(Photo courtesy MSU Billings)

(MSUB Athletics release)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Freshman goalkeeper Javier Hernandez saved everything he could to get the Montana State University Billings men’s soccer team into overtime in its 2017 season opener Thursday afternoon, but a late penalty kick conversion by Westminster College’s Danny Darelli gave the host a 2-1 victory at Dumke Field.

Hernandez faced 28 total shots, and made eight saves in his collegiate debut, but the ‘Jackets fell to 0-1 after managing just three shots on the offensive end. “Westminster deserved to win today, and a lot of credit goes to their coach and players because they are a lot more competitive than last year,” commented MSUB head coach Alex Balog. “We came out flat, but fortunately the hole we dug ourselves wasn’t too steep. We came out of the locker room flying, and dominated the first 20 minutes of the second half. We just dropped a little too much, and it became an uphill battle.”

Connor Desmond had the most dangerous chance of the opening 20 minutes, when his strong shot from the top of the box missed narrowly outside the left post. MSUB countered with a set piece on the other end of the field, as Shantik Bedrosian nodded a header close to the frame on a cross by Guillaume Kremer for the Yellowjackets’ first shot of the match. The freshman punched home a through ball by Ricardo Palomino five minutes later in a clip of foreshadowing, but not before being flagged for offside as the game remained scoreless.

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Desmond started the scoring in the 36th minute, as he pushed Westminster (1-0) ahead on an assist by Cristian Alfaro. Hernandez followed with perhaps his best denial of the match, leaping upwards to push away a shot by Alfaro that was headed towards the back of the net.

“Javy played like a seasoned GNAC veteran, and he was the best player we had today,” Balog said, complimenting the goalkeeper. “The saves he made were at a different level, and he single handedly kept us in the game. I’m very proud of him in his first collegiate game.”

Bedrosian weaved into the box early on in the second half, driving a low shot into the left corner of the net to even the score at 1-1 within five minutes. The finish came off a pass by Palomino, as the ‘Jackets swung momentum into their favor early on despite playing with 10 men after a red card.

A winning tackle by Eli Williams in the defensive third led to another strong chance for the ‘Jackets, as Niklas Schregel worked the ball up through the midfield and towards Bedrosian on the left. A high cross into the box was headed for Palomino, who was just short of connecting for a shot attempt inside the box.

Hernandez saved the day again midway through the second, coming off his line to knock away an unguarded, breakaway attempt by Desmond. The freshman followed with another leaping save on a shot directly off a Griffin corner kick with 20 minutes to go in the game.

A flurry of fouls with 10 minutes left resulted in another red card for the ‘Jackets, leaving the team to finish regulation with nine players on the pitch.

With less than five minutes to play, it took another remarkable stop by Hernandez to keep the game tied. With the ball rolling towards the goal line after knocking down an initial shot, Hernandez raced backwards and dove to push it wide.

The Griffins rattled the crossbar with an ensuing shot off a corner kick, coming inches away from breaking the deadlock.

Just four minutes into the overtime period, the Griffins earned a penalty kick after a tackle in the box, and Darelli converted to end the match.

THE BUZZ: Hernandez was selected as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…the ‘Jackets have gone winless in overtime matches (0-6-16) since a 2-1 victory over Western Washington on Oct. 18, 2012…the 28 shots allowed were the most since Oct. 10, 2004, when MSUB surrendered 31 shots against Grand Canyon University.

NEXT UP: The ‘Jackets remain in Utah for a match against Dixie State University on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Dumke Field, in another contest hosted by Westminster University.

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