky pulled even in the 51st minute when the Sentinel keeper misplayed a ball. Kayla McCampbell scooped it up and dribbled to the left of the goal before firing a shot back into the net.
Sentinel’s reality now may be a necessary playoff match next week at home, with Helena having a chance to climb over the Spartans for the top spot in the league. Big Sky coach Jay Bostrom was counting on that fact weighing on the minds of the Spartans on Tuesday.
“We came (with) the goal of letting them feel the pressure of having to try and cling onto first place when we knew we’re basically locked into the sixth spot,” Bostrom said.
With the draw, Big Sky is in fact locked into sixth. The Eagles will face the No. 3 team from Western AA, which has not yet been determined.
Big Sky 0 1 – 1
Sentinel 1 0 – 1
MS – Libby Walker (Brittany Delridge), 11:00
MBS – Kayla McCampbell (unassisted), 51:00
Shots – Big Sky 13, Sentinel, 21. Shots on goal – Big Sky 10, Sentinel 11. Saves – Big Sky 9 (Chelsea Todd), Sentinel 9 (Bekah Joy). Corner kicks – Big Sky 4, Sentinel 7. Total fouls – Big Sky 6, Sentinel 9. Cards – none.