For the first time in 23 years, the Missoula Big Sky girls soccer team will play in the State AA championship match.
The Eagles earned their berth with a win over crosstown rival Sentinel in an epic semifinal Friday afternoon at Siebel Fields in Helena. Big Sky won in overtime, 3-2.
"Both teams really showcased what Missoula soccer is all about," Eagles coach Courtney Shields told the Missoulian. "It was an absolute fierce physical battle. Two of the best players got taken out by concussions, one for Sentinel and one for Big Sky."
Big Sky center midfielder Cheyenne Cathey was taken to the hospital with a concussion, but not before she made her presence felt.
Cathey assisted on Big Sky's only goal in regulation, with junior Whitney Morrison doing the honors in the 28th minute. That leveled the score at 1-1 after Aisley Allen scored for Sentinel in the 20th minute.
Big Sky needed to show its depth on the bench as players were hobbled.
"We made a lot of different subs because of injury, but our fitness level is totally there," Shields said.
In the first overtime, Big Sky freshman Mazey Kasberg was fouled in the 18-yard box in the 83rd minute. Morrison took the penalty kick and converted.
Hannah Santamaria made the score 3-1 when she scored on an assist from TiLynn McGreevey in the 86th minute. Sentinel answered with an Erica Hege goal in the 93rd minute.
"Then we just held on," Shields said. "... They face adversity and work so well together, and their tenacity is amazing. I can't say enough good things. They are so talented. Our bench is deep. Everyone wants to make a difference. And it showed today."
The Eagles will be up against an undefeated Billings Skyview team in the finals Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Big Sky will be without the senior captain and midfielder Cathey, according to Shields.
Sentinel will battle Billings West in the winner-takes-third game at 10 a.m.
Missoula Hellgate 3, Kalispell Flathead 1
Grace Gibson-Snyder scored the first goal for Hellgate in the 36th minute, and the Knights kept on rolling to win the elimination game.
Hellgate advanced to the fifth-place game to be played at 10 a.m. on Saturday against Billings Senior, while Flathead concluded its season.
"We were super excited to be in the tournament since we don't go every year," Hellgate coach Ian Marshall said. "We were disappointed in the result yesterday, but they bounced back. They were eager to play today, and it showed. They were fired up and it was awesome to watch them put it all together."
Clara Tallent scored in the 57th minute and Lucia Baker added another goal in the 67th minute for the Knights. Skyleigh Thompson scored for Flathead in the 78th minute.
"It has all come together," Marshall said. "We had a really good half yesterday. Today, we had two really good halves. It's has been an awesome two days already, and I'm glad we get to do it again tomorrow."
Hellgate boys back in finals
Hellgate and Bozeman both won their semifinals matches by identical 3-0 shutouts — over Billings Senior and Helena High — propelling the Western and Eastern conference titlists into Saturday's state title contest at Siebel Fields. The finals will be a battle of unbeatens, with Hellgate at 13-0-1, and Bozeman with an unblemished 14-0-0 record.
The Knights are the three-time defending AA champions, while the Hawks three-peated preceding Hellgate's reign, from 2012-14. The Knights also won in 2011, making Saturday's chipper a contest between the last seven state titlists (Hellgate at four and Bozeman with three).
"We both have similar styles, it should be a really good soccer game," said Hellgate coach Jay Anderson, whose kickers are attempting to become the state's first boys team to win four consecutive soccer crowns.
Hellgate 3, Senior 0
Matt Baldridge scored two goals and Cole Hage one. Baldridge added an assist, bringing his season totals to 16 goals and 17 assists for 49 points.
It was the Knights' third straight shutout, and coach Anderson praised the work of defenders Ben Tai-Brownlee and Henry Ledyard.
"Senior's Caleb Borgstrom is a dangerous offensive threat, real quick, and Ben and Henry were able to pick him up and shut him down," Anderson said. "I'm just extremely proud to be the coach of this team, with the hard work and effort they've put into this, they deserve to be here."
Sentinel 3, Skyview 2 (OT)
Sentinel (9-6-0) prevailed in overtime against a Skyview team that suffered two red cards and played with just nine players the last part of an intensely physical game.
The Spartans' Jake Larson scored the goal that forced overtime and then scored in overtime.
"The frustration was equally shared between both team's staffs, and I really feel for Skyview, they're an excellent team," veteran Missoula coach Gary Stein said. "They gave us all kinds of problems, the first red card changed the dynamics of the game.
"The kids tussled and fought during the game, yeah, but when it was over, both teams shook hands and showed class. It's an honor to be associated with all of these players."
Curt Synness contributed to this story